In the bowels of Saint Francis: six monks and three vows

It is not the only change that the convent has undergone in recent times, since since 2019, shortly before the COVID pandemic, the new superior, José Antonio Castiñeira Chouza, also arrived. Airs of renewal that are always welcome, even by the most veteran. The vows, yes, remain the same forever and ever: poverty, obedience and chastity.

The religious community opened the doors to FARO yesterday of one of the most emblematic and beautiful buildings in the historic center, which during the 20th century housed up to 60 friars, which gives an idea of ​​the importance it had as a house of formation, one of the most outstanding in Galicia.

The current community is between 53 and 87 years old. The youngest is the new monk, while the oldest is Gonzalo Diéguez Méndez, who was also superior in Pontevedra and who today is widely known in the city for being the most visible face of the soup kitchen that daily serves dozens of people without resources.

“The most pleasant surprise that I got when I arrived in Pontevedra is that the Franciscans here are highly respected and loved; that appreciation is exciting “

José Antonio Castiñeira Chouza – Superior of the convent of San Francisco

In addition to the current prior, the vicar José Pérez Rodríguez and Fathers Ignacio Fresco Magán and Abilio Alfageme Vega complete the list.

The monks of Pontevedra are a fifth of the Franciscan Order in Galicia, which totals 55 and that also has communities in Vigo, Ponteareas, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Herbón (Padrón), Louro (Muros), Ourense, Lugo and O Cebreiro. To these we must add the so-called “provincial infirmary”, in Noia, where those older religious and those suffering from health problems are found. “It is the jewel of the province because the care of our elderly and sick is very important,” emphasizes the superior of Pontevedra.

And in this sense it should also be noted that the Franciscan province is not limited to the one geographically established at the political level, but encompasses Galicia, Asturias, Zamora, Salamanca and has the custody of Venezuela.

Precisely, José Antonio Castiñeira Chousa from A Coruña was the provincial minister in Santiago between 2010 and 2019, just before arriving in Pontevedra.

Now the main objective is to “strengthen the community”. “Because the vocational crisis is the greatest that religious life suffers,” he acknowledges with concern.

The Franciscan province has a vocation pastoral team made up of religious from different communities who monitor the young people who present this vocation.

The Franciscans chat in a corridor of the convent. | GUSTAVO SANTOS

Daily routine

The day to day of a monk begins with the communal prayer of Lauds, early in the morning. From there the masses and confessions follow one another. During the week there are three homilies a day, while on Sunday there are four.

The service of the soup kitchen, the attention to certain groups and the personal study with permanent formation precede the communal prayer of Vespers, at sunset.

The figure of the superior has nothing to do with the meaning that can traditionally be understood of an authority. In the case of the Franciscan Order, the prior encourages meeting in fraternity for internal matters.

Love of the pontevedreses

A very important part of the Pontevedra society professes admiration and affection for the work of the Franciscans, centered, as their superior assures, “in the proximity to the world of marginalization, poverty and the most needy people”.

Proof of this is its soup kitchen, in operation since the late 1980s.

“The most pleasant surprise that I got when I arrived in Pontevedra is that the Franciscans here are highly respected and loved; that appreciation is exciting ”, confesses José Antonio Castiñeira with emotion.

He also highlights that “many people come to our church.” “Also in this sense I was surprised because the profile is not unique, not only are they older people, but there are many middle-aged and young married people,” he celebrates.

And it is not surprising that this appreciation that the people of Pontevedra have for the Franciscans is also related to the type of life they lead.

“Our life is very simple. We move with elements and structures of a simple family. We want our rooms and common spaces to fit in with a family life, ”says Castiñeira.

Marked by another monk

The vocation of the current superior arose when he was a teenager. Fate wanted his life to be marked at age 17 by a Franciscan religious who lived precisely in Pontevedra: José María Vázquez, the last to die in this community with more than 90 years.

“Meeting him marked my later life. He and my father are my references ”, sincere assures.

José Antonio Castiñeira could not have had a community closer to his own experiences. Although he can do little for the future of the convent of San Francisco, it is for the moment secured with the six current monks.

Umberto González Carballal is the new monk of San Francisco in Pontevedra Gustavo Santos

“I discovered my vocation by reading something about San Francisco”

The new Franciscan of the Pontevedra community is 53 years old and is a native of O Porriño. Before arriving at Boa Vila, he was in Ponteareas and Ourense. He entered the Order in 1988 after discovering his vocation “by reading something about Saint Francis.” “As I saw that there were friars close to where I lived, I went closer. There I met José Rodríguez Carballo, novice master in Ponteareas at the time, who guided me and with whom I spoke. Now he is the secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, appointed by the Pope ”, he highlights.

The library is also growing: thousands of books

The arrival of the new superior to the convent of San Francisco de Pontevedra has also meant that its library has grown significantly. And it is that José Antonio Castiñeira personally has thousands of copies that he acquired throughout his life and that now rest on shelves in the historic building in Pontevedra. “I started when I was young and have never stopped buying books,” he says. This library will add to the one that the convent already had, very affected by the fire of 1995. And it will do so with reading of all kinds, from philosophy, history, essays, novels … and with hundreds of authors.


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