In a telegram to Brother Massimo Fusarelli (right), Pope Francis congratulated the new minister general and wrote, “May the seraphic father, St. Francis, be an encouragement for you in leading your brothers.”
On July 13, Massimo Fusarelli was elected minister general of the Order of Friars Minor. The 118 voters celebrated the order’s general chapter at the Capuchin San Lorenzo da Brindisi International College outside Rome. Brother Massimo had led Rome’s St. Bonaventure Province since July 2020.
Brother Massimo, born in Rome in 1963, professed his final vows in 1989 and was ordained a priest later that year. Before being elected as minister of his province, he had animated the friar community at San Francesco a Ripa in Trastevere (Rome) and led its parishioners and others in ministering to immigrants, those with addictions, and other marginalized people. For three years Brother Massimo had helped friars in six northern Italian OFM provinces to become St. Anthony Province in 2016.
Brother Massimo became the 121st successor of St. Francis to lead the Order of Friars Minor. He follows Brother Michael Perry (Sacred Heart Province, United States), who served as minister general since 2013. In his homily at the general chapter’s final Mass, Brother Massimo said that we thank the Lord on our faith journey because “he puts so many people in our path, especially those who are most despised and lonely, the small and the poor, those impoverished by life, the discarded. In their school, he makes us once again attentive to the Gospel and its power already at work in us.”
Brother Isauro Covili Linfati from Chile was elected vicar general on July 14, followed the next day by the election of general councilors from Bissau, Brazil, Colombia, Guinea, Italy, Malaysia, Malta, Poland, and Switzerland.
Brother Tom Nairn, minister of Sacred Heart Province in the United States and president of the English-Speaking Conference (ESC), says: “Although I had never met Massimo prior to the general chapter, my interactions with him during the chapter have given me a favorable impression of him. I look forward to working with him and the others who have been elected to our general government as we continue to put the priorities of the order into practice.” The ESC currently includes seven US provinces, one each in Canada, Ireland, Lithuania, and Malta, plus one custody each in Great Britain and the United States.
Brother Mark Soehner, minister of St. John the Baptist Province and ESC vice president, describes the new minister general as “warm, confident, and clear about his mandate from the general chapter to continue to revitalize the order.” He especially supported the creation in 2023 of a new US province from six of the seven existing ones.
Every general chapter has the right to indicate priorities for all the friars until the next general chapter. The 2021 chapter’s final document identifies what the Holy Spirit is inviting the friars to offer the Church and society at large.
They should clearly show the order’s “two lungs” (fraternity and being lesser brothers to all) while offering more assistance to their refugee sisters and brothers. The friars should use the encyclicals “Laudato Si’” and “Fratelli Tutti” as guides for animating their renewal in the next six years.
They should cooperate fully with Church and civil authorities to safeguard minors and vulnerable adults. The friars should be “missionary disciples,” open to being evangelized by the people to whom they are sent. They must always recognize that the “cry of the earth” and the “cry of the poor” are closely connected.
Article 10 of the document points to the order’s founder as a source of direction: “The people of God demand more from us by virtue of our public commitment to be lesser brothers after the example of St. Francis.” The document expresses that Franciscans must be ready to make changes within their friaries and provinces, including internal governance changes to fulfill their mission more effectively.
Franciscans need to renew their approach to initial and ongoing (lifelong) formation and to embrace the future energetically rather than simply keep reviewing the past. In article 41, the document states,“In an age distinguished by increasing sectarianism, violence, and division, the friars need to provide a prophetic witness of universal fraternity to a world in need of such a model.”
Touching Hearts through Mercy
In his Zoom message to chapter members on July 17, Pope Francis referenced St. Francis’ embrace of a man suffering from leprosy and added: “This encounter with the least and the suffering, in the name of mercy, is the very root of your spirituality. God touched Francis’ heart through the mercy offered to a brother, and he continues to touch our hearts through the encounter with others, especially with the most needy.”
Pope Francis encouraged the friars to live out the general chapter’s theme: “Arise, and Christ will give you light” (Eph 5:14).