Today my order (the Friars Minor or Franciscans) elects a new Minister General. Ministers-provincials from all over the world meet in a “general chapter” to assess the overall policy of recent years and define new directions. The culmination of such a chapter is the election of a general council headed by a general minister.
by Hans-Peter Bartels
The word “general” quickly gives us an association with the army. This is of course not expected here. “General” means general. So ‘General Minister’, ‘General Chapter’ and ‘General Administration’. The word ‘chapter’ means ‘head’ or ‘chapter’. In this case, it should be roughly understood as “where the main event or decision takes place”. Finally, the word ‘minister’. It means servant. The ministers were the “servants” of the king. The ministers of The Hague are now “the servants of the people” (although they sometimes forget it, I think …) and the minister-provincial and the minister-general are therefore the servant of the province (a geographical unit of order (eg “Netherlands”, “Northern Italy” or “Australia and New Zealand”) respectively servant of the general.
Francis of Assisi deliberately chose the term “minister”. He did not want words that radiated authority (as do the abbot (“father”) or the prior (“first”)). The pastor must become one with the brothers and take care of them more as a good mother than to command them (I say it a little) as a boss.
Our control is also quite decentralized. There are orders, like the Jesuits, where the superior general can call a provincial superior and say: “I need a brother so and so in Rome” and the brother in question leaves. It is not possible with us. At the most, the general minister can call and say: “I would be happy if I could use such a brother for this post in Rome. Is it possible ?’
It is sometimes said that our order, just like a business, has a pyramid structure, but the tip here is not the top, but the bottom. With the general minister below, above the provincial ministers, above the guardian (house superiors, this means guardian / guardian, also a “maternal term”) and above the rest of the brothers.
The thermometer in order
“Is the choice of the general minister really so important? You might be wondering now. Yet yes. After all, the Minister General is the face of order in the world, he also takes care of the links between the different provinces and regularly puts the thermometer in order to find out where things are wrong.
All I can say is that the current Secretary General – American Michael Perry – has done a great job. A major concern in our order is the relatively high percentage of disengagement shortly after solemn profession. In addition (a point of the previous chapter) fraternal coexistence, the theme “Justice, Peace and Unity of Creation” as central themes of our work, interreligious dialogue (after 800 years of meeting between Francis and the Sultan) and finally the relations between brothers who are (fathers) and not priests (lay brothers). The latter cannot henceforth become minister in the order. Guardian or definitor (member of the council at the provincial or general level) is possible. Shouldn’t it be different?
A new artist of balance
Anyway. It is clear that a general council can point out directions and try to make order go in a certain direction. So yes, the choice of the Minister General is certainly important. And also the choice of who. From what point of view does he view order? From an African or Southeast Asian point of view, where the order (slowly but surely) is still growing? From a South American point of view where the growth of orders is almost zero or from a North American and European level where there is contraction?
Later today we will know who will be at the bottom of the tip of our pyramid… who, as a balance artist, is authorized to lead and adjust order, despite global differences.
I would say: keep an eye on our province’s Facebook page… the results will follow today…