Franciscan Missions of Canada: The Holy Land and International Missions
The Franciscan Order’s unique charism comes from the love Francis of Assisi had for the poor and for people of all cultures, origins and religions, and from the emphasis he placed on contemplation and action. The Canadian Franciscans have inherited a long-standing apostolic tradition, and evangelization is at the heart of their vocation and identity. They have founded missions in seven large apostolic areas.
The Holy Land
For over six centuries, some 400 friars have been part of the Custody of the Holy Land. They are spread out over 64 friaries and 21 shrines. Their work also includes 40 parishes, 30 schools, six colleges, and eight hostels for pilgrims. Our Canadian province, which has always had four or five friars in the Holy Land, has had a Commissariat of the Holy Land in Ottawa since our foundation. Each year, it collects donations from all over Canada to support the needs of Christian communities in the Holy Land and of the pilgrimage sites. It also offers an annual pilgrimage in the footsteps of Jesus.
In 1342, the Church entrusted the Franciscans with the care of the Holy Sites. Today, these friars look after some 30 shrines in Palestine. Over time, the Custody of the Holy Land has set up Commissariats of the Holy Land in over 60 countries in order to make known the Work of the Holy Land, to increase devotion for the Holy Sites and to collect funds. In 1888, Br. Frédéric Janssoone o.f.m., a former missionary in the Holy Land, established a Commissariat in Trois-Rivières, and was himself the commissary until his death in 1916. In 1919, the Commissariat was moved to Ottawa. The first French Canadian to become a Franciscan priest chose the missions in the Holy Land and arrived in Bethlehem in 1902. In January 1979, it was estimated that 45 Canadian Franciscans had served in the Holy Land.
The Province of St. Joseph in Eastern Canada has founded missions in various countries: China, Peru, Japan, Korea. As of 2011, there are two Franciscan missionaries in Peru (Jacques Lalonde and Pacifique Dubé), one in Haiti (Raymond Mailhiot) and two in Project Africa (Jacques St-Yves and Alain Bouchard).
- Japan: A French priest, Father Maurice Bertin (1870–1968) channeled the missionary zeal for Japan. After entering the Order in 1896, he immigrated to Canada in 1903 and left for Japan in 1906. Two Canadians joined him there in June 1907. Another arrived in 1908 and a fourth in 1909. Since 1959, the Province of St. Joseph, Eastern Canada, has not sent any missionaries to Japan. In 1981, it was noted that 62 Franciscans had worked in Japan. A relief system had been set up to replace them.
- China: The apostolate of the Canadian Franciscans in China began around the same time as the one in Japan. On January 21, 1910, the first Canadian Franciscan departed for China; a second joined him there the same year. After the Second World War, the Communist presence led to the end of the Canadian Franciscan missionary work in China in early 1952. The Province of St. Joseph had sent 12 missionaries there.
- Korea: The situation in Japan and the growing number of missionary candidates in Quebec led Canada’s Province of St. Joseph to open a mission field in Taejon, Korea, in September 1937. The Province of St. Joseph sent its last missionary there in 1965, and our missionary presence remained until the return to Canada of Br. Georges Morin, in 1991.
- Amazonia: The closing of the Japanese and Chinese mission fields freed up a number of missionaries. Two veterans of Japan – the first in 1936 and the second in 1938 – travelled to Lima, where the Japanese were founding a powerful settlement. In 1944, another Japan veteran who had been working in Lima since 1941 was named founding pastor of Tingo Maria. On August 13, 1945, Rome established, in northeastern Peru, the apostolic prefecture of San José del Amazonas. On July 13, 1955, Rome made it an apostolic vicariate.
- Africa: On January 9, 1982, the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor created the African vicariate of St. Francis in East Africa. It included six countries. This Africa Project sent out a call for Franciscans from all nations. A Canadian Franciscan was the first to volunteer to sign up for the Africa Project, in August 1982. To date, five Canadian Franciscans have answered the call of the Minister General of the Order.
- Haiti: The Mission of the Cayemites Islands, about an hour from the southwest coast of Haiti, was opened in the autumn of 1987 by a Franciscan from the Province of St. Joseph, Canada, in response to a call for help from the bishop of the diocese of Jérémie. His pastoral zeal and organizational skills soon bore fruit. The mission now includes over 15 chapels and nine parochial schools.
This text is taken from Les Franciscains au Canada, edited by Jean Hamelin, Septentrion, 2005, pp. 123–140. Translation by the Franciscans of Canada.
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