By Jessica Cabness, OFS (Candidate)
Jessica, Patrick, Laura and Sandy at the ‘Q’ – the 20th Quinquennial Congress of the Secular Franciscan Order – USA, Phoenix, AZ, August 2022.
Upon receiving the most recent TAU-USA Newsletter (Fall 2022, Issue 107), it occurred to me that I experienced a “mental block”. I attribute this blockage to not knowing the purpose of the “Q,” why I was there in Phoenix, or what my take-away should be. On reading the Newsletter, I learned the aim of the “Q”: “The basic purpose for celebrating the centenaries is to direct our gaze to the future and to strengthen our Franciscan identity and charism” (p. 4).
How do we direct our gaze to the future and strengthen our Franciscan identity and charism? I don’t know the answer, but that’s a good question for discussion within our Fraternity. The best of the breakout sessions for me dealt with the subject of “encounter” in a way that reminded me of our Fraternity’s reading and conversations on Fratelli Tutti. The breakout leader exhorted Secular Franciscans to embrace a “culture of encounter.” This seemed to me to be intuitive, naturally flowing from the Franciscan identity charism. The image of St. Francis dismounting from his steed to embrace the Leper–The Other–is the model of encounter that Secular Franciscans must follow.
Frankly, I attended the 100th anniversary Jubilee “Q” with a fact-finding mindset. My initial impression was that the attendees were friendly; the logistics were well executed (e.g., proximity of meeting rooms, restrooms, and St. Mary’s Church to the hotel); and the breakout sessions were informative although the sessions that I really wanted to attend were cancelled. The hotel accommodations were excellent and the food was satisfying.
I found the Exhibit Room quite interesting, particularly the gray and brown hooded habits worn by Secular Franciscans in times past. There were grainy black-and-white photographs of past Regional Ministers and the Minutes of Annual OFS Meetings from last century, among other archival data. The experience was like stepping back in time. However, it also felt like I was walking on sacred ground.
I loved being able to go to daily Mass. This was one of the times that I was in the company of the other members of our Fraternity also in attendance. I found St. Mary’s Church to be quite old, very historic, laden with colorful tiles in the Southwestern style, and somewhat small for the 600+ attendees. There are other details about the church interior that made an impression on me at the time, but which have slipped through the recesses of my memory.
Secular Franciscans joining together at Mass at St. Mary’s Church, Phoenix, AZ.
I was pleased to encounter people from as far as Guam, the Philippines, and Africa– other people of color in a sea of whiteness. I saw Fr. Kevin Queally, TOR at the “Q”, whom I knew from St. Petersburg, FL, where he had been the Parochial Vicar at St. Mary Our Lady of Grace. I thanked him for his role in my early Franciscan formation, though neither of us had a clue that we would wind up in the same Franciscan circle. I also saw Fr. Iggy and told him that I would consider working alongside him, for two weeks, at the Southern Border in 2023.
The day before I left, I met a Black woman from Panamá, who now makes her home in Arizona. I explained that I was a Candidate, and she forewarned that, before my Profession, I would be faced with doubts. Although I assured her that my faith was unshakable, she prevailed in saying this would be the Evil One’s attempt to break my resolve to follow Christ, which he always does (she said) to those who are close to Jesus. Those words would prove to be prophetic.
Thus, my recollection of the 2022 “Q” can best be described as kaleidoscopic, a jumbled mix of images and sounds, with me moving on cue from one frame to the next. It was very hot in Phoenix, with temperatures reaching 100+ degrees. It will probably take another year for me to make sense of my time there.