Franciscan Family Commits to One Voice for Advocacy

Russell Testa In the Headlines

BALTIMORE, Md. — More than 130 members of the Franciscan Family including leaders and justice, peace and integrity of creation representatives from 69 provinces, congregations, Secular Franciscan regions and ecumenical partners from throughout the United States met here last week to discuss ways to bring a more visible and effective Franciscan presence to the effort of repairing relationships and establishing justice in the world.

At the March 7 to 9 meeting, Franciscan friars, sisters, seculars and ecumenicals called for themselves and the larger U.S. Franciscan Family to “speak with one Franciscan Voice in order to effect the transformation of national social policy.”  The gathering represented the largest U.S. Franciscan group ever assembled in the country solely to discuss ways to be better advocates with persons who are poor, marginalized or victims of injustice.

The meeting began with prayer, which was woven through all the proceedings. Following prayer, the participants interacted with three speakers to explore a Franciscan approach to advocacy.  Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, councilor for the Sacred Heart OFM Province, began the discussion by looking at the Franciscan Charism and how it requires its followers to be engaged in the transformation of the world, or, to put it in a modern context, to be engaged in advocacy.  Next, Sr. Meg Guider, OSF, professor of Missiology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, explored the modern context of globalization and the reality of American Exceptionalism.  To be most effective, our Franciscan advocacy work must be grounded in this context and boldly challenge how the U.S. interacts with the rest of the world, she said.  Finally, Marie Dennis, SFO, director for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, shared how religious communities have been and can continue to be effective shapers of public policy.

Each of the three presenters was paired with a “Franciscan Voice” who shared personal stories and realities. Br. Rodrigo Peret, OFM, of Brazil, Mrs. Mary Mwangi, SFO, of Kenya, and Sr. Sheila Kinsey, OSF, from Wheaton, Ill., grounded the three presentations with the experiences of those ministering with persons who are poor or marginalized.  The “voices” were able to help make clear the connections between our experiences in the world and our rich Franciscan charism.

Building from the first day’s input, the participants in the historic meeting moved from focusing on reasons for having an organized Franciscan Voice for Advocacy to how we should establish it.  The group collectively wrote a vision statement (shown below) calling the Family to work together for social transformation.  From the vision statement, the participants then committed themselves to having further dialogue and finding the resources to establish a broad-based Franciscan Family Commission for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, as well as a Center for Action based in Washington, D.C.  These two structures will be launched in the next six to 12 months so that the Franciscan Family in the U.S. will be able to effectively “walk with our brothers and sisters who are poor and marginalized… to advocate for peace and to reaffirm the dignity of all creation.”

Vision Statement     
We Franciscan brothers and sisters, Religious and Secular, from throughout the United States, gathered together in Baltimore, Maryland, to discern the possibility of a unified Franciscan Voice for justice.  With great concern for dehumanizing issues in our society, we recognized trends contrary to our calling as followers of Christ.  We see that we have the power to effectively advocate for the redistribution of resources, the responsible care for creation, and the healing of relationships within the Franciscan Family, the Church and society.  To these ends, we commit ourselves and call all members of the Family to speak with one Franciscan Voice to effect the transformation of national social policy.  By walking with our brothers and sisters who are poor and marginalized, we intend to advocate for peace and to reaffirm the dignity of all creation.

The meeting ended with the newly-appointed steering committee anointing the assembly.  With this action, participants sealed in prayer the commitment they verbally made to one another to work together to establish structures that can bring the voice and spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare to a world that is crying out for transformation.

Holy Name Province participants included Brian Belanger, representing the JPIC Directorate; Joe Nangle, serving on the steering committee; Joe Rozansky,  from the Rome JPIC Office; and Fran Eskin-Royer and myself from the HNP JPIC Office and who provided meeting coordination.

—  Russell , shown in photo, is director of HNP’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office in Washington, D.C.