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Philippines

The meeting of friars and preachers

A tradition between two old orders that dates back to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic continues to this day

Mark Saludes, Manila

Mark Saludes, Manila

Updated: October 09, 2019 02:28 AM GMT
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The meeting of friars and preachers

Father Napoleon Sipalay Jr. (left), prior provincial of the Order of Preachers in the Philippines, and Father Cielo Almazan, minister provincial of the Franciscans in Manila, celebrate Mass during the feast of St. Francis on Oct. 4. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

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The Mass to celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi was about to start when Marilyn Martinez arrived, so she sat at the back near the church’s main entrance.

Franciscan friars with their brown habits tied with a three-knotted rope were already forming a line down the aisle.

Marilyn noticed that priests from other congregations, with different habits, were also present. The 20-year-old student always attends Mass in this church because it is close to her school.

"I like it here. I like their brown habits. It gives me a different feel. It feels like I am in a foreign place or in the past,” she said.

Mass started at 6 o’clock in the evening. The songs of the Franciscan choir added a sense of drama to the celebration.

After the reading of the Gospel, Marilyn noticed that the homilist was not a Franciscan or even the Mass' main celebrant. They were wearing black and white habits, not the Franciscan brown.

The main celebrant was Father Napoleon Sipalay Jr., prior provincial of the Order of Preachers, or the Dominicans. Father Roy Rodriguez, OP, provincial secretary of the Dominicans, delivered the homily.

There was no shortage of Franciscan friars to celebrate that Mass. In fact, seated next to the Dominican prior was Father Cielo Almazan, minister provincial of the Franciscans in Manila.

But the Franciscans and the Dominicans have a tradition that goes back to the early years of both congregations.

Every Oct. 4, during the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a Dominican officiates Mass, while a Franciscan friar leads the Eucharistic Celebration during the feast of St. Dominic every Aug. 8.

The tradition started when the two saints met many, many years ago in Rome.

In 1216, when St. Dominic visited Rome for the second time, he met St. Francis of Assisi in one of the churches.

They were both negotiating with the pope through their mutual patron, Cardinal Ugolino, later Pope Gregory IX, to obtain papal confirmation of their respective orders.

Historians claimed that Dominic saw Francis in a vision the night before and when he recognized Francis inside the church, he rushed to greet him.

It was said that the two saints became close friends at the time when the two mendicant orders were being established.

Mendicant orders are Christian religious orders that have adopted a lifestyle of poverty, traveling and living in urban areas for purposes of preaching, evangelization, and ministry, especially to the poor.

Members of these orders renounce all proprietorship, not only individual but common ones too.

Franciscan priest Dexter Toledo said there was a "mutual influence between the two founders" of the congregations since they met.  

"Based on historical claims, St. Francis may have influenced St. Dominic to expand the practice of the vow of poverty, while Dominic inspired Francis with his learnings," said the priest.  

Father Toledo said the exchange between the two orders "signifies unity to attain a common goal ... And that goal is to be mendicants of meaning."

"We must relearn how to beg, and we go back to our original roots as poor friars. We are reminded that we need to go to poor communities and teach," he said.  

He added, however, that "preaching is not one-way traffic." "We must teach, preach and evangelize but we must also learn from the people," said Father Toledo.

The Franciscans and the Dominicans are two distinct orders but are not separated in fulfilling "one common goal," which Father Toledo said is "to spread the Good News."

In his homily, Dominican Father Rodriguez stressed the need to understand "our role in the Church, which St. Francis of Assisi had greatly performed."

"He knew that Jesus Christ is the center of everything ... He knew he is pointless without Christ," said the priest.

Father Sipalay urged the Franciscans to continue to share their knowledge with the Dominicans as he assured him that the Order of Preachers will do the same.

"Please teach us, your brothers, how we can move forward. In the same way that Francis built the church, which was in ruin, I hope you continue to inspire us," said the Dominican.

Father Almazan, the Franciscan prior, meanwhile, called on Catholics to follow the path of St. Francis "who loved and cared for all creation."

He said Saints Francis and Dominic not only built their respective orders but "created a strong bond and connection."

"I still have plenty of things to learn about our Church," said Marilyn after the Mass.

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