ELFRIDA, Ariz. – As friars, parishes, schools, and partners-in-ministry around the Province marked the Oct. 3 anniversary of the 1226 passing of St. Francis, Emmet Murphy, OFM, commemorated the beloved saint of Assisi in a distinct and dramatic way. He walked in the desert heat of 102 degrees along a two-lane highway at the U.S.-Mexico border to call attention to violence against immigrants and to proclaim peace.
Emmet helped organize the walk – a “Pilgrimage for Peace” – with two Franciscan friars of St. Barbara Province, with whom he has been living at a small friary in the Arizona border town of Elfrida since just after last Thanksgiving.
Nearly 20 pilgrimage participants included men and women religious and laypeople – among them Secular Franciscans, Mennonites, Quakers, Presbyterians, and agnostics – whose message of universal peace and reform of the horrific treatment of migrants was emblazoned on the handmade signs they carried: “Build Bridges, Not Walls,” “Welcome the Stranger,” “Asylum Seekers Need Help,” “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and “Paz y Bien” (“Peace and Good”).
“Our celebration of the Transitus was rather unique, without a doubt a different way to spend the day, in the sweltering heat of the desert calling attention to the myriad of problems facing our nation – especially the violence against immigrants at our borders, and how families are separated and children are caged,” said Emmet.
“As cars drove by, many motorists tooted their horns in approval when they saw the signs and realized what we were doing,” added Emmet, whose return to the Province retirement house in Butler, New Jersey, has been delayed for months by travel and other pandemic-related restrictions.
Ironically, during the peace walk, Emmet said the group witnessed the border patrol arresting a young migrant who had been hiding in the desert.
The 7-mile pilgrimage kicked off at noon at a Quaker meeting house on the highway. Although he traveled most of the route in a vehicle, providing water and sandwiches to the participants who stopped every few miles for a short rest, the 87-year-old Massachusetts native walked more than a mile of the journey.
“The participants seemed inspired – both the pilgrims of other faiths and those with no faith. I think everyone was glad they did the walk,” said Emmet.
The pilgrimage concluded at the friary where Emmet resides with Hajime Okihara, OFM, and David Buer, OFM, both of the California-based St. Barbara Province. They celebrated the Transitus in the small parish church – appropriately named St. Francis – next to the friary.
Afterward, the group moved to the parish hall and “enjoyed a delicious miso soup prepared by Brother Hajime,” according to Emmet, who said the friars celebrate daily Mass attended by members of the Elfrida parish – which is one of two parishes (the other is 40 miles away) served by the pastor, a native of Nigeria and member of the Diocese of Tucson.
Before the pandemic, Emmet had been walking close to three miles a day a few times a week, routinely making the rounds through the tent town dotting the landscape of the Mexican side of the southeast corner of the Arizona-Mexico border. Along with other Franciscan friars and women religious, he led homeless migrants, mostly families and children, to a day shelter a short distance away, providing them with hot meals, clothing, toiletries, running water, and a few hours of dignity and respite from the degradation of tent life.
Commemorations Across the Province
Franciscans celebrate the passing of St. Francis of Assisi on the day before his feast day. Friars and other followers usually gather at twilight on Oct. 3 to mark his moving from earthly life to everlasting glory.
Several HNP ministries posted photos and videos of this commemoration, including the Parish of St. Francis of Assisi in New York City, St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, Connecticut, and St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, Massachusetts.
Other Province ministries from New England to Florida held events and festivities throughout the weekend of Oct. 4 to celebrate the Transitus and feast day. These are just a few:
► In Western New York, St. Bonaventure University offered Mass at the University Chapel in Doyle Hall for students, faculty, and staff – followed by a feast of St. Francis dinner at Hickey Dining Hall. “May you be true instruments of God’s peace to everyone you meet today!” said a post on SBU’s Facebook page.
► In Loudonville, New York, the feast of St. Francis Mass at Siena College was celebrated in memory of Edward Coughlin, OFM, the college’s 11th president who died following heart surgery in 2019.
► In northern New Jersey, St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes celebrated the feast of St. Francis “in grand style,” according to its Facebook page, with a petting zoo, an outdoor Mass for the Vigil, and blessing of the animals.
► In Virginia, at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, an outdoor Mass, with vibrant music liturgy, was celebrated for the student population by pastor John O’Connor, OFM, on the lawn outside the parish school.
► In North Carolina, Immaculate Conception Parish posted on its Facebook page a video of the blessing of the animals. Families and children showed up with their dogs, cats, turtles, parakeets, and even an iguana, as friars sprinkled them with Holy Water and recited a special blessing.
► In Georgia, the friars blessed an assortment of furry animal friends at Holy Spirit Church – and friars did the same in Tampa, Florida, at Sacred Heart Parish, which also posted a feast day message on its Facebook page that read:
“As we celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi today, we reflect and celebrate the vision of St. Francis, who became so intimate and familiar with the wonders of creation, that he called them, ‘Brother’ and ‘Sister,’ like members of one family. May we all strive to be like Francis in spreading peace and goodwill to all that we meet.”
— Compiled by Stephen Mangione and Jocelyn Thomas
- “Reflecting on Fraternity and Brotherhood for St. Francis Feast” — Oct. 2, 2020, HNP Today
- “Retiree Emmet Murphy Crosses the Line for Migrant Families” — Sept. 16, 2020, HNP Today
- “A Glimpse of St. Francis Commemorations Around Province” — Oct. 17, 2018, HNP today
- “Francis Feast Attracts Viewers Across the U.S.” – Oct. 5, 2016, HNP Today