STONEVILLE, N.C. — The setting was peaceful and the conversations were quite lively when the Province’s justice and peace leaders gathered last month to pool their experiences, skills and interests. Representatives of more than a dozen HNP sites met July 18 to 20 at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center to brainstorm methods to strengthen advocacy of the Franciscan message. They came from parishes, a shrine and a retreat center. Some were staff members and some were volunteers, some were friars, one was a Franciscan sister, most were laypeople.
The JPIC Local Contacts’ Retreat, led by Russell Testa, director of the Province’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, began Friday with a reception, prayer and updates from each ministry about its current justice and peace initiatives. Participants watched a video and discussed ways to implement the 2014 Provincial Chapter mandate calling for increased outreach to the media.
The initiatives on which the Province’s ministries target their efforts vary, ranging from the environment — climate change and fracking — to fair housing, immigration and prison outreach.
With 28 participants, this was the largest gathering of local JPIC representatives since the annual meetings began in 2003, Testa said. The retreat, though less than 48 hours long, included a full agenda. Testa began Saturday by showing a video titled “A Franciscan Approach to the Economy” created by the Order’s English-speaking Conference. The video describes the Franciscan idea of poverty and the Franciscan vision of economy — relationality. The ideal society is a society of friends, according to the presentation.
The video was followed by a discussion of common issues and ways that the local contacts can use the video’s themes to educate and guide their ministries. The retreat participants also talked about effective ways to implement the Province’s directive to improve the quality and quantity of JPIC efforts at the local and Provincial levels.
The afternoon session involved an in-depth presentation and discussion about the value and purpose of advocacy and methods of advocating. Testa led group members in a conversation to understand that advocacy can involve education – shedding light on issues – and can give voice to the voiceless. Among the many ways that advocacy can be executed, the group members agreed, are lobbying letters, networking, petitions and contacting the media. The goal is to change the minds of voters, thus changing the minds of politicians, said Testa, who, with the participants, listed the many types of media outlets that can be helpful: newspapers (for both news and opinion pieces), newsletters, advertisements, television, radio and social media.
The discussions delved into the need to use various types of media and to evaluate challenges facing some ministry representatives. Testa distributed an informational sheet showing advocacy topics on which all of the representatives could consider focusing. It included names of resources as well as suggested dates for gathering and sharing the information.
The retreat enables attendees to learn from others around the Province and also to learn from Testa, who has been leading the JPIC Office for more than 13 years. He aims not only to coach the local contacts with their projects, but to keep them informed of the Franciscans’ priorities.
Before the gathering, Testa had asked participants to review the chapter mandate and think about how they might incorporate its objectives into current JPIC efforts at their ministries and also to bring with them copies of their city’s daily newspaper, as well as the diocesan newspaper.
“Many helpful ideas were exchanged,” said Testa. “I was pleased to see so much enthusiasm on the part of the local contacts. All attendees, including me, left the event with a list of concrete next steps for the fall that will build our public presence.”
As a result of the retreat discussions, the JPIC office staff plans to follow up on tasks that will assist the local contacts in strengthening the Franciscan message. These include:
- Setting up media training workshops
- Writing a resource plan that provides dates of events and suggested advocacy actions
- Creating symbols of the main JPIC initiatives – economy, care for creation, immigration and peacemaking – that can be used as standard images, providing a consistent and identifiable look for print and digital communications
- Writing messages about the major justice and peace issues that can be used by all ministries
- Evaluating possibility of setting up a JPIC intranet
Appreciating the Personal Touch
The “coming together and sharing of ideas” was the main benefit of the retreat, said Vicky Lopez of St. Camillus parish, Silver Spring, Md. “I found that during this retreat there were many exchanges of ideas which started as early as the drive from the airport to the retreat center. As this was my first time at a HNP JPIC retreat, I did not know what to expect, but this retreat far exceeded my expectations.”
A representative from Greenville, S.C., agrees. “The most valuable thing about the retreat was the coming together of the participants, all who work in different parts of the country, deal with different issues and have different working situations,” said Julia Mullen. “Just listening to the issues in other churches and how these issues are dealt with was very interesting.
“This is the third retreat I have attended, and I always come away with renewed energy and enthusiasm for the work of social ministry,” continued the volunteer from St. Anthony of Padua Parish. “In this particular retreat, we heard more about the ‘Franciscan way’ and the challenges this group faces and the need for greater advocacy within the Province.”
Gene Pistacchio, OFM, of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, said he appreciated several aspects of this year’s gathering, the second he has attended.
“The program was different from last year, because the focus was to propose ways to implement the recent Chapter’s mandate,” he said. “That is, to help social justice ministers develop necessary skills for advocacy via letter writing, interacting with the media and keeping the desired message clear and focused in order to amplify the Franciscan message of peace to the world.
“These yearly JPIC retreats help all our HNP ministers in various settings to network with each other and share effective practices with one another,” added Gene. With Jackie Stewart, the Shrine’s director of evangelization, they have served as the JPIC contact at the shrine for more than five years. “This retreat is a source of encouragement and prayerful support in our various efforts to share our common social justice concerns within the Franciscan charism.”
To Fran Eskin-Royer, staff assistant in the Province’s JPIC Office, the benefit of the retreat is being able to talk in person to people around the Province – from New England to Florida.
“I love having the chance to attend the retreat,” said Eskin-Royer. “I call and email our JPIC Local Contacts a good deal, but I’m seldom able to travel to their ministry sites. Having this time together allows me to see the scope of their efforts and gives us the chance to really get to know each other.”
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.