The Franciscans in Birmingham
Br Kieran Fitzsimons OFM writes:
When I greeted Gianfrancesco Sisto OFM at the airport on 17th February this year, it was the culmination of over 2 years discernment by us and friars in leadership for a little Franciscan fraternity in Birmingham.
This is my 7th year in Birmingham, having been a member of the Cordate Community in Aston, an inter-congregational community with Mark, a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSCs). Cordate had been in existence for about 14 years, originally comprising 3 MSCs, one from Belgium (Mark), England and Holland. Originally it was a project of the 8 European MSC Provinces: to be a contemporary religious presence in a European city.
Over the years, Cordate’s MSC membership changed and eventually was reduced to one, Mark, due to personnel shortages. I joined Cordate in 2016. The MSCs had to withdraw in June 2021. Mark returned to his native MSC Belgium Province to help set up a new international community project in Antwerp. Subsequently, I lived in temporary accommodation generously hosted by the Reverend Peter, the local Aston United Reformed minister (from June 2021) until October 2022 when my OFM Custody was able to purchase a house for friars as a home-base to support our ministry in Birmingham. The house is conveniently located close to the city centre.
Gianfrancesco has brought a variety of rich experiences having ministered for 13 years in 4 east African countries, coordinated a training programme for Franciscan missionaries for 11 years in Brussels and qualified as a psychotherapist.
Our ministry includes volunteering in city social projects e.g.
+ St. Chad's Sanctuary - drop-in centre/charity for refugee and asylum-seeking people;
+ Hope Projects (a charity for refugee people) - supporting refugee men in a home in Sparkhill while they seek leave to remain in the UK from the Home Office;
+ Individual psychotherapy;
+ Street Banquet - a monthly meal for homeless people based in The Church at Carrs Lane (ecumenical venture);
+ Birmingham Christmas Shelter - charity providing meals, accommodation and entertainment for homeless people.
Other ministry includes:
+ Occasional small donations/food gifts to charities and individuals - refugee, homeless, LGBT+, people working in prostitution;
+ Membership of lay-led reform movements seeking equality/justice in the Catholic Church, especially for women and LGBT+ people e.g. Root & Branch, Quest;
+ Visiting and attending services, celebrations at other Christian Churches (e.g. United Reformed, Methodist, Inclusive Gathering Birmingham, Evangelical; and spiritual direction/accompaniment.
Previous pre-Covid ministry has included volunteering in a day centre for homeless people, a house for refugee women, as well participation in inter-faith events including solidarity visits to mosques and synagogues.
Emerging as a new Franciscan fraternity, we are discerning and reviewing our ministry and presence in Birmingham.
Gianfrancesco ofm & Kieran ofm
8th May 2023
Our Mission Statement
We members and associates of the Franciscans (OFM - Order of Friars Minor) seek to help contribute and work towards a more inclusive, socially cohesive, just, and peaceful community/society, which celebrates our unity in rich diversity.
We want to be a friendly presence in a diverse ethnic, faith and secular community.
We aim to focus on helping to support marginalised groups of people in Birmingham city, including but not limited to homeless, refugee and asylum seeking, LGBT+ people.
We seek to do this in a variety of ways, which include:
+ Establishing networks and partnerships with the wider community, grass roots community organisations and charities.
+ Developing informal and referral pathways with partnership agencies.
We wish to nurture and develop positive ecumenical and interfaith links, understanding, relationships and dialogue, on individual and group levels.