WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Franciscan Action Network (FAN) is finally a reality, officially debuting at Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) here earlier this month.
Inspired by the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare and in development for several years, FAN is a social advocacy network designed to bring a coordinated and effective voice to matters of justice, peace and care for creation in the world. FAN’s advocacy will focus on agencies like the U.S. government and related institutions, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Organization of American States and more, according to FAN’s Executive Director Russell Testa, also director of the Province’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.
The advocacy topics will be both international and domestic. In these arenas, FAN hopes to bring a spirit of healing and reconciliation as it advocates for the transformation of the world, as inspired by the spirit of God, according to Testa.
According to the FAN Web site, FAN is comprised of recognized Franciscan entities, with clearly elected leadership, based in the United States, that chose to be associated with its efforts. These entities are both Catholic and ecumenical, representing the broad reach of the Franciscan message. They are congregations and provinces of religious men and religious women, regions of Franciscan seculars, and ecumenical partners, building upon Francis’ spirit of crossing borders to join in the common invitation of God to transform the world.
Fr. Michael Perry Keynoter
More than 130 representatives of FAN gathered at a halftime event at EAD as the new social advocacy agency was launched. Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, formerly with Franciscans International, was one of two keynote speakers on March 8. A friar from the Sacred Heart Province in the nation’s heartland, he touched on the theme of an idea whose time has already come.
“Much like the Franciscan movement of the 12th and 13th centuries, the FAN arises at a particularly critical moment in the course of human history,” said Fr. Perry. “It comes at a moment when the future of the planet and its inhabitants is being decided.”
Fr. Perry put the nascent network into this context of a world in crisis, a world in need of faith-based innovation. He said that a partnership with the UN-based non-governmental agency, Franciscans International, and other like-minded non-profit organizations, would be a part of the new network’s overall strategy.
“It is just this type of integrated awareness — of faith with social responsibility — that our new network seeks to facilitate,” said Testa. “Many people don’t know it, but St. Francis was ecumenically-minded, to employ a modern term,” he said.
FAN Brings a Franciscan Approach
“In reaching out to a leader of the Muslim faith by traveling to Egypt and Syria during the 13th century, Francis demonstrated the kind of moral courage from which we hope to draw inspiration.” Testa said that FAN is dedicated to bringing a Franciscan approach to Christian-based social advocacy. Over the next few years as it grows, FAN will help the more than 450 Franciscan ministries in the United States organize their efforts at advocacy by amplifying their voices for greater effectiveness and impact. Franciscan orders comprise the largest religious body in the Catholic Church.
FAN is open to all North American Franciscan organizations, and currently has 41 member communities, according to Peter Sloan, associate director of FAN. “Through the generosity of the Province, a sponsoring organization, Russ is working on FAN as the executive director, ” he added.
“We at FAN are grateful to Holy Name Province for its forward-looking vision and leadership,” Sloan said.
Drawing inspiration from leaders as diverse as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. — and especially from St. Francis’ and St. Clare’s effort to follow Jesus Christ — many of FAN’s new members echoed that same sentiment during the weekend-long EAD event.
One Episcopalian Franciscan who stopped by the FAN booth before heading back to Delaware put it this way: “When we are united by urgent need, our differences have a way of falling by the wayside,” she said.
Sr. Eleanor Goekler, a Missionary Sister of the Immaculate Conception, who drove down from New Jersey for the weekend, also admitted to being caught up with the spirit of hope.
“I just think it’s great to see all of us Franciscan-hearted people finally coming together,” she said. “If we can do that, the rest may take care of itself.”