Franciscan Peacemaking: Glimpses of Hope

Dan Dwyer Features

The article below is fifth in a series from friars and Partners in Ministry (PIMs) of the Province and the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate who are sharing reflections on Franciscan peacemaking. Their observations are based on experiences as well as on their impressions of an aspect of history. The author is chair of the Province’s JPIC Directorate.

The thought of accomplishing anything in the way of “Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation” is, to put it mildly, a bit overwhelming. These words encompass so very much that the average friar, indeed any person, feels inadequate, ineffectual, and unprepared.

Spiritually, this can be a good thing. In this work, more than in many others, we are reminded of our absolute dependence on God and the interdependent nature of our world.

As I think back upon my own limited experience in these areas, the most helpful concept is that of “solidarity.”  If we hope to change the world by our own efforts, we will soon grow tired; but, if we think of ourselves as entering into a relationship with real people, people with faces, names and lives, we can be sustained in our commitment.

Two snapshots from my friar life help to bring home to me the nature of solidarity and some small reasons for hope.

During my year as a novice, my classmates and I decided to participate in a March for Nuclear Disarmament that was to be held on the Boston Common. This was a fairly popular cause in the early years of the Reagan administration. We decided that we would all wear our habits to this event as a sort of corporate witness; besides, wearing the habit was still something new and perhaps a bit “romantic.”

Obviously, we did not stop nuclear proliferation; in fact, I remember very little about the demonstration. But one moment has always stayed with me. As we walked across the Common, a small group of Buddhist monks approached from the opposite direction. The saffron-robed men and the brown-robed men approached each other slowly. Then, the monks slowly and reverently bowed to us, and we, perhaps a bit more stiffly, returned their gesture. Nothing earth shattering had happened; but I believe that those monks showed us how interconnected we were with everyone in our world. In a sense, I think they also witnessed to the relevance of Francis of Assisi and the power of his witness in today’s world. Though nuclear weapons are still all too present, we had stood together in our common humanity and taken a small step towards peace. To this day, I feel a special connectedness whenever I see Buddhist monks or nuns; and I am strengthened in my own vocation.

A year or two later, while a student in Washington, I was persuaded to attend a demonstration in front of the Embassy of South Africa. That was in the days of the Apartheid government. I was not particularly hopeful about the South African cause and had begun to feel that such actions were ineffective and almost meaningless.  I glibly asserted that the situation in South Africa would only be changed after massive bloodshed.  Why was I wasting my time?

I don’t recall who it was, but someone snapped a picture of me with a sign that read “Franciscans Say No To Apartheid” and, somehow, that picture ended up in the English language edition of the Rule that came out shortly thereafter.  I soon forgot all about that day and that snapshot. Then, one afternoon, in 1989, approximately five years later,  I was having lunch at St. Isidore’s Friary in Rome.  At the table were several young South African friars who thought I looked familiar.  Suddenly, one of them recognized me as the friar whose picture appeared in the Rule.  They were delighted to meet me and told me how happy they had been to see that picture and to know that friars in the United States were aware of their situation and trying to do something about it.  About one year later, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the Apartheid regime came to an end.

These two insignificant episodes, and several like them, have stayed with me.  I have never been particularly courageous or even active on the front lines of change, but I have seen for myself the power of the smallest act of solidarity.   These moments put a human face on the issues of our time; they bring a powerful awareness to our prayer; and they remind us that, no matter what violence, injustice or ecological disaster confronts us, Christ is with us in the midst of it.

Whether it is the disastrous situation in Iraq, the catastrophic threat of global warming, the genocide in Darfur, or the  disregard for human life at home, whatever the issue of the moment, we need eyes with which to see Him.  We need, in our own inadequate ways, to make his healing presence real. To the degree that solidarity becomes part of every friar’s life, there will be greater reason for hope and more relevance to our own vocations.

—  Fr. Dan, Associate Professor of History at Siena College, is a Provincial Councilor.