Conference in South America Inspires Siena College’s Russel Murray

Jocelyn Thomas Friar News

This article describes the participation by a friar in one of the many entities of the Order of Friars Minor. Reports about other friar experiences abroad and with Franciscan collaboration are provided as the HNP Communications Office learns of friar involvement.

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — After five days in South America participating in a Franciscan gathering about intercultural dialogue, Russel Murray, OFM, says he returned to work at Siena College inspired.

It was a “great experience,” said the director of the college’s Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy. “I am so happy to have participated in this program.”

He, and roughly two dozen other Franciscans from around the world, gathered from Feb. 20 through 24 in Cali, Colombia, for the Third Franciscan Seminar on Dialogue, a group convened by the OFM Committee for Dialogue. The friars, representing various backgrounds, focused on intercultural dialogue under the theme, “Urban Contexts: Indigenous and Black Migrations in Latin America,” according to the OFM website.

The highlight for Russel, asked to attend because of his involvement in the Order’s Service for Dialogue Commission, was visiting a community of African natives in Cali through a program run by the Paz y Bien Foundation. The commission meets once a year.

“We had the opportunity to interact with the people,” he said. “The visit allowed the participants to see how people live and, if only for a day, to share in their lives. Our visit helped to bring home their situation.”

Seminar’s Impact
The children seemed excited to see the visiting friars, Russel said. “The kids kept mobbing us, especially me because I’m tall,” he said, with a smile.

“All too often, U.S. policies affect the poor of Colombia adversely,” said Russel, a member of the Province’s Justice, Peace and Integrity for Creation Directorate.

Russel is the newest member of the commission, which falls under the Secretariat for Missionary Evangelization. He said he was asked to join because he is an American English speaker with expertise and experience in ecumenical relations. At any one time, there are about 25 people on the commission, he said, adding that next year the commission will meet in Nairobi, Kenya.

Fr. Roger Marchal, OFM, of France, one of the Order’s nine general councilors, is president of the commission. It is one of the Order’s more than 20 committees and commissions.

Brothers representing Latin American conferences and members of the commission gathered to participate in “this event of vital importance for evangelization and formation,” according to the seminar description on

Br. Alvaro Cepeda, OFM, a member of the Commission for Dialogue and rector of the University of Cali, coordinated and opened the meeting.

Among the seminar’s conclusions was that Franciscans “need to make all brothers and sisters become aware of the urgent need to know the reality of our indigenous and African descent brothers living today.” These people, “among other problems, are going through the dilemma of migration and displacement. This requires a pastoral differential to make visible the invisible, through dialogue, thus responding to their own realities.”

russel-rEcumenical Interests

Russel, who has served at Siena since the summer of 2011, after having taught at the Washington Theological Union for four years, is involved with a variety of ecumenical and interfaith initiatives. When assuming the FCSA position, he discussed his interest in ecumenical dialogue and anticipation in broadening the center’s interfaith work and justice and peace focus.

This summer, Russel, who professed his final vows as a Franciscan in 1997, will participate in a seminar in Jerusalem affiliated with Seton Hill College, Greensburg, Pa., called the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education.

Next spring, Russel is running a course at Siena that includes both lectures and travel to Belarus. The Belarus Travel Course will review the issue of restorative justice in Catholic-Jewish relations, post-Holocaust, said Russel. “I am adding material on interfaith relations.” After visiting Warsaw, the students will go to Belarus to restore a graveyard. The two-week trip will be preceded by a classroom component, Russel said.

“This is very connected with what Siena’s Franciscan Center was founded to do,” Russel said.

Russel’s ecumenical studies began when he attended WTU in the early 1990s. He studied Orthodox and Eastern spirituality. “My research papers often were on the Orthodox perspective. When it came to my doctoral studies, I wanted to expand my expertise into the ecumenical relationships existing among Eastern Christians.”

Over the past decade, Russel has participated in several ecumenical gatherings, including at the Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury, England, in 2005, and a visit to Rome and Assisi in 2002 with Franciscans from a variety of Protestant churches, including members of the Anglican Society of St. Francis.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province. She and her team plan to feature reports about the significance for other HNP friars of their gatherings with Franciscans around the world.