Unique among religious communities, and even among the Franciscan family, is the charism of the Capuchin reform. The fraternal Gospel life is the common form and unifying identity of all Franciscans (Conventuals, Capuchins, Franciscans). The Capuchins, in desiring to return to the original inspiration and rigor of St. Francis and his early companions, stressed certain aspects which they viewed as central to an efficacious living of this Gospel brotherhood. The Constitutions of the Capuchin Friars Minor defines this identity and unique charism as such:
“Let us strive to give priority to a life of prayer, especially contemplative prayer, to cultivate, together with a spirit of minority, radical poverty, both personal and communal; and, out of love of the Lord’s cross, to manifest a life of austerity and joyful penance… While exercising among ourselves the freedom of brothers, let us joyfully live among the poor, the powerless and the weak, sharing their life, and let us maintain our special approach to people. In many ways, above all in the work of evangelization, let us promote an apostolic dynamism that is carried out in a spirit of service” (CC 1,4).
The charism of the Capuchins has taken concrete form in the life and witness of the orders many canonized and beatified members. Several striking commonalities can be observed in the lives of these holy men and women over the course of the last 400 years: centrality of the Eucharist, fervent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, long hours spent in prayer, bodily mortification through penance and humble austerity, and a special affinity and closeness to the common man – especially the poor.