From Western New York to the state of Florida, friars and their partners-in-ministry are taking action in support of God’s people and all of the creation. A story posted on HNP.org on Oct. 25 described JPIC projects at ministries in northern states. This overview – with descriptions of recent programs and events at southern ministries – is meant to provide creative ideas of ways to communicate the Franciscan message.
Provincial ministries have advocated for a variety of JPIC—justice, peace and integrity of creation – issues. Many have rallied for immigrants and the homeless, even sending their ideas to government officials. From fighting violence and racial bias to supporting immigrants and helping the planet, communities around the Province have been making their voices heard.
The Province’s Office for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation welcomes information about how recent advocacy projects and will be working with the newly-formed JPIC Directorate to call attention to positive efforts and to encourage others to support the marginalized.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Triangle, Va.
Members of this northern Virginia community remain committed to a variety of social justice issues. Last week, the parish offered a presentation about gang youth violence and trafficking. The Nov. 3 event, titled “Safe Neighborhoods, Safe Children,” included speakers from the county’s Crime Prevention Unit, the Gang Response Intervention Team, and the Prince William Human Trafficking Task Force.
The previous month, on Oct. 7, a few days after the feast of St. Francis, the parish co-sponsored a Unity gathering organized by the Muslim Community of Prince William County. John O’Connor, OFM, pastor, noted, “Several hundred people turned out for the celebration, including a very large representation from the Muslim community. We, friars, wore our habits and were quickly recognized by the Muslims present, many of whom are from Syria where the friars have several parishes.
“There were food and music, games for the children, and most importantly, a chance for those of us from the two faiths to meet and get to know each other,” he said. “The day was a reminder of just how diverse the population of northern Virginia is becoming. Our county, Prince William – with a population of roughly 500,000 – was just declared the first county in the state where Caucasians are now the minority. This change is quite evident in our parish, which has become very multi-ethnic. The newest immigrants are coming from the Far East and the continent of Africa.”
Immaculate Conception Parish, Durham, N.C.
With its consistently active social justice ministries, this parish has a dynamic homelessness and housing team that works with community partners to influence affordable housing policies and protect vulnerable families. Its immigration programs incorporate a strong advocacy reform component and comprehensive services that include emergency assistance, and support in schools.
Immaculate Conception Parish has achieved GreenFaith certification, having completed the rigorous program – a testament to the community’s commitment to preserving and honoring God’s creation. As a “green congregation,” it incorporates ecological-themed awareness into all aspects of parish life, liturgy, worship, faith formation, education, and stewardship. The parish sponsors unique presentations that illustrate the integral connection between nature and human life. Most recently, a local beekeeper who made clear the ramifications of a world without pollinators: honeybees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food consumed each day.
Earlier this fall, parishioners rallied support for the bi-partisan “Dream Act of 2017” (H.R.3440 and S.1615), producing nearly 700 letters that were hand-delivered to the United States Congress, urging passage of the legislation. The parish also hosted a Social Justice Ministry Fair that featured exhibits and information booths on social justice issues including the environment, gun violence, the political climate, hunger, and homelessness. On Oct. 7, the parish held a special blessing of the community garden and animals, followed by a bilingual Mass and multicultural festival highlighting and celebrating its diversity.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Raleigh, N.C.
The St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Community has been investing much time and energy in a project in southeast Raleigh, in the South Park neighborhood, where the dynamics of affordable housing, lack of employment opportunities, food insecurity, gangs and addiction issues come to life.
The community is building relationships with neighbors and working with other congregations and non-profits in the neighborhood, and trying to create regular opportunities for St. Francis parishioners to be part of the relational ministry and learn about the issues at work in the lives of the people in South Park, said Trevor Thompson, director of justice and peace. “The effort has been a slow and time-intensive but meaningful journey so far, said Thompson, who spends one day a week at this site. “Through this work and working with others in the community, the parish also is involved in the discernment of a possible partnership with IAF in community organizing in the county. The need for this type of project comes from the church’s challenge of being located in the north Raleigh suburbs, creating a situation where people are often separated from brethren in need. Thus, it creates a situation where St. Francis service work and advocacy lack substantial grounding.”
Other JPIC work includes advocacy around the DREAMERs, where parishioners were invited to sign a petition that was sent to legislators. The parish is working on programming around immigrants and refugees during National Migration Week in January 2018. There is also a committee of people working on some programming in 2018 around creation care, simple living, and climate change, said Thompson.
A group of parishioners, led by Thompson, will be leaving for Cuba on Nov. 11 for a mission trip. Over the last year, the parish has made three similar trips to Cuba involving roughly 30 parishioners.
St. Francis Springs Prayer Center/Franciscan Center, Stoneville, N.C.
In a more rural region of the state, not far from Virginia, the Prayer Center welcomed Robert Menard, OFM, from Clemson, S.C., to help the community mark the Transitus and the Feast of St. Francis. He offered a presentation on “Francis as Peacemaker,” emphasizing that popes from this century have held “Brother Francis” up as a symbol of peace.
Continuing its commitment to social justice, the Franciscan Center, in nearby Greensboro, launched a lecture series titled “Getting Acquainted with the Radical Jesus” that runs through mid-November. The series is being presented by Rev. Frank Dew, pastor at New Creation Community Presbyterian Church, who is well known throughout North Carolina for his work for social justice. Earlier this fall, David Hyman, OFM, of SFSPC, organized an additional presentation, “Fresh Perspectives: A Day in Palestine with a Jewish Settler,” that was held in late September.
Catholic Center at the University of Georgia, Athens
An interfaith bonfire social celebrating the multitude of cultures on campus and bringing together students of all faiths was held earlier this month in the main UGA parking lot. Sponsored by the Catholic Center, this was the second consecutive year that the campus’ Muslim and Catholic student associations have coordinated this peace-building effort. Students and faculty laud this type of inclusive event, noting that it nurtures relationships and understanding among people of different religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds.
St. Peter Claver Parish, Macon, Ga.
On Oct. 25, friars and parishioners participated in a rally supporting “Dreamers,” young immigrants who have been recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
“Members of St. Peter Claver Parish, the Daughters of Charity, Frank Critch, OFM and I attended this downtown event that was organized quickly and which more than 50 people attended,” said William McIntyre, OFM, pastor of the parish. “Three DACA representatives spoke about their lives. They were from Mexico and Nigeria. They work and attend college. They came to the United States so young they don’t even remember coming to the U.S. Advocates for Dreamers also spoke and we left promising to contact our Congresspeople and tell others why we support dreamers.”
The event was organized by Georgia Women, which has formed an association of faith communities focused on immigration, said William, adding that St. Peter Claver is a member. The rally was covered by 13WMAZ, one of the local news stations.
On Nov. 9, the parish is holding a benefit concert to raise money to help the Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria. A fundraiser also will be held at a local movie theatre.
Clemson University and St. Andrew Parish in Clemson, S.C.
St. Andrew Parish organized a collection in support of those suffering in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the September hurricanes that hit the island. The small community of roughly 600 families raised an impressive $10,000 for the cause. Clemson students, also concerned for the Puerto Rican people, contributed as well.
Robert Menard, OFM, a chaplain at Clemson University, is part of a small ecumenical contingent of community members who consistently witness outside of Senator Lindsey Graham’s office around the issue of protecting the Affordable Care Act. They rally and respond whenever critical votes are scheduled or action is needed.
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Greenville, S.C.
Parishioners are busy building and refurbishing homes that the parish provides at rent-controlled prices to poorer members of the local community. It is their way of working to address homelessness and combat the effects of gentrification. In addition, the parish’s food pantry enlists an army of volunteers to fills the shelves and distribute the bags of groceries and family food boxes on a weekly basis to hundreds of local families.
St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School offers to the neighborhood and working poor families in the community an affordable education rooted in Franciscan spirituality. St. Anthony “University,” a parish program, rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, offers faith formation courses to older students and adults in the community.
Last month, the South Carolina NAACP presented St. Anthony Parish with its state humanitarian award – praising the faith-based education offered to students at the parish school, the below-market rental housing it provides to the working poor, and its community garden, among many other programs.
St. Joseph Parish and St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Orlando, Fla.
The four friars assigned in July to the Orlando Diocese hit the ground running in their effort to integrate the Franciscan spirit of justice, peace, and integrity of creation into the Province’s new parish. They are raising the awareness of parishioners to difficult social and human rights issues like human trafficking, the death penalty, and the life issue, as well as to the challenges faced by immigrants and refugees, and environmental degradation.
Parishioners attended a human trafficking presentation sponsored by the Council of Catholic Women. In addition, in the wake of the execution of two death row inmates in Florida, the friars encouraged parishioners to participate in a national Catholic pledge initiative to end the death penalty. The effort includes sending a letter to clemency boards – in this case, the Florida Executive Clemency Board – that urges the commutation of execution to life without the possibility of parole. Homilies, Sunday bulletin articles, and posters have been part of the friars’ educational efforts on repealing the death penalty. Preaching from the pulpit and weekly bulletin articles also have kept this year’s Respect Life theme in the forefront; s “Be Not Afraid” theme focuses on what it means to develop a culture of life.
With its ethnically diverse population, the friars have worked hard to get the community involved in the Franciscan response to President Trump’s executive action to end DACA. Parishioners are being asked to contact members of Congress and urge passage of legislation that would fully welcome Dreamers to the United States and provide them a path to citizenship. The friars also have brought this message to the University of Central Florida, where they participate in campus ministry.
— Compiled by the HNP Communications Office with research by the HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, based in Silver Spring, Md. Friars and ministry staff members are encouraged to submit news of future projects to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Information about the varied JPIC issues can be found in the justice and peace section of HNP.org.
- “Without Respect for Life, There Can Be No Peace” – Oct. 25, 2017, HNP Today
- “Virginia Parishioners Prepare for 10th Journey to Peru” – March 29, 2017, HNP Today
- “Friars Celebrate First Year in Macon” – Oct. 4, 2016, HNP Today
- “Greenville Parish Launches St. Anthony’s University” – Oct. 3, 2016, HNP Today