Friars Call for Peace, Unity in Wake of Violence

Jocelyn Thomas and Maria Hayes In the Headlines


Last weekend, as people around the world came to grips with the news that more than 120 people had been killed in attacks on six sites in Paris, the leaders of the Order’s English-speaking Conference released a message emphasizing the need for prayer, for peace and for solidarity.

“We join our voices with those around the world to express our deepest condolences following horrific acts of terror that took place in Paris yesterday,” said the 14 friars representing OFM custodies and provinces in a statement released Nov. 14. “We continue to yearn and work for a world that is free of vengeance and violence and terror.

“We pray for all of those whose lives were lost, all those who have been gravely injured, and those who now bear the burden of grief; for all those who have rushed in to provide assistance and security; and that we might find new ways to give birth to peace from the ashes of terror.

We call upon the spirit and intercession of our founder, St. Francis of Assisi, that we might all become ‘instruments of peace’ and that all people of goodwill can come to see that terror and violence are never the solutions to the problems we face.

“May all those whose lives were taken in this tragedy rest in peace, and may everyone — especially the people of Paris — feel the closeness of our Loving God during these days of trial and struggle,” the ESC leadership concluded.

Holy Name Province’s members have been echoing the cry for peace, praying together on campuses and at churches for the slain and injured. Franciscans are also expressing the hope that refugees from Syria and other countries continue to be welcomed, not kept away because of fear.


Standing in Solidarity, Praying for Peace
Outside Albany, N.Y., Lawrence Anderson, OFM, led a remembrance ceremony at Siena College’s grotto on Monday afternoon, just three days after the attacks. Close to 100 students participated, according to one of the local media outlets that reported on the event.

The college’s chaplain told the crowd that they came together “as a community in solidarity to be light, recognizing that love is stronger than hate, and hope is stronger than despair.”

“We come together in solidarity for all those who have lost loved ones because of violence and terrorism, whether it occur on a plane departing Egypt, a stabbing on a street in Jerusalem or a massacre of a classroom at a community college in Oregon,” Larry said. “We are mindful and pray for the 43 people killed and the 239 injured in suicide bombings in Beirut on Nov. 12.”

“We come together this afternoon to ask our God to give us the strength to heal, repair and restore a world that is wounded and in pain,” he added. “It has been said that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. There is darkness in the world, that’s very evident. But the light is stronger than the darkness.”

That evening in Georgia, John C. Coughlin, OFM, and students from the University of Georgia’s Catholic Center in Athens participated in a prayer vigil for Paris and Beirut, Lebanon. The event was co-hosted by the Peacemakers and the Muslim Student Association. Photos on the center’s Facebook page show John and students lighting candles.

At St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, Michael Calabria, OFM, director of the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies, preached at the 10:30 a.m. liturgy on Sunday, Nov. 15. During his homily, he shared his experiences with the refugees in Turkey three weeks ago — “the so-called suspected terrorists: women with babies in their arms, without shelter and without food” — and stories about praying alongside Muslims shortly after 9/11 at the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, which hosts a shrine that is believed to contain the head of John the Baptist.

Michael spoke out against the rise of Islamophobia, saying, “My sisters and brothers, there is clearly much darkness in the world. The lies of racial, religious, ethnic and cultural superiority are spreading. You and I must stop them. Let us stop them with a message of unity in our diversity. We must stop them with the best that academia can offer and with the best that sincere and enlightened faith can offer.

“We cannot stop them with hate because then we have crossed over to their side, the dark side, the very darkness that cast its shadow over Syria, Russia, Beirut and Paris, the darkness of hatred that leads to violence in all its forms,” he continued.

Michael reminded his listeners that “When, in the midst of terrible sectarian violence, Mahatma Gandhi was asked if he was Hindu, he responded: ‘Yes, I am; I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.’ Today, let us as one community say: ‘I am Catholic; I am also a Protestant, Jew, Hindu and Muslim; I am gay and straight; I am black, white and brown; I’m Syrian, Russian, Lebanese and French. I’m American, European, African and Asian.’ I’m a member of the St. Bonaventure community, and we are all these as one. Thanks be to God.”

At the invitation of SBU president Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, Michael shared his homily with the larger campus community during a moment of reflection on Nov. 18.

In Boston, St. Anthony Shrine offered a bilingual Mass on Nov. 19 for remembering victims of terror attacks around the world. This Thursday afternoon liturgy was celebrated by Jacques LaPointe, OFM, who recently lived in France, and was attended by individuals from more than nine countries, adding “an important and touching international witness of concern, in respect to the scope and tragedy of terrorism in our world.”

“As Christians, as disciples of Christ, we are all called to contribute to the building of the Kingdom here on Earth,” he preached during his homily. “How do we dare begin, in the midst of so much world violence, torture, hate and vengeance? We must, brothers and sisters in Christ, begin in our own personal hearts, in our families, our work places, our rural and urban communities and parishes, in our states, provinces and regions. If we cannot find unconditional reconciliation, forgiveness, charity, compassion, truth, light and justice in our own hearts and in our own families, how can we ever hope for world justice and peace?”

He continued, “In memory of all those who have died from inhuman and evil acts of terrorism, violence, vengeance and hatred, in Parish, New York, Lebanon, London, the Middle East, Africa and around the world, let us not cease to pray, to hope and to believe that the power and essence of love will conquer all evil and darkness in the world once and for all. We must all believe in God’s powerful love for the whole of creation, and that means Jews and Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, Hindus and Shintos. Through God’s Eternal Will, all can be saved.”

Among the 60 people who attended the Mass was the honorary Consul General of the French consulate office for New England, Monsieur Valery Freland. “At the end of Mass, he publicly thanked the people present and mentioned how the government and people of France were very touched by America’s most sincere and numerous expressions of sympathy and friendship toward his countrymen,” Jacques said. “Thanks to the leadership of our executive director, Thomas Conway, OFM, our guardian, John Hogan, OFM, and the numerous ministries of our friar community, our presence and witness for peace and justice issues in the greater Boston area does not go unnoticed and is greatly appreciated.”


Syrian refugees on the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary in September. (Photo courtesy of Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia)

Resources and Calls to Action
As a response to the people around the United States — including many governors — who since last weekend have rejected the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states, the Office of Migration and Refugee Services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops prepared a Response Toolkit. These resources include an action alert describing how to contact government officials.

The Franciscan Action Network encourages people to tell their governors and Congressional representatives to welcome Syrian refugees. “As people across the United States are donating to help Syrian refugees abroad and volunteering to welcome refugees in their communities, more than half of all governors have recently announced that they want to stop their states from resettling Syrian refugees. This is morally reprehensible and goes against everything for which the United States stands … It is critical that public officials hear from their constituents now as decisions are being made that will drastically impact the lives of Syrian refugees and refugee resettlement in the United States.

“We are facing a global refugee crisis that requires a global response. 60 million people are displaced, the largest number since World War II,” said FAN. “This includes 4 million Syrian refugees and 8 million Syrians who are internally displaced. The global outpouring of public support for Syrian refugees has inspired countries around the world to welcome more refugees, and the U.S. must do our part.”

Related resources have been posted on social media. Links to articles and resources about the Syrian situation can be found on the Holy Name Province JPIC Facebook group. They include an article published in the Huffington Post that explains the rigorous process for refugees. “We need to stop the fear-mongering,” said Russell Testa, director of the HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. “Yes, there are larger security concerns, but if we are people of faith, we cannot set that aside out of fear. Prudence and courage as virtues are needed and active in this situation.”

Several HNP friars shared on their blogs their reactions to the terror attacks.

On Nov. 15, John Anglin, OFM, offered a faith-based response to the terrorist attacks on his blog, The Wandering Friar. “I’m not suggesting that all should agree with everything that I say, but am offering a response based on my faith,” he cautioned. The Florida resident listed 11 points as topics for discussion, ranging from comments about fear and military action to the need for reason and prayer.

Daniel Horan, OFM, used his blog to comment on the recent attacks. He posted a video message on Nov. 15 that requested prayer for not only the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut but “also that we do not allow this horrific violence to harden our hearts to the needs of others who are refugees and migrants fleeing violence and unrest.” He followed Sunday’s message with another informal video reflection on the refugee crisis, posted Nov. 18.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province. Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.

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