What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: February 12, 2009
Last Monday, the women and men religious serving in the Archdiocese of Atlanta were invited to celebrate Vespers and enjoy supper in observance of the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which is the feast that Pope John Paul II set aside to recognize and honor those in Consecrated Life within the Catholic Church. In this local church, the Trappists in Conyers hosted us once again, providing the location where this festivity occurs. The monks were their traditional gracious selves as we enjoyed the company of many of those consecrated men and women who represented the various communities in service to the people of God in North Georgia.
It was at that gathering that I was informed of an important event in the life of one of our religious families. The Franciscans will be participating in “A Chapter of Mats” this April to mark their eighth century of establishment in 1209. I was further informed that this will be the first such universal Chapter of Mats in more than 700 years.
This custom, as the name implies, means that Franciscans from throughout the world will gather in Assisi—sleeping mats in hand—to enjoy each other’s company and to reflect on the mission and history of this blessed assembly of men and women who are the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi himself. The last such universal invitation to a Chapter of Mats must have been quite a bit less complicated to organize. Franciscans then had to assemble from the relatively close by communities that were mostly limited to Western Europe. Travel then was not swift—but certainly much closer to Assisi.
Today’s Franciscans will assemble from all of the continents of the world—mostly by plane, ship, train or auto, speaking all of the languages of the human family, representing the various distinct groupings of Franciscans, and yet all claiming the direct legacy of Francis and Clare, the world-renowned duo of 13th-century saints from that Umbrian hill village in medieval Europe.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta has some share in that heritage. One of our Archbishops was a Franciscan: James Patterson Lyke, OFM, who pastored this local Church for all too brief a period of time, 1990-1992. We also have friars and sisters who now serve us in the image and legacy of Francis and Clare. Some of them will attend the Chapter of Mats as delegates to that assembly.
The focus of the Chapter of Mats will be to observe the eight centuries of Franciscan life in the Church and to look to the future of this family of religious. Participants will meet with Pope Benedict XVI, whose predecessor on the Chair of Peter, Pope Honorius III, received Francis and his first friars and approved their Rule of Life 800 years ago.
The religious in our midst usually have a long heritage that they bring to us. They usually now dress like us; for the most part, they try to incarnate the mission of their founders, and they serve the needs of our contemporary world—catechizing the young, staffing our parishes, teaching in our schools, sponsoring health care, providing assistance to immigrants, offering a spiritual oasis for us, educating our kids, and occasionally sitting on the Bishop’s Cathedra. We are blessed to have the men and women religious who serve this local church, and I publicly and sincerely thank them all for their service and dedication.
The Franciscans are gathering for an international assembly of celebration, renewal and conviviality. I assure them all of our prayers and best wishes. If any of our local delegates need a new mat or two to take along with them, I know several thousand people who would gladly supply them. And the only thing that they might ask in return is to have the Archdiocese of Atlanta and all of our people remembered in prayer before the tombs of Francis and Clare.