Continuing Education in the Holy Land

(Custody of the Holy Land) Throughout the year, the continuing education department has organized several meetings between the Friars of the Custody. We wanted to learn more about how it works. Br. Marcelo Cichinelli, the moderator, answered our questions.

What is continuing education?

It is an educational program that is inspired by the private sector to complement the organization of Franciscan life so as to help the friars to fully achieve what God wants for them. Religious life is already focused on putting prayer at the center of the friars’ daily lives. But continuing education will be a dynamic supplement to improve the quality of the friars’ relationship with God and their neighbors.

How does continuing education work?
It is based on the objectives defined in each general chapter of the Order of Friars Minor at an international level. These are broken down by the Custody at the provincial level during the custodial chapter every three years. And the continuing education department implements them through practical measures within the fraternities at different monasteries. They must write a “community project” involving them directly. Through their feedback, the fraternities then become sources of concrete proposals that are then studied in the next chapter of the Custody. Therefore, the decisions being made are coming from the source. Continuing education is an ample process that helps the friars in the renewal of their mission. It cannot be static; it must grow. We could say that the pulse of continuing education beats within the heart of the man who is growing in his faith!

What initiatives exist within continuing education?

The idea is to help the Franciscans grow in fraternal life and to make progress in their service. So, the continuing education department sets up times for the friars to meet and share in order to discuss common issues and specific training times according to each one’s mission. Spiritual exercises and retreats are devised in order to nourish the Franciscans’ spirituality in relation to the objectives set up by the custodial chapter.
The friars gather in groups. Those with fewer than ten years of solemn profession who are beginning their religious life; the guardians and the superiors who are responsible for the community life within their fraternities; older friars and those who come from other provinces in order to serve the Custody. There are also the sacristans, those who are responsible for the shrines and the spiritual guides for pilgrimages, as well as those involved with the administration of certain areas of the Custody and finally the school directors and pastors.

How long has continuing education existed here?
Twelve years ago, continuing education was primarily focused on intellectual formation. Br. Pierbattista Pizzaballa wanted to change things so as to give the program a more global focus and to support the friars in their vocational journey. I was appointed moderator of continuing education in 2010. The role of the moderator is to build a stable structure for this organizational system. After each custodial chapter, the moderator prepares a document presenting the objectives and the schedule of meetings for the next three years, in addition to a spiritual book for local chapters. The latter includes prayers of Franciscan spirituality related to the objectives of custodial project.

Who is the continuing education team composed of?
The main trainer of a province is the provincial, and so in the Holy Land that individual is the Custos. And the main trainer of a fraternity is the guardian. Then, the continuing education moderator must act and encourage the friars. He must make them aware that these programs are good for them. Visiting each fraternity at least once a year is one of his missions. He is assisted by five regional facilitators who carry out the continuing education work at the monasteries in their region.