Communications Manager Bridget Higginbotham kicks-off a special blog series live from Rome, Italy. 

It’s a historic week for the Orders of Friars Minor. Their first-ever international congress on mission and evangelization has drawn to Sassone (Rome), Italy, about 200 brothers from around the world – Madagascar, the Philippines, South Africa, Australia, Colombia, Pakistan, Brazil, Canada, Zimbabwe, Ireland, India, the Netherlands, Poland, The Holy Land, Mexico.

And then there is me.

In a sea of men in brown robes, I stick out: a minority among the friars minor. People see the little tau on my neck and wonder if I am a sister or even a Secular Franciscan. Nope. Here as a representative of Franciscan Mission Service, I one of four women and one of about six lay people at this congress. And I’m willing to bet that I am the youngest person here.

As my executive director Kim Smolik and I stood in line for nametags and welcome packets on the first day, a man kept coming up and insisting in Italian that the line was for the friars’ meeting. “Si, that is why we are here.”

Franciscan Mission Service’s Bridget Higginbotham and Kim Smolik ready for the first address of the Congress.

Franciscan Mission Service was invited to this historic event to share about the work of Franciscan lay missioners. Kim will give a presentation about our organization on Saturday, which is the day with the dedicated theme “Evangelizing as a family – the shared mission.” We are also helping with the workshop about partnering with the laity for mission and evangelization.

Throughout the 11-day congress we are attending lectures by friars and guests, joining in prayer, and sharing in the sacred Franciscan tradition of building relationships (often over food and drink). It’s already been both invigorating and exhausting to meet men from a variety of ministries and to learn about their home and mission communities. The possibilities for collaboration and partnership are endless!

Orders of Friars Minor Minister General Michael Perry (third from left) addresses the order’s first-ever international mission and evangelization congress

The long days are also dense with wonderful information and reflections on mission and evangelization in the Franciscan tradition. So much of what is shared I find relevant for our Franciscan lay missioners and even for Franciscan-hearted individuals such as myself. The wisdom of St. Francis and the Orders of Friars Minor can be applied to anyone who wants to humbly work for peace and justice.

Rather than keep this all this good to myself, I will share what I can with you here. I am also tweeting via Franciscan Mission Service’s handle @franmissionserv with the hashtag #OFMcongress.

I am grateful to the friars for inviting us, for receiving the testimony we give on behalf of our missioners, and for the hospitality and fraternity they have already extended to us. (I must add that I am particularly grateful to the instantaneous translators.) It is truly an honor to be here, and I look forward to taking all of you on this journey with me.

Bridget Higginbotham is our communications manager and came to Franciscan Mission Service as a Nonprofit Leadership Program associate volunteer in 2011. Originally from Orlando, Fla., she is a proud Girl Scout alumna and graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.