“In America, it should never be about winners and losers, but it should always be about working together with all people to form a ‘more perfect union.’” This was the theme of a message from Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, sent to friars the day after the presidential election of 2016.
As the people of the United States and the world have reacted to the results of the presidential election and the long campaign that preceded it, so, too, have the people of Holy Name Province.
Friars and their partners-in-ministry have prayed, discussed, and written about their views — in the hope of encouraging respect, integrity and the promotion of the common good within the human family. Many have voiced their concerns about divisions across the United States, worrying about past and future rhetoric and behavior.
Kevin’s letter, distributed to friars last Wednesday, spoke of the need for healing. He said: “As Franciscan friars who are living within the United States, we have a role in advancing a renewed sense of unity in our nation. We have been called to follow Jesus Christ in the footsteps of Francis and Clare in a manner that reflects our fundamental disposition to welcome all people as our brothers and our sisters. We must be healers and reconcilers in the midst of fracture and divisions. Our nation needs our prayers, our witness and our voice.”
Being healers and reconcilers means that we must listen to and learn from the experience of those who have been excluded, he said. “Because of their profound pain, we must never rush to apply easy fixes that cover real problems with a superficial unity. Nor must we ever close our eyes and ears to the call of the marginalized and vulnerable. Rather, as true healers and reconcilers, we must help to bind their wounds by standing in solidarity with the vulnerable and with those whose human dignity may be at risk. The sisters and brothers of ours must know that we are with them and for them,” he added, stressing that the importance of the witness provided by Franciscan friars living in solidarity with the “lesser ones.”
More than 70 people shared an excerpt from Kevin’s statement on Facebook last week, spreading the Franciscan message beyond the Province.
The Franciscan Action Network also issued a statement that, like Kevin’s message, has been shared by both friars and laypeople. Two days after the election, FAN posted a message on its website and on Facebook, reminding people of the need for civil discourse and asking that they take the Francis Pledge, which involve seven behaviors that ultimately express a commitment to civility in discourse.
“Unfortunately, we have experienced a national loss of civil discourse and the long-ignored problems impacting families and institutions have been laid bare,” said an announcement from FAN. “Attitudes of hatred, sensationalism, rigidity, and greed have taken root and given rise to name-calling, exploitation, unashamed selfishness, and corruption. When speaking with fellow citizens in the coming days and weeks, try to hear their frustrations and anxiety with an ear toward understanding where they are coming from. We all have deep feelings that, instead of being ignored, should be acknowledged so they can be healed.”
Providing a Platform for Dialogue, Prayer
Several ministries offered opportunities for friars and laypeople to gather to pray and to share their feelings and ideas.
In Connecticut, the pastor of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in downtown Hartford, Thomas Gallagher, OFM, responded the morning after the election by inviting parishioners to take time for prayer by coming to the church.
“In light of the election results your compassion, strength, and commitment are needed now more than ever,” said Thomas in an email. “St. Patrick-St. Anthony is a voice for inclusion, hospitality, hope, reconciliation, and peace. After the gruesome campaign, our nation is in need of healing. The mission of St. Francis that continues to live on in the Franciscan Heart is one of reconciliation. It is God who energizes us for the continued embodiment of the living Word. Our church will be open today, Thursday and Friday until 6 p.m. for quiet prayer. As we hear in John’s Gospel, ‘do not let your hearts be troubled, have faith in God and in me.’”
In Western New York, St. Bonaventure University held a forum on Sunday night about the election and its aftermath called “United We Stand.” Roughly 50 campus community members attended the event, which allowed them to express themselves in a civil dialogue about the tensions that have arisen during the election year.
The forum was led by Fr. David Couturier, OFM, dean of the School of Franciscan Studies, and Rick Trietley, vice president for student affairs. Peter Schneible, OFM, who co-moderated the event, said it was an effective way to enable people to share their thoughts.
“We wanted to provide a forum for people – students and staff members — to speak,” said Peter. “We wanted to show that this campus is a place where people can speak and be listed to. Issues of race and sexual orientation were discussed. We encouraged attendees to speak openly.”
The forum’s moderators used both Kevin’s letter as well as FAN’s Francis Pledge to help generate discussion of Franciscan themes.
At Siena College, outside Albany, N.Y., students were invited by the Religious Studies Department, headed by Linh Hoang, OFM, to consider the Clare Center a place where those struggling with fears are welcome. The faculty members are willing to discuss concerns that students have, according to a message distributed this week by the college’s religious studies faculty.
Siena’s president, F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, issued a statement to the Siena community on Monday that urged people to “embody the enduring strength of the American dream by seeking to build up, not tear down, striving to heal and reconcile.”
Edward said: “Since the results of last Tuesday’s presidential election became known, many have expressed a wide variety of emotions and reactions. Amidst the fears and concerns of some, the joy of victory for others, the distress and the ‘what if’ speculation, it is a time when all of us should pause, step back, and consider what we might learn from our most recent election cycle. It has much to reveal to us about who we are and where we are as a nation, not only in theory but in practice.”
“Our experience of discord and distress before and after the election challenges us to embrace the enduring wisdom of the Franciscan tradition and renew our commitment to be peacemakers,” he added.
Standing with Victims of Attacks
Not only has the election itself created dialogue but the behavior during the week after attracted attention and, a range of emotions.
Several friars have written — on Facebook and on blogs — about their concern for the displays of hate that have been displayed around the country. Some are using the Holy Name Province JPIC Facebook group to share ideas.
Earlier this week, student friar Ramón Razón, OFM, wrote, “Since day 1, post elections, numerous cases of racial violence against minorities have been reported across states already. File a police report and press charges whenever necessary if you or anyone you know falls victim to a hate crime. Help Southern Poverty Law Center monitor these incidents by submitting an incident report by using this link.”
Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, chair of the Province’s JPIC Directorate, reached out to two Christian churches in Silver Spring that had vandalism/hate messages appear on their property. He lives nearby — at St. Camillus Friary, where he is guardian.
Healing Through Writing
Several friars wrote on their blogs about their reactions to the political climate of the country.
Christian Seno, OFM, a student friar stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., has posted several entries on his blog. In “Reconciliation Post 2016 Triage” and “We Need to Talk,” he describes his grief and fear. Christian is a native of the Philippines.
“We will need to bind up wounds that have been split and festered by this election,” he wrote. “We will need to attend to the very real fears and concerns of our brothers and sisters who are immigrants, people of color, non-Christian, women, LGBT, and who are other. Let us assure them that we are with them; that their concerns and their fears, valid as they are, are not theirs alone. Let us affirm that our privileges (racial, economic, and political) do not blind us to their needs. Let us reiterate our commitment to working for justice and peace.”
Daniel Horan, OFM, of Chicago, wrote on his blog, Dating God, “The calls for reconciliation and unity are, perhaps generally, an understandable move in the right direction. However, as Blessed Pope Paul VI famously said, ‘If you want peace, work for justice.’ And justice requires a coming to terms with the condition of the possibility for such division. The hateful campaigning, fear mongering, and discriminatory rhetoric, all of which has frighteningly given the disenfranchised a sense of empowerment to verbally, psychologically, and even physically harm women, men, and children has been the wedge that further fractured an already divided nation.”
“I am interested in dialogue and reconciliation and unity. But I don’t believe that such things are possible apart from honest accounting for conditions that have led to this divide,” he said.
Student friar Casey Cole, OFM, wrote last week in a post titled, “Our Work Has Just Begun” about his concerns.
“There exists a great divide in our society and in our Church,” said the Durham, N.C., resident. “As much as we can point to the outcome of the presidential election as the direct cause of this added division and turmoil, that, had it have gone differently—had our candidate won, or had ‘X’ won the primary instead—there would not likely be the crazy turmoil we face now—numerous protests, spike in hate crimes and a planned KKK rally—the fact of the matter is this election did not cause our problems… it simply brought them to light. “
In St. Petersburg, Fla., Kevin Mackin, OFM, posted a blog entry he titled “Readiness” which began, “A divided America has chosen a president-elect. Happy or not with the result, the serenity prayer may calm emotions, which includes ‘trusting that God will make all things right.’ Value each day as a gift from God and live each day as best we can because it’s the only day we can count on.”
Another St. Petersburg resident provided ideas on his blog. In The Wandering Friar, John Anglin, OFM, wrote a piece titled “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” that he published two days before the election. He provided five suggestions about how to respond to the results of the election, noting that many people may not have been happy with either candidate.
HNP Today will continue to report on actions that friars and partners-in-ministry are taking following the election. Those with news to share are asked to contact the Communications Office.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “After election-night Vandalism, a Silver Spring Church Searches for Answers” – Nov. 11, 2016, Washington Post
- “A Multicultural Evening of Prayer in Solidarity With Immigrants, Refugees and Pope Francis” — Feb. 24, 2016, HNP Today
- “Justice and Peace Office Works to Bring Franciscan Approach to Election” — Nov. 10, 2012, HNP Today
- “Pompton Lakes Parish Addresses Election Issues” – Oct. 24, 2012, HNP Today
- “Harlem Church Community Celebrates Historical Presidential Election” — Nov. 19, 2008, HNP Today