The International Franciscan Center for Dialogue of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual was begun by the General Chapter celebrated in Assisi in 1989, and is the fruit of a long activity of the Friars Minor Conventual in the field of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Its goal is to work for Christian unity (ecumenism) and to carry on the “spirit of Assisi” (interreligious dialogue) proposed by John Paul II, following in the footsteps of Saint Francis. The choice of Assisi as the location for the Center was inspired by the role of the Sacred Convent, both because its nature as a place of peace and dialogue, and even more importantly, because of its ecumenical vocation.

Before CEFID, the Ecumenical Center of the Sacred Convent already existed and was called the Center of the Ecumenical Apostolate of the Sacred Convent. It was inaugurated by the General Chapter celebrated in Assisi in 1972 which had approved and confirmed the erection of the Custody of Assisi.
The first president of the Ecumenical Center of the Sacred Convent was Friar Basil Heiser (1909-2009), former Minister General (1960-1972), who was elected by the Conventual Chapter of October 12, 1972. His ecumenical assignment was destined, however, to last a brief time; on November 21, 1972, Pope Paul VI nominated him to be the undersecretary of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes. Consequently, Friar Maximilian Mizzi of the Province of Malta was elected “Director” of the Ecumenical Center. Without a doubt, then, the apostolate of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue came about before the foundation of the Ecumenical Center of the Sacred Convent and even before the Second Vatican Council. Many friars at the Sacred Convent, desiring to promote reciprocal recognition and mutual love with the non Catholic pilgrims to the Tomb of Saint Francis, had begun a fraternal, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. One specific example is the great influence of the Dutch friar, Felice Spee (1853-1916), on the Franciscan thought and the spirituality of the Danish convert to Catholicism Johannes Joergensen (1866-1956).
Another example is Friar Leonardo Van Den Berg (1896-1984), also a Dutchman, who founded Casa Betania , built with the help of Dutch Protestant friends and inaugurated officially on October 24, 1965. Casa Betania was erected in Assisi, in memory of Friar Felice Spee. Casa Betania has two objectives: to offer a place for spiritual renewal to foreign clergy members and to facilitate the study of the life and the spirituality of Saint Francis among intellectuals throughout the world.
One of the most difficult moments of history was when Friar Michele Todde (1882-1972) of Sardinia risked his life saiving 100 Jews from persecution in the city of Assisi between 1943 and 1944. For his efforts in saving the Jews during the war, he received a certificate of recognition together with Don Aldo Brunacci, a priest of the Diocese of Assisi. His correspondence with Francesco Salvatore Attal, a Jewish convert to Christianity, is a unique treasure.
Friar Maximilian Mizzi (1930-2008), originally from Malta, was among the most notable figures in the ecumenical and interreligious dialogue apostolate of our Order. He made his first ecumenical contacts in 1960 with Anglicans in the United Kingdom, and later with Lutherans in Scandanavia and others. From 1972 to 1990 he was the Director of the Ecumenical Center of the Sacred Convent; from 1990 to 2003, he was named the General delegate for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, followed by Friar Adam Bunell from 2003 to 2007.
From the beginning of his activity in the field of dialogue, Friar Maximilian Mizzi began a long series of ecumenical trips that brought him to many countries around the world. He participated in ecumenical dialogue and took part in many ecumenical initiatives with various religions on the national and international levels and met with great personalities in the political and religious world. One could call him: “a pilgrim, an eternal pilgrim with memories, forever and a pilgrim everywhere.”
Friar Gerhard Ruf (1927-2008), from Germany, developed for many years a successful ecumenical apostolate with German Lutherans in Assisi and in Germany. For a long time, he was also the head of Casa Betania and of the Friary of Rocco Sant’Angelo, places that have opened their doors to many non Catholics. It is interesting to note, that the first non Catholic guest (before his conversion) at the Friary of Rocca Sant’Angelo was none other than Johannes Joergensen.
The Order, conscious that Assisi is the city of dialogue and shares the vocation of the Church in its dialogue with the whole world, feels called to gather, conserve and to develop the “spirit of Assisi.” This “spirit” clearly motivated Saint Francis and his Order in the desire that all creation live in brotherhood in and through Christ. This desire was expressed in a motion (n. 36) passed by the last General Chapter, celebrated in Assisi in 2007:
The General Chapter of 2007 reaffirms the decision of the General Chapter of 1992 that Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue in the “spirit of Assisi” is one of the components of the mission of the Order. Which therefore obliges us to prepare personnel and to provide the necessary means, involving the General Delegate in this field and collaborating closely with the other members of the Franciscan family.
The General Chapter of 2007 considers the dialogue with Islam as a duty of the Order and wishes the collaboration of all the members of the Franciscan movement.
CEFID has had and will continue to have as its principal objective the formation of all the friars of the Order in ecumenism and in interreligious dialogue in the “spirit of Assisi”. This will be done by promoting an ecumenical and interreligious conscience and activity at the heart of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual and by collaborating with other centers of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in the Order. This center, moreover, will collaborate with the churches and Christian confessions and with other religions to promote ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and other activities that will result in a major spiritual rapprochement through meetings, prayer services, round table discussions, and conferences. Welcoming pilgrims of diverse confessions and religions which are attracted to Saint Francis is the most meaningful expression of ecumenism and of interreligious dialogue. Also important is collaborating with other centers of ecumenism and dialogue, particularly with the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and with the local church.
Since 2007, the General Delegate for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue is Friar Silverstro Bejan from the Romanian Province.