CONFERENCE OF SFO GENERAL ASSISTANTS

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CONFERENCE OF SFO GENERAL ASSISTANTS 2002-2 year 9 n. 34 THE SECULAR FRANCISCAN ORDER HOME AND SCHOOL OF COMMUNION
Br. Valentín Redondo

INTRODUCTION Transposed to the SFO, the following words of the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte: “to make the SFO the home and school of communion”, are impregnated with energy and form “the great challenge facing us – the brothers of Penance and the Assistants - in the millennium which is now beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God's plan and respond to the world's deepest yearnings” 1. We deduce the reason why the SFO is home and school of communion, and in which the First Order and TOR see themselves involved, from the same Pauline Rule: “In various ways and forms but in life-giving union with each other, they intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church”2. A practical way of communion is spiritual assistance, sign, at the same time, of corresponsibility3. The home and school of communion is constructed on the rock of the spirituality of communion, that is, with “the heart's contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us; an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith in
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order to make us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship; the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God; to know how to "make room" for our brothers and sisters, bearing "each other's burdens" and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy”4. THE TRINITY, SOURCE OF COMMUNION We can ask ourselves what communion means. Communion expresses the intimate union of men among themselves and of man with God. Communion is the quintessence of solidarity. Christian communion is centred on an intimate relationship with God, realised in Jesus Christ through the gift of the Spirit. Communion, then, refers us to the trinitarian mystery, in which the Trinity –communion and community consummated– is principle and ultimate objective of the same Fraternity of the SFO on its different levels. As the Church is the meeting place of the trinitarian history of God with human history, in which God-Trinity gathers His People5 and is a “community of faith, hope
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Novo Millennio Inuente (= NMI), 43. SFO Rule, 1. 3 Cfr. SFO Rule, 26.

NMI. 43. Lumen Gentium (= LG), 4.

and charity”6, the fraternity of the SFO, real church community7, is called to be a sign, instrument and transparency of the intimate union with God and of the unity of the brothers. From the moment that communion is grace, is gift of the Father, who makes union with Him through the Son in their common Spirit possible and even real, He makes communion of the brothers among themselves possible and no less real, remembering that “the vocation to the SFO is a vocation to live the Gospel in fraternal communion”8. The invitation to live communion with, for and in the Trinity, reveals at the same time the deep dimensions of the new model of communion between the Secular Franciscans and the Franciscan Family, called to be a sign of “total unity in Christ” and to “constitute one body in Him”9. Communion, in both its vertical dynamism –descendent in so far as it comes from God and ascendant in so far as it is directed towards Him and culminates in Him- and in its horizontal dynamism, expresses “the gospel essence of life in fraternal communion”10. Fraternal communion is grace. The structures, councils, ministers, assistance, etc. do not constitute communion, but they must be teachers of communion by orienting, animating, forming and guiding towards fraternal communion, the concrete way to love God and the brothers. “Communion is a gift from God, who has placed it in our hands as a seed to be sown”. The whole dream has to be put in this seed, raising the heart to the Triune God, but also in looking to the brothers and sharing with them: the principle of community, the priority of the fraternal and of the fraternity; the principle of multi-form in unity: without the brothers ceasing to be different, or being
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isolated or working in isolation or the charisms being lived in an atmosphere of the private, but being put at the service of the fraternity; the principle of reciprocity and of participation and corresponsibility that require “personal presence, witness, prayer, and active collaboration, in accordance with each one's situation and possible obligations for the animation of the fraternity”11. CAPACITY FOR CLOSENESS To make the SFO the home and school of communion means to feel oneself close to one’s brother from different angles: charity, solidarity, dialogue, mercy, etc. CHARACTERISTICS OF CHARITY Tertullian used to say in his time that the only thing the Christians could be accused of was that they lived in fraternity and charity. In the SFO, which is a community of love12, the profile of charity is underlined on the personal level by the disposition to accept services –to wash the feet of the brothers– and to leave office13; and, on the community level, in considering the fraternity as a concrete space in which to share the happy moments of the brothers and to face up to the difficult situations and conditions of others with courage and love. Within the fraternity, acceptance and fraternal commitment will become understandable only through a realistic and practical charity carried out in simplicity and closeness14. The Fraternity of the SFO, on any level whatever, will be a sign and an instrument of communion if it is open to the environment in which it lives and to the people who surround it. CHARACTERISTICS OF SOLIDARITY The requirement to share goods is an indication of authentic fraternity and home of communion that spreads its roots in the
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LG. 8. Cfr. SFO General Constitutions (= GGCC), 31.2; cfr. 3.3. 8 GGCC 3.3. 9 LG. 1 y 3. 10 GGCC 28.1.

GGCC 30.2. Cfr. GGCC 16.2. 13 GGCC 32.2. 14 Cfr. GGCC 24.2.

tradition of the Church (cfr. Acts. 4, 32). This requirement is made transparent in solidarity with the poor, in whom Christ questions and begs for our solidarity with Him with greater force (cfr. Lk. 19,8-9), as he also does in the realistic way of facing up to the needs of the fraternity itself. The sharing of one’s own goods in order to “meet the necessary expenses of fraternity life” 15 is a gesture of solidarity. The communication of goods is a detail of gospel poverty, active virtue, by which one becomes poor in order to make a brother rich (cfr. 2Cor. 8,9). It is not a matter of being poor or of poor fraternities, but that others should not be. At the same time, the communication of goods is a sign of the quality of the vocation and belonging to the Order and the fruit of a spiritual and intellectual renewal that allows it to be significant. CHARACTERISTICS OF DIALOGUE One of the characteristics of the Franciscan fraternity is solicitude for the brother, manifested in a family relationship and a trusting communication (cfr. 2R. 6,7-8). As brothers, dialogue is the path to the encounter with and communication of a spirituality of family and of presenting family, social and Church problems, and of being the creator of the conditions for inter-generation understanding and 16 dialogue . Dialogue, maintained and supported in fraternal life, is where the brothers can establish their family life, work and social activity in the spirit of the Beatitudes17. CHARACTERISTICS OF MERCY Francis speaks a lot in his Letter to a Minister on the value of mercy, stating that it is a sign of love and acceptance for the brother who does not seek mercy: “And if he were not looking for mercy, you would ask him if he wants mercy. And if he would sin a thousand times before your eyes, love
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him more than me so that you may draw him to the Lord; and always be merciful with brothers such as these”18. There are very delicate moments in the life of the brothers and the fraternities in which dialogue, communication, prayer and mercy –the supreme expression of love: God loved us first, we being sinners (cfr. 1Jn. 4,19)- try to strengthen and calm spirits, especially in situations where the brother finds himself in crisis or making decisions that are not in coherence with his form of gospel life19. CAPACITY FOR ILLUMINATION The Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte shows that “communion must be cultivated and extended day by day and at every level in the structures of each Church's life”20: IN CHRISTIAN LIFE The spirituality of the SFO is the Franciscan spirituality in its lay aspect, with certain characteristics that differentiates it from the same spirituality lived in the religious state of the First, Second and Third Orders Regular. The Secular Franciscan is called on to embody his Christian life in everyday existence, which locates it at the centre of the hopes and tensions of the life and structures of society. His Franciscan vocation is to follow Christ by living the daily reality of man, of work, of the commitment to transform and improve the conditions of life, which involve the social, cultural, political, etc. situation. He is called to live the values and the dynamism of humanity in the light of faith and Church communion. The commitment of the Secular Franciscan lies in his capacity to integrate human values and aspects of earthly demands with the following of Jesus.

SFO Rule, 25; cfr. GGCC 30.3. Cfr. GGCC 24.2. 17 Cfr. SFO Rule 11.

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LtM. 10-11. Cfr. GGCC 58.1-3. 20 NMI. 45.

IN SOCIETY Secularity is the special character of the SFO, in that its vocation is to be responsible Franciscan Christians inserted in the life and intricacies of the world. The Secular Franciscan must be conscious that the place where he must live his Franciscan vocation is the world, in assuming the responsibilities of the life of men of our times and of the structures of society, of its hopes and anxieties, of its progress and imbalance21, and of the repercussion that all this has on the life of faith and on the life of the Church. The faith of the Secular Franciscan, committed to the evolutionary process of society, must be obvious in dialogue and in its contribution, together with men of good will, in order to establish “a civilisation in which the dignity of the human person, shared responsibility, and love may be living realities”22. A great emphasis must be made on understanding it and committing oneself to it on the personal and fraternity levels, with prolonged moments of listening to the Word: prayer, silence, dialogue, revision of fraternal life and of listening to the word of the Church and the questioning of society23. IN THE CHURCH The Secular Franciscan is an active and determining part of the Church in order to be a mediation of the Gospel in the world that is always being built in ever-new ways. In this world and from his testimony of faith, the Secular Franciscan assumes the values of authenticity, of fraternity, of human solidarity, of justice, of love, of communion, of peace, as “stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God's children”24. Living in “full communion with the Church, fostering an open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity” 25 , the Secular Franciscans
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contribute to the mission of evangelisation and animation of all temporal realities, by living their faith among the challenges and hopes of the modern world. WITH THE FRANCISCAN FAMILY As a member of the Franciscan Family, the secular Franciscan feels himself close to the other Franciscans, male and female religious, in living communion and by continuing his Church and social mission with the other components of the Franciscan Family26. In this sense, the councils and the ministers, are invited to live and promote the spirit and communion with the Franciscan Family27. Communion with the Church and unity with the Franciscan Family, a reflection of the fidelity of the SFO to the Franciscan charism 28 , rest and are strengthened in and through the interest that surges from spiritual assistance. It is more, it, as a sign of communion and corresponsibility, is made concrete in the pastoral visitation of the Fraternities29. CAPACITY FOR CORRESPONSABILITY “The theology and spirituality of communion encourage a fruitful dialogue between Pastors and faithful: on the one hand uniting them a priori in all that is essential, and on the other leading them to pondered agreement in matters open to discussion”30. In this section I underline four fundamental aspects in which the “vital reciprocal communion” must be worked on with energy and conviction: formation, evangelisation, earthly realities and human promotion. FORMATION The formation of the Secular Franciscan in his charism as a specific way
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Cfr. Gaudium et Spes, 4. GGCC 18.1; cfr. 22.1 y 2; 15.3. 23 Cfr. GGCC 15.2. 24 SFO Rule 11. 25 SFO Rule 6.

Cfr. GGCC 3.2. Cfr. GGCC 32.1. 28 Cfr. GGCC 85.2. 29 GGCC 89.1 y 92.1; 94.2. 30 NMI. 45.

of living the Christian faith is an indispensable requirement for giving some quality to the SFO and which, together with the signs of identity and of belonging and of differentiated awareness, can contribute to a greater adaptation of the Secular Franciscan Order in the life of society and in the mission of the Church. Only an adapted formation, in which the theoretical aspects of the experience of life and the programmes for practical action in favour of the poor and of the marginalised, will make it true that in the SFO “the Christian message does not inhibit men and women from building up the world, or make them disinterested in the welfare of their fellow human beings: on the contrary it obliges them more fully to do these very things” 31 . Being aware that “whoever follows Christ, perfect man, makes himself more a man”, will spur them to create more dignified conditions of life for their surrounding fellow men. EVANGELISATION The apostolate is not born of personal initiative, but it is received from the Church and “is -stresses Paul VI- the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity”32. The Secular Franciscan must feel the mission to be a mature fruit of a life of fraternity. They should live their Church membership and their citizenship animated by the Franciscan charism, “going from gospel to life and life to the gospel”33, keeping in mind that the Church and the world are not side by side, nor one against the other, but that they permeate each other, by which the testimony of life and “the obligations proper to each one” are not two separate tasks, but rather are they integrated in the concrete commitment of man. And living as they do in the midst of the world, they “must for this very reason exercise a very special form of evangelisation”34, i.e.,

bring the renewing power of the Spirit to the heart of events and of all earthly realities. EARTHLY REALITIES As a lay person in the Church, the Secular Franciscan is called to sanctify the secular aspects of life. The Secular Franciscan, within the Franciscan Family, is characterised by his particular mode of relating to the world and being in the world, that is, his “secular nature”. Therefore, what Lumen Gentium states about the lay person is valid also for the Secular Franciscan; “what specifically characterises the Secular Franciscans is their secular nature”35, their participating responsibly “in the salvific mission of the Church itself”36. Therefore, its primary and immediate task is “to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world”37, that is: in politics, in the social and economic life, in the culture, the mass media of social communications, in work, in the family, in love, in aesthetics, etc. HUMAN PROMOTION A fundamental aspect of the mission of the Secular Franciscan is human promotion. To promote man and his values means to liberate him from all forms of slavery and from all psychological, economic and cultural conditioning. The effort at constructing, together with men of good will, a more just, human society and being more attentive to returning to the poor and marginalised the place and dignity that corresponds to them, is a gospel mission. Novo Millennio Ineunte tells us: “If we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified… we need to remember that no one can be excluded from our love”38. And this attitude should not only manifest itself in devout and
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NMI. 52. Evangelii Nuntiandi (= EN), 14. 33 SFO Rule 4. 34 EN. 70.

LG. 31. LG. 33. 37 EN. 70. 38 NMI. 49.

religious gestures, but must also and especially –because true prayer leads to itimmerse them in the structures of society in a Franciscan manner: in the culture, in politics, in the economy, in the family, in the struggle for justice, in respect for the life of each human being, in the hope for a civilisation of love. John Paul II says “the laity especially must be present in these areas in fulfilment of their lay vocation, without ever yielding to the temptation to turn Christian communities into mere social agencies”39.

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CONCLUSION
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I wish to close the topic of the Secular Franciscan Order as a home and school of communion by taking up the great importance that this space has in our society and Church. The spirituality of communion is like the soul of the new humanity. It is the map in which all the paths of encounter, understanding and collaboration of modern man pass through a deliberate though laborious creation of community spaces and links, where people can recognise and communicate with each other as such. The fraternal sense of the SFO can help in this aspect and strengthen these points of encounter as “a call to confidence and openness that respond fully to the dignity and responsibility of each member” of the SFO. In order for the SFO to become the home and school of communion it is required of it, as a fraternity on its different levels and as a Secular Franciscan on the personal level:
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the men of good will and also by coming closer to the frontiers of the marginalised and poor; To share the hopes and the joys, the sadness and the anxieties of our society, of the men of today, but especially of the most underprivileged, keeping alight the lamp of hope; To offer close collaboration to all who seek the transformation of the world in accordance with the plan of God; To commit itself to “courageous initiatives”, in harmony with the Franciscan vocation and the directives of the Church, in the field of human promotion and justice40; To show the spirit of solidarity, friendship and welcome that should animate all social relationships that the brothers live in and with the world; To embody the “trinitarian society”, as a substratum of faith in the Triune God, in which many “you”s and “I”s seek and find themselves in the synthesis of a communal we (Spanish “nos-otros” and “nos-uno”); To be embodied “communion”, in order to signify it and make it the reality of the fraternity and, from there, of the Church and society.

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To be an instrument of unity, of peace and fraternity in a divided, violent, cold, indifferent and egoistic world, in which the “civilisation of love” continues to be a great dream; To live friendship and charity between the members of their fraternities, with
NMI. 52.
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GGCC 22.2.

SUMMARY OF THE MEETINGS
CONFERENCE OF THE GENERAL ASSISTANTS
The Conference of the Assistants General met in the General Curia of the TOR on the 20th March 2002. Having examined the ordinary topics, it passed on to finalise the plans for the National Elective Chapter of the Italian SFO in the presence of Emanuela De Nunzio, Minister General. Unfortunately, the number of Fraternities from the SFO/Minors that will participate in this the first unified elective Chapter is still unknown. There was one happy note: the Italian Fra.Youth will hold its unified National Elective Chapter in August 2002. The Conference met in the OFMConv Curia on 26th April 2002. Each of the Assistants gave reports on the visits made. The Seminar for the spiritual assistants of Romania was left, for planning reasons, to another date that has still to be fixed. The first draft of the document “Formation of a new fraternity of the SFO” was looked at and improved. It will be presented at the next meeting of the Presidents of the CIOFS, 8-15 June 2002. The programme for the Unified Chapter of the Italian SFO, which begins tomorrow, 27 th April, was revised in the presence of the Minister General, Emanuela De Nunzio.

VISIT TO THE SFO OF PAKISTAN Br. Ben Brevoort, OFMCap, invited by the Capuchin Vice-Province of Pakistan, went to give a week of spiritual exercises to the Capuchin brothers. His presence in Pakistan allowed him to meet with the six emerging fraternities that there are in this predominantly Islamic country. The Friars Minor and Friars Minor Capuchin accompany them spiritually. They have not formed a National Fraternity yet. They will enter into communication with the Presidency of the CIOFS. CROATIA AND SLOVENIA: CELEBRATION OF FRA.YOUTH Br. Ivan Matic, OFM, participated in the celebration of the Fra.Youth’s ten years of presence in Croatia. He gave assistance to them before being appointed General Assistant. Despite the bad weather, a great assembly of young Franciscans was held on the 12-14 of April. They reflected and studied deeply the fundamental lines of the Fra.Youth, opening up new horizons and filling the place with joy. There was a similar experience in Slovenia, where the Fra.Youth is becoming strong, during the following weekend, 20-21 of April. COLOMBIA: NATIONAL CHAPTER The National Fraternity of Colombia celebrated its National Elective Chapter on the 23-25 of March. Rosalvo Mota, Councillor of the Presidency presided and Br. Valentín Redondo OFMConv was present. The elections were held after the procession with palms on Palm Sunday, the 24 th of March. Brother Jaime Yepes was elected National Minister. The work on the 25th was dedicated to planning the three-year period. ITALY: THE UNIFIED CHAPTER OF THE SFO
The first Unified Chapter of the Italian SFO was held from the 27 th April to the 1st May 2002. The elections were presided over by Encarnación del Pozo, Vice-Minister. Emanuela De Nunzio, Minister General, Emerenziana Rossato, and the four General Assistants were present. The Chapter opened in the evening of the 27 th April with a greeting and message from Card. Martínez Somalo, Prefect of the Congregation for religious. The 28th was dedicated to reports and presentation of candidates. The elections were held on Monday the 29 th and Rosa Galimberti was elected National Minister. The rest of the day was dedicated to the study and approval of the structures and plans of the Italian National Fraternity of the SFO. When the elections were over, a letter from the CIVCSVA, dated the 24 th April 2002 and signed by the Prefect of the Prefect of the Congregation, Card. Martinez Somalo and the Secretary, Mons. Silvano Nesti, was read. The letter is a response to “the petition to convoke the National Chapter of the SFO Minors, in order to renew the organs of the SFO Minor Fraternity”. The Congregation again declared the illegitimacy of the petitioner “to exercise the function and use of the title National Minister of SFO Minors of Italy. It stresses that, following attentive study, it does not grant any authorisation to convoke The National Chapter of SFO Minors, considering the petition unfounded juridically and inopportune pastorally.

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The Congregation declares that “the Unity that must be reached, even through a special way, is identified in the law and structures provided and, at the same time, by the Rule and General Constitutions of the SFO. It is not possible to declare full adherence to the Rule of Paul VI, while exempting oneself from that which the Constitutions prescribe, since these, with the Particular Statutes, are the application of the Rule itself. Therefore, to speak of a specific unity in a federative relationship is without juridical foundation in the current norms and is contrary to the way indicated in the decree of this Office”. It continues: “The non-adherence to the Chapter convocation is a behaviour that damages the process for the unification of the SFO. Those who have the right to participate in the Chapter and have been legitimately convoked, must know that this is a juridical and moral right, inherent in the mandate that the brothers and sisters of the local Fraternities entrusted to them… Finally, the declarations that have arrived here, which speak of disassociation, are very ambiguous and equally dangerous. Is it a matter of disassociation from participation in the National Elective Chapter, or is it to be understood as taking the SFO/Minor Fraternities out of the only SFO, disassociating itself from the Secular Franciscan Order as such and from its nature, configuration and legislation? Whoever is dragging the Secular Franciscan brothers and sisters to such an attitude must assume all the responsibility for such grave acts”. It adds: “in the next National Elective Chapter the only recognised Authorities of reference for all the members of the Secular Franciscan Order of Italy will be instituted. The faculty granted, exceptionally, to Mrs. Passoni in the document of the 15th September 1999, therefore, ceases”. “Despite everything, this Office believes that the Italian SFO National Chapter will be a first essential step of the authentic structural unity. We are sure that all of this painful situation, will be the source of blessing and grace, because it strengthens the Franciscan laity in the consciousness of its own identity and in the confidence, fidelity and commitment to the Church and its mission among men”. Finally, “The National Assistant is asked to send this letter to all the Regional Assistants, on the other hand, all the regional presidents are asked to send it to the regional Council and to transmit it to the local Fraternities under their jurisdiction”. The newly elected National Minister, Rosa Galimberti, comments that, on the one hand, the letter comforts and animates the new Council, but, on the other hand, pain is felt at the absence of many brothers. It is necessary to re-establish dialogue, in patience and understanding, with all the Secular Franciscan brothers of Italy.

APPROVAL OF THE STATUTES FOR ASSISTANCE
The Conference of Assistants General, during their tempo forte of the month of November 2001, worked out new Statutes for the spiritual and pastoral Assistance of the SFO, adjusting them to the amended General Constitutions. They were sent to the Conference of Ministers General of the First Order and TOR, who, gathered in Rome at the OFMConv. General Curia, approved them following attentive study. The letter of approval, of the 28th March 2002, states: “Dear Br. Valentin, in a letter of last February 13, in the name of the Conference of General Assistants of the Secular Franciscan Order, you sent us the Statutes for Spiritual and Pastoral Assistance to the Secular Franciscan Order, revised after a careful and thorough study and based on the General Constitutions of the SFO, definitively approved on December 8, 2000 by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. It is my pleasure to inform you that our Conference of General Ministers of the First Order and the TOR, at its meeting of March 25, 2002, approved these Statutes which, by the act of approval, enter immediately into force, substituting the preceding ones approved in 1992. The general Ministers entrust to the Conference of general Assistants the task making these new Statutes known to all brothers of the Franciscan First Order and the TOR and to foster its understanding and study. This instrument can thus serve as a basis for our fraternal service to the SFO and guide us all in our relations with the SFO according to our own vocation and the specific nature of the SFO itself. On this occasion, also in name of the other general Ministers, I thank you and the other general Assistants of the SFO for your generous and constant service. Wishing you and the other Assistants a Happy Easter, Your Brother, Br. Joachim Giermek, Minister General OFMConv. President

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