A SMALL religious order known for “evangelising on the streets of the world” hopes to send a mission to Australia after COVID-19 subsides.
The Little Friars and Little Nuns of Jesus and Mary is an order with only 34 members, but the significance of the mission was revealed after one of its priests prayed and receiving a sign to come.
Also known as the Poor Friars, the order draws on a dual charism of both contemplative silence and prayer of the early Carmelites, and active poverty and evangelisation of the early Franciscans.
Travelling by hitchhiking, their apostolate takes place in the vehicles of the people who pick them up, educating them and invite them to Mass.
“We hope to send three of us on mission (to Australia) for two to three months, but as we are still under lockdown due to COVID-19, we are not able to head out immediately,” the community’s Sr Caterina posted on Facebook page prepared especially for the mission.
“However, we are keeping an eye on the situation with prudent discernment.”
The Poor Friars began in Italy, but expanded to create a new community in southern Lousiana in the United States, in 2012.
One of the friars, Fr Antonio Maria Speedy, an Australian from Adelaide, now living in southern Louisiana said he was “reluctant” at first to believe that a “relentless desire” from Sr Caterina, who wanted to send a mission to Australia, was “inspired by God”.
“A little like St Joseph who was reluctant to believe Mary’s divine Conception, I was reluctant to believe,” Fr Antonio said, admitting that he may have become “comfortable” after seven years as a parish priest, in the “bubble” of predominant Southern Louisianan Catholicism.
“Most probably though, I admit, a little apprehension, ‘no prophet is accepted in his own native place’ (Luke 4:24).”
Fr Speedy joined the Poor Friars in Italy two decades ago, but now administers the parish of the Holy Family Church in Dulac, in the heart of bayou country. He is the superior and works closely with a deacon friar and four nuns from his order.
He achieved some publicity after a local newspaper described his unique ways of getting people to come back to his parish church, which is close to the Gulf of Mexico and about 110 kilometres southwest from New Orleans.
In a social media video that went viral, Fr Speedy, put on a life jacket, hopped into a canoe — and cruised across the bayou under a sign that reads, “Dulac, come back to Mass!”
He rang a bell as he passed by fishing boats to help draw attention.
One Facebook commenter said, “I love it. I enjoy Mass when I come to Dulac to visit family. Love this idea.”
Another said, “Love it. He might be what this bayou needs to bring the people back.”
While that bold act of evangelisation generated keen interest in the Church, Fr Speedy said he spent weeks avoiding the prospect of a mission to Australia.
Eventually, he prayed aloud in his community: “Lord, if it be Your will, send us a clear sign tonight”, as written, “Plans are made in human hearts, but from the Lord comes the response”. (cf. Prov 16: 1).
Fr Speedy said he was “confident that if He really wanted us there, He would make it clear”.
The next morning he woke up without the slightest indication to “a call down-under”, no “voice through the night”, no “burning bush”.
And with the morning’s Divine Office void of any phrase, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel” (Mark 16:15), Fr Speedy concluded morning prayer content to move on in life, putting the whole idea of evangelising in Australia behind him.
However, before breakfast with the brothers, Fr Speedy paused to take a quick glance at his emails.
“To my surprise, I’d received an email from one of our nuns in Italy (who had not known of my prayer, nor the least of our discernment to possibly visit Australia) forwarding me another email that had arrived to our community’s inbox from none other than – would you believe it – an Australian,” he said.
“Fascinated with our charism, he eagerly asked among other things, if we had ever considered visiting Australia.
“I guess you could call it a sign.”
Now settled that the mission to Australia could go ahead, Fr Speedy admits it will not be easy for those friars and nuns chosen to come.
“Yes, you may be wondering, hitchhiking to Australia could be a little difficult … part of our discernment will be largely based on how much interest our community revives on behalf of Australians, and also secondly if the Lord help us find three tickets to get there,” he said.
“We suggest that if there is anyone in Australia interested in having us come visit their them, their family, parish or school, that they firstly get to know us and our charism online through the meditated Rosary meetings we hold via Zoom.”
To organise moments of prayer people can write to Sr. Caterina at firstname.lastname@example.org”
Sr Caterina posted on Facebook: “Of course, it is very important that everything is planned in agreement with the local pastor and the local Bishop, in the cases of parish missions”.
“We will try to accommodate as many places as possible in our planning for the mission; however, the schedule of our trip and the places we visit will be planned according to how many serious interests we receive from each diocese,” she wrote.