Franciscan Peacemaking: Repairing Relationships

Russell Testa Features

The article below is first in a series from friars and Partners in Ministry (PIMs) from the Province and JPIC directorate who are sharing reflections on Franciscan peacemaking.  Their observations may be based on an experience or how an aspect of our history speaks to them.  JPIC Animator Russ Testa submitted this introductory essay.

At Chapter 2005, the friars of the Province called themselves to be Franciscan peacemakers.  To answer this call, the friars and PIMs (Partners in Ministry) of the Province need to deepen their understanding of the meaning of “Franciscan Peacemaking.”  We, the members of Holy Name Province, commit ourselves to a three-year campaign of active Franciscan peacemaking at all levels of our life, according to Chapter 2005 Resolution on Preemptive Peacemaking.

If one were to ask 10 people to define Franciscan Peacemaking, 10, or maybe more, definitions would result.  Each of these definitions, because it arises out of the living tradition of St. Francis, would likely be in part true.

When reflecting upon the idea and experience of Franciscan peacemaking, the concept that comes to heart is repairing broken relationships, a regular theme throughout the Franciscan heritage.  Whether it is St. Francis of Assisi repairing relationships with the Sultan or, in a modern setting, friars working for land reform in Brazil, this “repair theme” is observed.

The idea of a Franciscan peacemaker being, among other things, a “relationship repairer” might seem simple and even trite, but that is because we are not looking deep enough. In today’s world, relationships are complex and complicated intersections of persons with competing social, economic and ecological structures.  An experience with the friars in Brazil illustrates how peacemaking is related to relationship repair.

Many friars in Southwest Brazil have worked with “landless people” in their effort to claim unused plantation land for small family farming efforts.  The result of the friars’ efforts, in unison with the landless people, has been to reclaim land for thousands of families who now own their own land and are producing food and agricultural products for their families and the larger community; this was done through non-violent action (the landless and friars did not resort to violent acts, though sometimes they were physically attacked).

The “new farmers” received education from the friars and other resources in agricultural best practices.  The original owners of the land received a fair compensation for their efforts from government and World Bank funds, because of the advocacy efforts of the landless, friars and advocates outside of Brazil. Most importantly, a relationship of antagonism and distrust between plantation owners and landless people has been transformed into one in which thousands of people no longer live in complete poverty, and the community is more united in the experience of social justice.

When looking at the efforts of the Franciscans in this struggle, I notice a few things that help me better understand Franciscan Peacemaking. First, the action of peacemakers was neither passive nor pacifism; they were actively involved in transforming complex relationships in a way that did not use violence. They sometimes had to be confrontational, but never in a way that was violent or disrespectful of their opponent’s humanity.

Second, they analyzed and strategically inserted themselves, both locally and globally, into a host of relationships in order to bring repair to them. These acts of insertion ranged from accompaniment and prayer through difficult times in the struggle to direct advocacy. Finally, the friars did this relationship repair not as a group of “do-gooders,” but as faithful, actively contemplative men committed to the invitation of Jesus Christ to bring justice into the world. The goal of repairing relationships with social justice is not just peace, but to help reveal forth the source of that peace, Jesus Christ.

As we enter into this season of Advent where we re-remember the coming of Emmanuel, God with us, and the peace that he brings, perhaps we, too, need to re-look at where there are broken personal and global relationships in our lives. Through this active contemplation, we can discern how we as individuals, fraternities, ministries, and the larger Franciscan movement might strategically insert ourselves into broken relationships, as a response to God’s invitation to be peacemakers.