Dear Friends of St. Maximilian,
Having returned a few days ago from the International General Assembly of the Militia of the Immaculata, I’d like to share a few thoughts about my experience. Last week I returned from travel to Rome with two companions - Father Patrick Greenough, OFM Conv., the National President of the M.I. for the United States and Canada (Father Patrick is also the International Vice-President of the M.I.) and Br. Juniper Kriss, the Guardian of Marytown the City of the Immaculate for the United States.
Before the assembly began at the Seraphicum, the home of the Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, the three of us took a train up to Assisi to visit our “Franciscan roots” so to speak. I had not been to Assisi for many years. In fact, I believe that it was right after the horrific earthquake when I made my last visit. I do remember that I was supposed to celebrate Mass at the tomb of St. Francis but that had to be canceled because of the earthquake and its effects on the Pontifical Basilica of St. Francis. It was a great disappointment, but one which was made up during this trip, as I was privileged to offer Holy Mass at the Pontifical Altar at the Upper Basilica of St. Francis.
It was a very moving opportunity to offer Holy Mass surrounded by frescos of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. The Papal Altar is huge! I felt rather dwarfed as I stood behind it offering the Holy Mass. I could not help but think of all the Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, and other Franciscan friars that throughout the centuries offered Holy Mass here. And now, I thought, I add my name to this list! It was quite a privilege. During the height of the pilgrimage season, Holy Mass is offered in English every Sunday in the Upper Basilica.
I couldn’t help but to remember that our last two Pontiffs offered Mass at the Basilica as well. Even though they offered it outside the Basilica in the great piazza beside the Basilica, I indeed felt the connection. In fact, when we arrived in Assisi they were just removing the altar that Pope Francis had used to offer the Mass. The flag of the Holy See was to be found everywhere; it seems as if every window had the Pope’s flag waving in the crisp autumn Italian breeze. As I celebrated Mass, Fr. Patrick and several other priests from all over the world concelebrated with me. It was an awesome experience.
We had time to visit and pray before the tomb of St. Francis which is directly under the Papal altar. Close to Francis is found the tombs of his first four brothers – truly the beginning of the Franciscan Order! We also had the privilege of offering the Holy Mass in the room where St. Joseph of Cupertino, OFM Conv. lived. It is a very small room with a very low ceiling. For a while, while his supernatural gifts were being studied by the Church for their validity, St. Joseph Cupertino was allowed to offer Mass only in his tiny room. Because of his gift of levitation he is invoked as the patron of those who fly. He is also invoked as the patron of students because of the fact that he had a very hard time mastering the studies needed to become a Franciscan priest. While at the Sacred Convent, where the friars who work at the basilica live and work, we were able to visit with the friars, especially those who speak English. With the other friars, I was pretty much limited to the phrase, “pace bene” or Pax et Bonum which means “peace and all good” in Italian or Latin, respectively. I know I should have studied Italian in my younger days! We invited our English speaking brothers to dine out with us. They knew the bests places for authentic Italian food – what can I say!
After our all too brief stay in Assisi, the city that literally is perched on a hillside, where all three of us got plenty of exercise, we hopped the train back to Roma for the beginning of the assembly.
Our primary task was to approve the new by-laws of the Militia of the Immaculata. Since we are fully recognized by the Holy See, it is necessary for us to have official by-laws recognized by the Church. Much work had already taken place before the by-laws were presented to us. The draft of the by-laws had been studied by canon lawyers to ensure that they were reflected the spirit of both St. Maximilian Kolbe as well as the norms of the universal church. We ratified every article step by step and suggested some changes. These changes will have to be ratified by the proper Roman offices and then the by-laws will be approved. Our other task was to elect those who will serve as members of the International Council for the M.I. for the next six years. I am sure that the Holy Spirit led us to elect very capable and holy people who will work for the good of the M.I. throughout the world.
Since there were people present from so many difference places and languages it was necessary to have translators who could help us understand what was being said. I couldn’t help but think of the story of the tower of babel as we all tried to communicate with one another. Representatives from the M.I. from all over the world were present and gave a report on how the M.I. functions and the various apostolates the M.I. was involved with in their country. We heard from Venezuela, Brazil, Italy, The Ivory Coast, Zambia, Australia, Germany, Luxemburg, and of course Poland. I am sure that I have left a country or two out, but I wanted you to see just how the M.I. is present throughout the world. We heard about printing magazines, using the internet, radio and televisions stations. We heard about youth groups as well as M.I. groups that are more “mature”. All desired to carry on the mission of St. Maximilian and the M.I., that mission is, of course, to win the whole world for the Sacred Heart of Jesus through total consecration to the Immaculata.
We also loaded up in vehicles and some took the subway (Metropolitan) and visited the friars of St. Maximilian Kolbe, sometimes called “Casa Kolbe.” It was here at Casa Kolbe, in the building that formerly housed our theologate, that Maximilian and six of his confreres began the M.I. We visited his room where the M.I. began and saw in his own handwriting the goals they set forth for the M.I. One of St. Maximilian’s habits is also found in this room. Know that you all were prayed for in this special place.
I could go on and on, but I wanted to give you a “flavor” of what we did and accomplished while in Rome. Often times when I come home from attending meetings in a place such as Rome, I am asked how my trip went. While indeed, it is always a privilege to get to travel to Rome, it was not vacation. We had much to accomplish and we had to accomplish using many languages! However, the Holy Spirit was with us all and we accomplished all that we set out to attain.
Every time that I attend one of these general assemblies that call members of the M.I. from all over the world to come together, I am once again reminded that the M.I. started by St. Maximilian and six other friars, has literally gone all over the world. From Poland to Japan, to Zambia to Canada, to Luxemburg to Germany to Italy, to France (Lourdes) to the Ivory Coast, to the United States and Canada, literally all over the world – with more than 4 million members consecrated; and our goal is the same today as it was when St. Maximilian began. We are to remember that “love alone creates” and that even though we speak many languages, we all are united in our desire to love – to bring the love of Christ to the world by promoting total consecration to the Immaculata.
I hope that this little summary helps you understand what we were up to in Rome these last few days.
Oh yes indeed, I would be very remiss if I didn’t say congratulations to Fr. Patrick who was once again elected as International Vice-President. We should be extremely proud to be represented by Fr. Patrick and very thankful for all that he does for the M.I. Thank you Fr. Patrick!
Pace e bene!
Father Stephen McKinley, OFM Conv.
Rector of the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe
Spiritual Advisor to the MI for the USA & Canada