FI Brings Franciscan Family Together Through Advocacy

Christian Seno, OFM Franciscan World

Christian Seno, Greg Madrid and Julian Jagudilla at the Franciscans International’s information session. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

NEW YORK — This past week, the International Board of Directors of Franciscans International met in New York City for its semi-annual board meeting. The Nov. 16 to 19 meeting brought together the seven members of the board, who represent the Conference of the Franciscan Family, to assess FI’s work and to review its financial and activities reports.

The IBD — comprising Br. Benedict Ayodi, OFM Cap., of Kenya; Br. Clark Berge, SSF, former General Minister of the Anglican Franciscans; Sr. Carla Casadei, SFP, of Italy; Ruth Marcus, OSF, a Secular Franciscan from Malaysia; Fr. Kevin Queally, TOR, of the United States; Joseph Rozansky, OFM; and Fr. Jude Winkler, OFM Conv., of the United States — also met with Fr. Markus Heinze, OFM, executive director of Franciscans International, to provide strategic guidance and orientation for FI’s advocacy strategy and its future activities at the United Nations.

According to Joe, president of the IBD, the board also took time to focus on the activities of the New York office, which recently hired a new UN representative. “Beyond the ordinary business of a board, we were very interested in checking in on the augmented staff of the office.” Joe continued, “We are thankful to Sr. Odile Coirier, FMM, for everything that she has done over the last two years, helping to keep FI alive and present at the UN in New York, and we are happy knowing she will continue her great work. We are also very happy with the way that both Christian Seno, OFM, and Marina El Khoury, FI’s new UN representative, have initiated their service in the office, a positive sign of good things to come.”

On Saturday, Nov. 18, Joe presided at the 5:15 p.m. Vigil Mass at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street. The Mass was an opportunity for the IBD members to gather in prayer and to share the spirit and mission of Franciscans International with Franciscans in the metropolitan New York area. The Gospel reading, taken from Matthew 25:14-30, seemed to underscore FI’s urgent mission. The parable of the talents issues a challenge that invites us to use our talents creatively to build the Kingdom of God. Joe noted, “We are trying to do just that at FI, working in the areas of peace, the poor and the planet.” He followed up with another alliteration – three P’s that are also characteristic of St. Francis. According to Joe, St. Francis’ mission resonated throughout the century because Francis was polite, persistent, and practical.

Joe celebrating Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church with Ignacio Harding and Ronald Pecci. (Photo courtesy of Christian Seno)

I was moved by how much of what Joe said resonated with my own understanding of Franciscans International’s approach to human rights and advocacy. In many ways, Francis’ personality characteristics can also be seen in how Franciscans International engages in its advocacy work at the United Nations.

Francis’ politeness, which was exhibited, for instance, in his famous encounter with the Sultan, can be seen in the way that FI fosters dialogue and listening in order to effect change and social transformation. His persistence [“he worked on things to the end”] is evident in FI’s commitment to the various UN processes that often take years to develop. Lastly, Francis’ practicality [“when God asked to rebuild the church, he went out and immediately began with brick and mortar; in regard to peace, he went out or sent his friars, to challenge people to live peace”] can be seen in FI’s engagement with the Franciscans on the ground and with the people who are directly affected by injustice around the world.

As a friar in formation who is spending his pastoral year in an internship with Franciscans International, I appreciated the explicit connections that Joe made between the mission of the organization in which I am working and the long-standing history and spirit of the Order to which I am inspired to commit my life.

After the Mass, the board of directors hosted an information session and reception in the Francis Room, adjacent to the church. The reception attracted members of the Franciscan family from all over the New York metropolitan area and beyond, including former staff members of Franciscans International, such as Ignacio Harding, OFM, Fr. Elias Mallon, SA, Kathy Uhler, OSF, Sr. Gloria Oehl, OSF, and Br. Kevin Smith, OSF.

The evening proved to be a great opportunity for attendees to learn about the history of Franciscans International and its work and positioning at the United Nations, while also providing a taste of some of the upcoming programs of the New York Office. Ronald Pecci, OFM, commented, “The Franciscans International event attracted more people than I expected. I was happy to learn of the status that FI has among the other NGOs, and the United Nations in general – a testimony to both their long membership as an NGO and their effectiveness.”

Members of FI’s International Board of Directors at their recent meeting in New York. Joseph Rozansky and Christian Seno are shown at right. (Photo courtesy of Christian)

Presenting on the initiatives of the recently revamped New York Office was Marina El Khoury, Franciscans International’s new UN representative. Originally from Lebanon, Marina came to FI after working with various UN agencies and NGOs, including Iraq and Jordan. Marina gave a brief overview of the complex UN system and showed how Franciscans International acts as a bridge between the Franciscans working at the grassroots and the United Nations through advocacy.

According to Marina, “FI has historically advocated at the UN through a combination of two approaches. The first approach is country-focused and consists of using all available platforms to ensure that national governments – UN member states – respect their international human rights obligations. FI leads gender-sensitive advocacy before the member states on behalf of different marginalized communities: rural communities, migrants and refugees, indigenous peoples, and the extremely poor, to name a few. The key topics of our advocacy have mostly been around human rights standards for extractive industries and mining, eradicating extreme poverty, migration-related issues, climate change, and responding to human rights violations in conflicts and post-conflict contexts.”

In addition to bringing together previous board members and staff of Franciscans International, the evening drew many younger members of the Franciscan community, both religious and secular, who are interested in human rights and advocacy. For Kelly Moltzen, board member of Franciscan Action Network, the reception proved to be an exciting occasion to learn more about Franciscans International and to imagine possible opportunities for greater inter-Franciscan collaboration. “The human rights work that Franciscans International does at the United Nations is critical and is an important witness to the Franciscan identity. I look forward to seeing how the international Franciscan community and the Franciscan Action Network, which works to transform U.S. public policy, can further collaborate to advance justice, peace, and integrity of creation worldwide.”

I was pleased to see how Franciscans International brings together the rich and diverse expressions of contemporary Franciscan life. In addition to board member Br. Clark Berge, SSF, who represents the Anglican Franciscans, Br. Luis Enrique Hernández Rivas, OSF, a friar of the Order of Saint Francis, a community in the Anglican Communion, also attended. He said, “I was very happy to be invited to the Vigil Mass and gathering. To me, it was a night full of hope. Hope, in knowing about the great work and recent happenings at FI. Hope, in meeting so many different members of the Franciscan family who are working to promote and protect human rights and environmental justice in our area. Hope, in seeing us pray, talk, plan and dream together across our differences.”

Br. Luis continued, “It was a beautiful sign of the kingdom to see this inter-generational group of women and men from different parts of the world, speaking different languages, from different denominations and communities…being together as sisters and brothers, following Jesus in the way of Francis and Clare.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Information about FI’s advocacy work along with links to the organization’s Facebook and Twitter pages can be found on the Franciscans International website.

Br. Christian Seno is a post-novitiate friar who is spending one year interning with Franciscans International as the advocacy and outreach assistant.

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