Learn along with Brothers

Friar Voices

The group gathered for a photo on their first day. Photo by Alvin Te

(Mark has been attending the Annual Meeting of the Minister General and Definitory with newly elected Provincial Ministers and Custodes.)


The time here in Rome has been very full. Every day the General Definitory has put together a program that introduces the various offices of the General Curia and the individual Definitors from the different areas of the world, with a focus on things one should know in becoming a provincial. All of this has been done in an atmosphere of prayer in one of the three language groups of the Order: English; Spanish; or Italian.

Fr. Mark Soehner, photo by Alvin Te

I arrived last Monday, and began to settle into this new rhythm. The following day I went exploring with Yusuf Bagh, from the Pakistan Custody of St. John the Baptist. We made a stop at St. Peter’s as we walked to St. Isidore Church with the Irish friars. We were given a great tour by the former General Definitor, Louis Brennan. I ran into a friar from St. Leopold Province who entered through the Tyrol. He called me his long, lost daughter! That, despite being 15 years younger.

Fr. Mark Soehner, photo by Alvin Te

Classes began in earnest on Wednesday, Jan. 17. These days have included talks on Canon Law issues, Ongoing and Initial Formation, the Office of the Economo, Mission & Evangelization, Dealing with Conflict and Difficult Friars, JPIC, Antonianum, Mandates from the 2015 Chapter, and visits with our Minister General, Michael Perry. We had a day of pilgrimage and prayer to Greccio and Fonte Colombo. We had one day off, when I went to Mass at St. Isidore’s and was able to connect with a friar friend in the afternoon.

Driving into Fonte Colombo, where St. Francis wrote the Rule.

My greatest learning comes from the brother provincials who are learning right along with me. We each come with different backgrounds, cultures, languages and experiences. Because of my limitations in language, I mostly enjoy talking with the English-speaking friars. But I have attempted conversations with Spanish speakers, and cautiously, with Italian speakers, because there I’m only speaking either English or Spanish with a few polite Italian words. Just being together for this time really draws us together.

Friars Michael from Indonesia and Gabriel from West Papua

The temperature during the day is warm enough to open the windows, where sun pours in with the fresh air. The nights are cold, and even when the sun is out during the day, the chapel is always a damp cold. So even though it is only cool outside, when entering the chapel, it’s as though the walls radiate a deeper cold, like a refrigerator. Friars generally are bundled up with a scarf around their necks to protect from drafts. Morning Prayer and Mass are at 7 a.m. Evening prayer is at 7 p.m.

Fr. Mark presiding at Mass, photo by Alvin Te

Pranzo is the big meal served about 1 in the afternoon. There is always wine, pasta, some kind of protein and vegetables, and generally fruit for dessert. The final dinner (cena) is light and around 7:30, followed by a recreation time that can last for a while. Caoimhin Ó Laoide can really sing!

Our final session is this evening, Jan. 25. I hope to be on the plane by 8 a.m. on Friday and in Cincinnati by 4:30 p.m. This, of course, demands everything to be on time – something I no longer expect. I should have Jan. 27 to recuperate before the Provincial Council travels to New Orleans on Jan. 28. I hope my time in Rome will give you a well-trained provincial!

Pope Francis address the crowd in St. Peter’s Square


Walking the Walk

Yesterday we were able to attend one of the Wednesday audiences with Pope Francis. There were many people in St. Peter’s Square, but one of the friars managed to get a general ticket entitled “Frati Minori” for about 18 of us to get to the Square in a special section. We were not able to shake hands with him, but he was walking in the section directly ahead of us.

What I noticed about Pope Francis was that he took time to shake hands, speak, or take selfies with almost everyone in the front row. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry, but was generous with his time. That really was a homily all by itself.

The Swiss Guard