WASHINGTON — As Catholics around the world recognized World Mission Sunday on Oct. 23, the Franciscan Mission Service prepares to send its first missioner to work in the Order’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Africa.
In January, an attorney with 30 years experience in human rights law will begin serving the JPIC office, led by Joseph Ehrhardt, OFM, an HNP alumnus.
The experience and passion of Susan Slavin “is a great fit for the focus and needs of the JPIC office,” said Kim Smolik, FMS executive director. “The JPIC Office staff members hope to expand their ministry to include free legal counsel with Susan’s help.”
The JPIC Office in Nairobi, Kenya, works on a range of issues including human rights education, peace education and skill development, said Smolik, who visited Africa this summer. Though this office focuses mostly on Kenya, she said, the staff works with people throughout all of East Africa.
Joseph also works with the “Internally Displaced People” program, Kenyans who lost their homes and their land as a result of the violence in the last election. Through the help of some Franciscan sisters, they provide basic medical care to the displaced persons, as well as other supports, including spiritual, Smolik said. Joe began working in Africa in the mid 1980s, as part of the “Africa Project.” The founder of FMS, Fr. Anselm Moons, OFM, was one of the founders of the Africa Project.
Between Aug.12 and Sept 8, Smolik traveled to Kenya to set up a new mission site and to Zambia to visit two FMS missioners serving there.
“We make a visit toward the end of the missioners’ first year in mission,” she said. “It is a way to support them — to make sure all is well in regards to their emotional, physical, social, and spiritual needs. It is also a time to check in with the Franciscans they work alongside with.”
“We hope to eventually have a community of FMS missioners working with a variety of Franciscan ministries across the family. For now, we are beginning by working with the OFMs in the JPIC office.”
Franciscans from all Orders — both lay religious and clergy — regularly participate in courses, celebrations and meetings at the Portiuncula, a retreat house of the Little Sisters of St. Francis in Nairobi, she said. “During my two-week stay at the retreat house, I interacted with Capuchins, Conventuals, OSF sisters, Secular Franciscans, and, of course, with OFMs.”
“I was impressed by the collaboration among all branches of the Franciscan family,” she said.
Missions in Africa
The Franciscan Mission Service has been serving in Africa since its early days, Smolik said. Several HNP friars participated in FMS’s Africa work, including George Corrigan, OFM, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla., who served in Kenya from 1996 to 1999. George is now president of the FMS board.
The original mission site that Joe Erhrardt helped found “is going strong, in Subukia, Kenya, in the northern area/Rift Valley,” Smolik said. “Their ministries today include: parish/pastoral care, Small House for children and adults with disabilities/poverty, ministry to displaced persons, cooperation with the Franciscan sisters’ health clinic. Currently, there are three friars running the various ministries (two from Croatia, one from Kenya). They also regularly receive volunteers. FMS is considering this as another service site for its mission.”
Smolik’s stay in Kenya overlapped with that of Thomas Cole, OFM, director of the Franciscan Missionary Union. “It was a joy to be in Kenya at the same time as Tom.”
Franciscan Missionary Union
Tom was in Kenya from Aug. 9 to 19 for a visit to communities that receive support from the Province’s FMU. “The communities I visited with were the Province of Saint Francis of Africa, Madagascar and Mauritius, Little Sisters of Saint Francis, Franciscan Missionaries of Hope (Lyke Community) and the Poor Clares in Myanga.”
He said one of the highlights of his visit was an overnight journey with Joe to Uganda, a seven-hour drive, where they visited with the Poor Clares for the celebration of the feast of Saint Clare. “The liturgy and fellowship with the sisters and secular Franciscans were filled with much joy and singing,” he said. “On our way back to Nairobi, we stopped off to visit the Franciscan Brothers, the Irish Franciscan Brothers, at Baraka Agricultural College in Molo, which is famous for the production of honey.”
“I was pleased Tom was able to see first-hand the places that FMS will send missioners and the programs we will support,” Smolik said. “In most cases, they are programs that have had HNP friars working in them or are ministries that HNP supports.”
Smolik’s interest in mission work was described in a recent issue of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese. In “Africa — Missioner Shares Stories, Prepares Others for Service,” she said, “My desire to serve overseas and to be a part of an organization that prepares, sends, and supports missioners came after I spent a summer in Guatemala studying Spanish in 1997. I wanted to bring together my love of service, education and crossing borders.”
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.