The Order of Friars Minor (also called the Franciscans, the Franciscan Order, or the Seraphic Order;[1] postnominal abbreviation O.F.M.) is a mendicant Catholic religious order, founded in 1209 by Francis of Assisi. The order adheres to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of the founder and of his main associates and followers, such as Clare of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, and Elizabeth of Hungary, among many others.

The Order of Friars Minor is considered the successor to the original Franciscan Order within the Catholic Church and is the largest of the contemporary First Orders within the Franciscan movement. Francis began preaching around 1207 and traveled to Rome to seek approval of his order from Pope Innocent III in 1209.

The original Rule of Saint Francis approved by the pope disallowed ownership of property, requiring members of the order to beg for food while preaching. The austerity was meant to emulate the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Franciscans traveled and preached in the streets while boarding in church properties. Saint Clare, under Francis's guidance, founded the Poor Clares in 1212, which remains a Second Order of the Franciscans. ​The extreme poverty required of members was relaxed in the final revision of the Rule in 1223.

The degree of observance required of members remained a major source of conflict within the order, resulting in numerous secessions.[2][3] The Order of Friars Minor, previously known as the Observant branch, is one of the three Franciscan First Orders within the Catholic Church, the others being the Capuchins and Conventuals.

The Order of Friars Minor, in its current form, is the result of an amalgamation of several smaller orders completed in 1897 by Pope Leo XIII.[4] The latter two, the Capuchin and Conventual, remain distinct religious institutes within the Catholic Church, observing the Rule of Saint Francis with different emphases. Franciscans are sometimes referred to as minorites or greyfriars because of their habit.

Strengths and Challenges in the East Asian Conference

The Conference is divided into two in terms of vocation. There are four (4) growing entities (Vietnam, Philippines (two Provines) and China but three (3) decreasing entities. Vietnam is really increasing fast. You can observe this from the number of temporary professed and Novices. Philippines is growing. Now, has two Provinces with a new Province recently established. South Korea is still growing but it is observable that vocation is going down. Two affluent Provinces like Japan and Taiwan-HongKong are really decreasing for the last 20 years. Many friars are getting older. There is almost no vocation coming in. 

Conferential Collaboration among Ministers and the Secretaries for Formation and Studies, Missions and Evangelization and JPIC

There has been great coordination among Ministers. After the pandemic, the EAC met already face to face twice. One in August 2022 in the Philippine Province of SPBP, then the second one, we had a separate EAC meeting also during the FCAO meeting last May 3, 2023.

We also have Conferential coordinators for Formation, Missions and Evangelization and JPIC and they always join our EAC ministers’ meetings. Every two or three years, we have an EAC General Assembly that includes all the provincial secretaries and animators of these three groups attending the EAC meetings.

1) Formation and Studies We have many collaborations especially in the initial and on-going formation but was stopped during the pandemic. We are glad that in our August 2022 EAC meeting, the ministers agreed to resume all formation collaboration:

a. The annual Common Integration and Intensification Program (CIIP) of temporary professed friars of EAC preparing for solemn profession will resume this July 27-Aug 27, 2023, in Manila, Philippines.

b. The Young Friars Gathering, which is a biennial gathering of friars under 10 will resume in 2024 or 2025.

c. The lay brothers gathering which is triennial will resume in view of the International Gathering of Lay friars in 2025. This gathering will be held in Vietnam next year on Feb 26 – March 01, 2024. A committee has been formed to prepare this gathering.

d. In our recent FCAO meeting, EAC joined SAAOC in organizing a Formators Course for the FCAO. A committee has been created to prepare for this Formators course which will be patterned after the Formators course offered in the PUA.

2) Missions and Evangelization In the area of Missions, one common project is the Nagasaki Peace Mission project. We have now a Japanese, a Korean, a Chinese and a Filipino in this community. There was also an EAC migrant ministry in South Korea. However, this project needs to be revived once again. The Laos and Cambodia mission was originally an EAC project – proposed to us in one of the General Chapters.

EAC entrusted such mission to Vietnam. In the recent FCAO meeting, there is a proposal to study a possibility of developing a shared post-novitiate formation program as a long-term response to the Order’s need for missionary ad Gentes. The new Province of San Antonio de Padua – Philippines will be hosting the Inter-Obediential Course on Mission organized by the General Secretariat for mission and evangelization on June 04 - July 29, 2023.

3) JPIC So far this is the most challenging area as there are no activities for collaboration in this regard. Perhaps, the concerns are basically internal in their entities, and it is difficult to do solidarity work in totalitarian situations like in China and Vietnam. Even with the Military Junta in Myanmar, we cannot do much but show them our fraternal solidarity and financial support.

Each entity, however, responds to its own JPIC concerns. We just got out of the covid19 pandemic, so the animators need to resume more collaboration especially through online networking in order to support each other’s social concerns and issues. Perhaps, there is a need more to collaborate on ecological concerns and migration issues.