The Franciscan Friars - OFM Conv.
(The Order of the Friars Minor Conventual - or the grey friars, as they are often called in English)
In 1208-1211 Francis and his first brothers stayed in a simple and poor stone hut at Rivotorto close to one of the leper colonies of that time in the valley below Assisi. Here in Rivotorto Francis wrote the first rule for the community of brothers, which started to blossom around him. Already in this first simple rule based on the Gospel Francis expressed the vision that he and the friars demonstrated the path of imitating Christ by living a poor and humble life liberated from the many desires of the ego or "Brother Ass", as Francis called his body and personality. Thus they wanted to live exactly as Jesus had done during his 3 years of public activities 1200 years earlier. Francis and his brothers walked in the footsteps of Jesus by practising Christian charity through healing, help and care of the lowly and outcast, not least the lepers, to whom he was especially tender-hearted. At the same time they were itinerant preachers of the Kingdom of God, and everywhere they preached the message of the Gospel about love and conversion for all those people who in the turbulent and troubled Middle Ages had turned away from God.
Francis named the Order "Frati Minori", the Minor Brothers, to emphasize the ideal of a life like that of Jesus in poverty and humility. In 1209 Pope Innocent II gave Francis the first oral approval of the Order on the basis of the simple rule Francis had written in Rivotorto. In the following years the number of brothers proliferated, and the Order became and is still the largest Christian Monastic Order of the world. In our time too the main vision of The Franciscan Family is to realize Francis' ideals of a life of material simplicity, humility and transparency of the ego, and the mission is still - in simple terms - to be a bridge between God and humanity, also in practising charity.
In the 16th century the Order which Francis had founded was split up. Indeed, in both the time of Francis and afterwards it was difficult for the brothers to live as warm-heartedly and altruistically as their great seraphic father, Saint Francis of Assisi. Thus various disagreements arose about which aspects of the rule and ideals of Francis were to be the main focus. Today there is still a division into three branches of the Order founded by Francis. As an overall expression these branches are called The Franciscan 1st Order consisting of:
- Frati Minori Conventuali - OFM Conv. (the Conventuals also called the grey friars in Scandinavia, England and other countries )
- Frati Minori Capucini - OFM Cap. (the Capuchine friars)
- Frati Minori - OFM (the Friars Minor)
After Francis' many meetings with Clare which started around 1209 and her being received into Francis' order in 1211, Francis founded The Franciscan 2nd Order, the Poor Clares. In Clare's time the also rapidly growing order of contemplative Poor Clares lived according to the rule which Francis wrote for them. After a long time of persistence, on her deathbed Clare obtained Pope Innocent IV's approval of the additions to the original rule written by Francis, which Clare had made, and thus she is regarded to be the first female founder of a monastic order.
Francis was the first founder who realized the need of an order of laity, i.e. of people who do not withdraw to a monastery under the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, but who strive to live and spread the Franciscan ideals as "common" citizens, perhaps as married couples with children. Thus The Franciscan 3rd Order was born. This order comprises both a secular order (the laity) and a regular order consisting of all the monastic orders, primarily orders of Sisters, which were founded in the centuries after St. Francis and St. Clare by founders who connected with the basic values and ideals of St. Francis and St. Clare.
Frati Minori Conventuali has their mother convent at the Sacro Convento (the sacred convent) built as part of the great, beautiful basilica on three levels, in the crypt of which Francis is buried in his humble stone coffin. In addition to the friars' simple rooms, common facilities and large, beautiful refectory, the convent consists of a large library with early hand written books, the original documents from Francis as well as contemporary books and a theological faculty, at which especially Franciscan priests are educated, but in which also women and men from outside the order may study theology and take examinations. Furthermore the convent consists of more small and large meeting rooms, beautiful chapels established in the rooms built by the friars who lived with Francis and an apartment for the Pope and his closest cardinals.
The Sacro Convento is today probably the most important convent in the world. Guided and supported by "the Spirit of Assisi" numerous meetings, conferences and congresses are held each year at the Sacro Convento. The aim of the meetings is to promote the universal, Franciscan ideals of peace, love and brother-/sisterhood in a world so much in need of mediation for peace, reconciliation between enemies, building of tolerance and mutual understanding, work for justice and human rights, reconstruction and preservation of the eco-systems on earth and help to relieve the sufferings of the poor, the sick and the outcast.
As well as the Sacro Convento the Order of Friars Minor Conventual is responsible in Assisi for a priest's seminary called "Franciscanum" and the beautiful centre, the CEFID (Centro Francescano Internazionale per il Dialogo), which the Order founded in 1989 on the basis of Father Mizzi's mission since 1960 with ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. Father Mizzi was the leader of CEFID until 2004 as delegate general. Bente Wolf's and Father Mizzi's co-operation, which started in 2001, took place at the CEFID, where they both lived and served. At the CEFID they received a great number of groups from all over the world for meetings with dialogue, lectures, masses, prayers and meditations. From 2004 the activities took place at the Sacro Convento. Today the Order carries on the CEFID and the ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue mission with Father Jerzy Norel as delegate general. ASSISI MISSION continues to support the mission as much as possible.
Father Mizzi served in the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, and it is mainly this branch of The Franciscan 1st Order and the friars of this order, whom Bente during her co-operation with Father Mizzi has got to know as "brothers of the heart". During numerous meetings and gatherings since 2001 at the CEFID, at the Sacro Convento and at the Franciscanum with these friars coming from all the continents of the world a solidarity of the heart has developed - a solidarity based on an enthusiasm and dedication to the ideals of St. Francis and on the endeavour to walk in the footsteps of Francis in our own time.
In 2007 ASSISI MISSION started a co-operation with some of these friars from the Sacro Convento inviting them as guest teachers at the courses of ASSISI MISSION in Assisi. Also in future these friars will be invited to give their contribution on the courses, and visits to the normally closed Sacro Convento and the CEFID will also be part of the programme. A Franciscan sister connected to the Sacro Convento has met the groups of ASSISI MISSION on other occasions.