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A Ministry of Presence
Rachel Zawila
Source: St. Anthony Messenger
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012

Franciscan Mission Service (FMS) missioners serve first and foremost in a “ministry of presence.” Beyond caring for the physical needs of those they serve, they work to cultivate relationships and connections with them. “FMS believes in the power of relationships as the catalyst for changing lives—[of] both missioners and those they serve alongside,” says Kim Smolik, FMS executive director. “Our missioners listen, befriend, and walk with prisoners, the unemployed, single parents, individuals living with HIV/AIDS, refugees, orphans, and others.” Currently, 13 FMS missioners serve in South Africa, Kenya, Bolivia, and Washington, DC.

FMS is the only lay Franciscan mission program in North America. A group of North American Franciscans from the Order of Friars Minor founded it in 1985, and since sending its first lay missioners overseas in 1990, the organization has facilitated more than 100 people in missions around the world. “We aim to live and spread the Franciscan charism through sharing the major tenets of Franciscan spirituality and values,” says Smolik.

Before they serve for two to six years in various placements around the world, lay missioners take part in a 14-week, full-time formation program, in which they are educated in spirituality and the Franciscan tradition, social justice/Catholic social teaching, cross-cultural living and service, intentional community life, and servant leadership in ministry.

The lay missioners are then partnered with Franciscan religious serving overseas.

St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” For FMS missioners, this defines their ministry of presence. “When we enter other cultures, it is more important for the people to see us, get to know us, and to be known by us,” says Smolik. “Rather than coming with the intention of implementing program after program, missioners who engage in a ministry of presence spend time with and listen to the people, empowering them to believe in themselves, to identify solutions, and to value their own opinions.”

FMS missioners’ ministry does not end upon their return home. “Many of our missioners cite this experience as transformational and foundational to their growth as lay Franciscans,” says Smolik. “Most all, either through their career path, family life, or volunteerism, continue to serve the most vulnerable. They live out the Franciscan values in their everyday lives and share them with those around them.”

Visit franciscanmissionservice.orgfor more information.

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