International JPIC Council Has ‘Noteworthy Relevance’ for US-6 R&R Process

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Delegates of OFM provinces, custodies, foundations and conferences from around the world – including Jacek Orzechowki, OFM (front row, center), of US-6 Holy Name Province, a member of the Order’s JPIC Animation Committee – at last November’s gathering sponsored by the International Council for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.

Last November’s gathering sponsored by the Order’s International Council for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation has “noteworthy relevance” for the US-6 R&R process, according to Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, a member of the Order’s JPIC Animation Committee who was among the group of delegates at the event in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who represented OFM provinces, custodies, foundations and conferences from around the world. With the ongoing R&R process that will culminate in the formation of the new U.S. Franciscan province later this year, the pronouncements yielded from the conference, says Jacek, could not have been more well-timed.

The International Council, which consists of members representing the southern cone, the western and northern parts of South America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, English-speaking, and other entities, meets every three years, with its previous meeting held in Jerusalem in 2019.

The Council’s formal Petrópolis Declaration http://www.ofmjpic.org/en/international-council-jpic-2022, released at the conclusion of the Nov. 20-27, 2022 conference, calls on the worldwide Franciscan community to address with urgency injustice and structural violence – identifying three “major lines” for action:

  • conversion, climate justice and integral ecology,
  • migrants and refugees, and
  • nonviolence and peace-building.

In a letter to JPIC animators, Daniel Rodriguez Blanco, OFM, director of the JPIC Office in Rome, Italy, said, “The Petrópolis 2022 Declaration is the fruit of what was lived and built during the week-long conference. This document will be a beacon for our work in the coming years. Please share it with the animators of the provinces and custodies.”

For Jacek, a friar of Holy Name Province who has served in JPIC ministry for more than 20 years, the conference and its declaration create a unique opportunity for the new province and Franciscan friars across the United States.

“It’s an opportunity for the US-6 revitalization efforts to expand in a broader social and ecological context. The Petrópolis Declaration is challenging us not only to get a firm hold of Franciscan vision at the heart of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti, but it’s also calling us to develop strategies and bold implementation of concrete and creative initiatives for local, national and global restorative social and climate justice efforts,” said Jacek, who along with his family were refugees from Poland living in Italy before arriving in the U.S.

“It is critical that the revitalization of Franciscan life and mission in the United States be firmly rooted in the vision laid out by the pope’s encyclicals. As Franciscans, we have a moral responsibility to act – and that means allocating the adequate personnel and financial resources necessary to advance the vision of Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti. How we respond to social and climate justice as a new province will be extremely consequential,” added Jacek, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, a large multicultural parish in Durham, North Carolina.

During the conference, delegates discussed how populations in impoverished nations, for example, of the Global South, bear the brunt of climate emergencies, while those in affluent countries of North America and Europe have collectively benefited financially from unjust policies that spawn catastrophic climate events.

“As Franciscans living in our respective communities, we are implicated in these political and economic dynamics. Restorative justice challenges us to help the impoverished people in the Global South, especially the Franciscan entities in geographic areas with climate mitigation and adoption,” said Jacek, whose inspiration to live the Franciscan charism in justice ministry came from the work of other friars and his mission encounters in Mexico and Peru.

“To the extent that we, as Franciscans, are able to address these issues with a prophetic imagination and move forward with prudential judgement and strategic thinking, we would be in position to credibly advocate publicly before our respective governments and international institutions in support of social and climate justice,” continued Jacek.

The three-page Petrópolis Declaration, signed by all of the delegates who attended the conference, presented a number of recommended actions, such as creating concrete and creative ways for youth around the world and friars in formation to “grow on the path of integral ecology,” promoting integral ecology training at the Order’s study centers, and offering friars in formation field experiences at migrant centers.

The International JPIC Council is committed to expanding the Latin American Franciscan Network for Migrants, supporting the Franciscan Network of the Mediterranean https://hnp.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Franciscan-Network-of-Mediterranean.pptx together with the Oikos Center for Integral Ecology in Taranto, Italy, and establishing the Franciscan Network for Peace in Asia.

In his presentation as a guest speaker, Leonardo Boff, a prominent Latin American theologian, emphasized the urgency of addressing climate and biodiversity crises – inviting delegates to take up the dream of St. Francis that opens to a path of fraternity with all living beings.

“I encourage all US-6 friars to read Leonardo Boff’s books – especially his latest, Thoughts and Dreams of An Old Theologian https://www.amazon.com/Thoughts-Dreams-Theologian-Leonardo-Boff/dp/1626984549 –because they can help foster Franciscan prophetic sensibilities and the courage to act in creative, collaborative ways. I returned from Rio re-energized and excited about the opportunities we have in our new Franciscan province,” said Jacek, noting that delegates were also inspired by the brothers living and ministering among the poor in the favela (shantytown) of Rocinha.

Jacek plans to work with Russell Testa, JPIC Animator for the English-speaking Conference who also attended the conference in Brazil, to provide context and encourage friars and other JPIC animators around the country to act on the report.

“The Petrópolis Declaration calls us to look for creative ways of engaging ourselves and others in the pressing issues of today around integral ecology, developing strategies and allocating resources and personnel,” said Jacek, citing Mike Johnson, OFM, as an example of involving lay-partners-in-ministry and the friars in global solidarity. Recently, Mike accompanied a contingent of parishioners from multiple parishes on a trip to Puerto Rico organized by St. Francis Builds  https://stfrancisbuilds.org, a Franciscan non-profit that he had helped to create. Since 2017, St. Francis Builds has led six trips, including one that’s active, to that country to help rebuild homes impacted by the climate change-induced hurricanes, disasters, and chronic poverty.

The church where Jacek serves as pastor allocates around 10% of the financial contributions of its parishioners to support various charities and justice efforts at the local and global level. Last year, parishioners raised nearly $8,000 for an initiative that seeks to protect biodiversity in the small area of the Amazon Rainforest in Bolivia. A couple of weeks ago, Jacek – assisted by another friar, Luis Rosado, OFM – led a small delegation of young adults from Immaculate Conception to La 72 Migrant and Refugee Center in Tenosique, Mexico, which is part of a network of Franciscan migrant facilities, for a week-long service visit. They brought medication and $7,000 raised by members of the Franciscan parish in Durham.

“We don’t look at these actions as charity, but rather as our engagement in the restorative social and climate justice, mindful that the U.S. has contributed to the current social, economic and environmental predicaments in countries like Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Venezuela and Bolivia,” said Jacek. “Our commitment to global solidarity presents an opportunity to contribute to shaping of the public narrative around climate and migrant justice. It also makes us more credible as advocates for climate justice. It’s important for the US-6 to seek collaborative initiatives to promote ecological healing across our borders. We have to show the way. I am confident that as friars, together with our lay-partners-in-ministry, we are more than capable of fanning into flames the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and seizing the moment to face these unprecedented challenges with prophetic imagination and courage.”