Five years ago, on Sept. 11, we were shocked and horrified to discover that our country was under attack. We experienced first-hand the horror of that day, as one of our brothers, Mychal Judge, was killed at the World Trade Center while working as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. Like most Americans, we reeled with uncertainty during those days after Sept. 11, as we struggled to understand the new world in which we found ourselves.
In our ministries, especially those located in the greater New York and Washington, D.C., metropolitan regions, we were humbled to serve in the pastoral role of mourning the dead and supporting the living to come to terms with senseless violence and destruction.
As we remember back and look to the future, we are more convinced than ever of a fact of history, that meeting violence with violence serves only to produce more violence. We look for guidance in the Gospel where Jesus instructs us, “Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.” (Lk 6:31-33,35-36)
We watched with concern as the country moved in a different direction and began to prepare for war. As the war in Iraq broke out, our Provincial Minister wrote: “Let us pray for the American and allied soldiers facing battle. Let us pray for the Iraqi soldiers as well, just as beloved of God. Above all, let us pray for the innocent ones caught in the middle of this war. It is easy to demonize the enemy. It is not so easy to remind all that we are, first of all, brothers and sisters to one another. Our common humanity demands no less of us.”
In May 2005, the friars of our Province gathered in Chapter wrote, “Our Franciscan religious commitment connects us to all those who suffer. The mounting deaths and casualties of U.S. and coalition service men and women, Iraqis, and U.S. and international civilians in Iraq fill us with anguish.” We then went on to ask for a plan for the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces from Iraq, a foreign policy that rejects pre-emptive use of force, and a recommitment to the rebuilding of Iraq.
In these statements, we have been following the example of our founder, St. Francis of Assisi, who also lived during a time of war between Christians and Moslems. When Francis saw this violence first-hand, he went to speak with the Moslem leader, Melek-al-Kamil. Although he was unable to achieve peace, Francis came to understand better the ways of the Moslem people and developed a profound respect for them. When he returned to Italy, Francis told the friars that one way to live “among the Saracens” was “not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake,” although, he told them, “to acknowledge that they are Christian.” (Franciscan Rule of 1221).
On this, the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks of 2001, we repeat our plea for peace. We urge our friars and all people of good will to not let the legacy of Sept. 11 be one of more blood and lost lives. We ask that, instead, we listen again to the words of our brother, St. Francis, who on his deathbed said, “Let us begin again, because until now we have done nothing.”
We can begin again by emulating our Brother Francis as he courageously went out on his encounter with the Sultan. In this reaching out, St. Francis modeled for us today a way to build bridges, bring reconciliation to broken relationships and seek to change the structures and systems that lead to violence and oppression. In other words, we can be the peacemakers that our Franciscan heritage calls us to be.
We can begin again to open channels of dialog with the Moslem people among whom we live. We can join and encourage groups who are developing this dialog on an international scale. We can develop relationships with others outside of the U.S., so that we can have a clearer international vision that will inform us to live more fully in solidarity.
We can begin again to change the policies that the U.S. government uses to interact in the world. Such change will enable the U.S. to be seen and act as a good neighbor and build on the good that we can and do bring to our world. Such change would call for our government to proactively address the tactic of terrorism with methods that do not limit themselves to only the military or to violence. To be peacemakers does not mean we retreat from action, but it requires action that will heal and reconcile, not hurt and divide.
Beginning again, as Franciscan Peacemakers we can work together to see that the lasting legacy of Sept. 11 is not one of more human blood, but rather one of a growing, developing and, God willing, a lasting peace among deeply religious people who love and serve the same God.
My brothers, let us begin again to take up this urgent and pressing job of peacemaking.
Statement Passed by the Provincial Council
Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus
New York, New York
September 8, 2006