Franciscan Influences: Finding Your Island

Anthony Bucci Features

The author receiving the HNP Francis Medal in 2011. With him are his family and Steve Kluge. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Bucci)

This essay is part of a series about aspects of the Franciscan message and the charism that partners-in-ministry appreciate. The previous, by a Western, N.Y., resident described how the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany shaped his education. Below, a young adult who grew up as part of St. Francis of Assisi Parish at the New Jersey Shore describes his devotion to “Church and island” and the honor of speaking at the Vatican.

When I introduce myself and say where I come from, I regularly say “the wonderful, as-seen-on-TV Jersey Shore,” which usually gets a laugh. In the days following Hurricane Sandy, however, my saying took on a twinge of tragedy.

I felt helplessly alone sitting in my college dorm room in Washington, D.C., in the autumn of 2012, the windstorm raging and the rain preventing any attempts at walking about. The kid who attended a marine science high school and whose name on campus became synonymous with everything environmental could do nothing to prevent the superstorm from leveling the places where his childhood memories were made.

Yet, as I reflect on where my faith journey has taken me — from the suburban, mainland town of Manahawkin, N.J., to the marble steps of Vatican City where I was recently invited to speak on sustainable development — it is hard to say that this was not part of God’s plan all along. A not-so-subtle nudge that, “Okay, Anthony, this is what I want you to do.”

Drawn to Franciscan Values
My home parish is St. Francis of Assisi on Long Beach Island, a low-lying barrier island typically flooded only by shoebies — what we call day-trip tourists to our beaches — in the summer. It was here on this island in our simple church that I was instilled with Franciscan values. I was drawn to the true humility of the Franciscan order, epitomized by their care for the poor and visible in the habits they wear. I learned about Catholic Social Teaching under the guidance of my parents, priests, and the Bible. I embraced the life of service, volunteering through our youth group at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, our annual Festival of the Sea carnival, our Thanksgiving meal services, and any opportunity in my community.

St. Francis is perhaps best known as the patron saint of animals and the natural environment, so it was only fitting that I attended an honors high school named The Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Sciences (M.A.T.E.S.) which allowed me to explore an entirely new side of our island. I was soon saving turtles from abandoned crab traps, seining the bays, and falling in love with our island as a young scientist. My religious and scientific experiences merged into a passion for and care of our common home, socioeconomic justice, and sustainable development.

Because of my devotion to both Church and island, I was humbled to be honored with the Saint Timothy Award by the Archdiocese of Trenton, N.J., and the Francis Medal by Holy Name Province. I continued my studies of the environment and policy in college at The George Washington University and into graduate school at The University of Chicago, where I wrote my master’s thesis in international relations on putting climate change into a security context.

Throughout my life, there has been one priest who has supported me and made it such a joy to be a part of the St. Francis family: Stephen Kluge, OFM. As my religious mentor and former pastor at St. Francis, Fr. Steve not only recommended me for those two honors but also allowed me to give a “homily” on forgiveness at Mass while I was still a high school student. He always had the perfect answers to challenging questions about our faith, he made our parish a truly welcoming community, and he showed #JerseyStrong leadership after Hurricane Sandy. I especially miss Steve this time of year as his phone would always ring with Santa on the line during Christmas Eve Mass, exciting all the children.

Embracing Environmental Stewardship
Since venturing out into the world, it has been validating to see how the Catholic Church has embraced environmental stewardship as a central tenant of our faith. From Pope Francis — a former scientist himself whose encyclical Laudato si’: On Care For Our Common Home has inspired a generation, to the Franciscan friars I see marching with me for climate justice and science here in the capital, Catholics are leading on the issue of addressing climate change. In fact, I was marching on Earth Day with the parish community at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle — where I now serve on the parish council here in Washington, D.C. — when I first learned about the upcoming youth symposium to Vatican City.

Anthony Bucci in Vatican City. (Photo courtesy of Anthony)

The event, co-hosted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Youth and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, was borne out of a letter Pope Francis wrote asking what more the Catholic Church could do on the issue of human trafficking. In its first years, the Vatican Youth Symposium brought together survivors and advocates of human trafficking; now, in its fourth year, the symposium has grown to encompass all the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals.

But, what are the Global Goals? They range from Goal 1: End Poverty to Goal 3: Good Health & Wellbeing; from Goal 5: Gender Equality to Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. The 17 Global Goals represent a global agenda for sustainable development that every country in the world agreed should be accomplished by the year 2030. In short, I refer to it as a “global agenda to save the world.”

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development that represent a global agenda. (Photo courtesy of Global Goals)

In light of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, the ongoing wildfires on the West Coast, and a myriad of other environmental crises worldwide, it was evermore an honor to highlight the issues of climate change and sustainable development at this important forum of change-makers. Indeed, the 50 youth who attended created a pact with the Vatican and United Nations advisors who attended to band together to help champion these Global Goals on the international stage, in our countries, and in our local communities.

In my speech, I compared Global Goals advocates to Noah-esque ark-builders, working to save the world from the rising tides of global challenges. As any good Catholic will tell you, the Church is not a building, but a community and my home community set me on the path I am on today. Whether we are using the U.N. lingo or not, we are all doing the work of the Global Goals every day. I encourage all of us to find our “islands”  in these goals, to serve as resources to each other, and to use our platforms to engage on these critical issues affecting our  communities. Merry Christmas.

– Anthony Bucci, who grew up as a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, lives in Washington, D.C., where he works on public health and environmental justice issues and serves on the Parish Pastoral Council at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. He plans to be at his home parish on Christmas Eve to serve as a lector.

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