By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) -- To coincide with the 800th anniversary of their founding, representatives of the almost 15,000 Franciscans of the Order of Friars Minor will gather in Assisi to elect a superior and plan for their future.
The 152 delegates to the Franciscan general chapter will meet May 24-June 20 in the city of St. Francis' birth. They will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the order June 9.
Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, elected minister general of the Franciscans in 2003, is eligible for a second six-year term when delegates hold elections June 4.
"But ours is an unpredictable order," Father Francesco Patton, secretary of the chapter, told reporters during a May 22 press conference. Two of Father Carballo's predecessors were elected to two terms; two were not, he said.
Father Carballo told reporters the delegates will look at how well the order has met the priorities set in 2003 for deepening spirituality, improving fraternal life and living as poor among the poor and in solidarity with all those in need.
Second, he said, they will try to find new ways to meet the challenge of being missionaries in the modern world.
Father Mirko A. Sellitto, head of the order's press office, said video of the main liturgical celebrations of the chapter meeting will be posted on the video-sharing Web site YouTube, and some of the talks and interviews with delegates will be packaged as podcasts that can be downloaded from iTunes.
Father Carballo told reporters, "Even if numerically our order is diminishing, that does not mean we are not opening new mission," including ones in Sudan and Myanmar.
In 1930, the Franciscan Friars Minor numbered 22,000, said Father Francesco Bravi. As of Dec. 31, 2008, the number had declined to 14,724.
However, he said, like many of the church's oldest religious orders, the Franciscans are growing in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, holding steady in Latin America, and declining in Western Europe and North America.