"There's something about Franciscan spirituality that's very nourishing for young people," she said.
Freeman went to World Youth Day in Madrid last year where she encountered an enormous YouFra movement full of energy, organizing hundred-mile walks for thousands of young people and willing to think about the implications of Franciscan spirituality for their lives. Freeman would like to see YouFra grow into that same kind of energy and activity in Canada.
The difference with YouFra is that it takes a vocational approach to bringing young Catholics together, said Silvana Rossi Loughheed, youth co-ordinator for the Trillium Regional Fraternity of Secular Franciscans covering southern Ontario.
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That doesn't mean nudging YouFra members into becoming priests, sisters or brothers. It means getting young people to think of their lives in terms of purpose, destiny and God's creative role. Franciscans have an edge when it comes to this vocational approach, said Loughheed. Their edge is Francis, whose own life doesn't seem remote and irrelevant to young people.
"He was a young man who partied hard," points out Loughheed. "St. Francis is such a great saint for youth."
The enormous Franciscan youth movements in Mexico, Philippines, Spain and Italy fill Loughheed with hope and frustration. She can see that YouFra can and does work for hundreds of thousands of young Catholics. At the same time there seems to be a wall around the English-speaking world.
"Why are English-speaking people so slow to embrace the spirituality of St. Francis?" she asked. "It's always harder in English."
The mission of YouFra is precisely the mission of Francis, as Loughheed sees it.
"We're rebuilding the Church."
And not just for the sake of the Church, said Colleen MacAlister, National Council of Secular Franciscans' youth animator.
"We really need to share the charism of Francis because the world needs to hear words of hope and faith," she said.