JPIC Local Contacts Retreat 2011: A Meeting of Minds, Hearts and Hands

Fran Eskin-Royer Friar News

RINGWOOD, N.J. — Holy Name Province ministry representatives from South Carolina to Upstate New York came together June 10 to 12 for the annual Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Local Contacts Retreat. It was held this year at the serene Mt. St. Francis Franciscan Spiritual Center in Ringwood, N.J.

Participating ministries included: St. Anthony of Padua Church (Greenville, S.C.); St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church (Hartford, Ct.); Bethany Ministries (Middleburgh, N.Y.); Holy Name of Jesus Church (New York City); St. Mary Church (Obernburg, N.Y.); St. Bonaventure Church (Paterson, N.J.); St. Mary Church (Pompton Lakes, N.J.); Holy Name Friary (Ringwood, N.J.); St. Camillus Church (Silver Spring, Md.); and St. Francis of Assisi Church (Triangle, Va.).

The workshop component of the retreat focused on communications, with attendees looking at how best to communicate the JPIC message to those within their ministries and to the wider world. HNP animator Russell Testa made note of the goal of Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, to have more JPIC efforts by HNP ministries covered in the local media.

Next year’s retreat, set for June 1 to 3, 2012 in Stoneville, N.C., will build on this communication focus and concentrate on the advocacy component.

Sharing Experiences
In addition to talk of different communication tools and methods to reach the varied target “audiences” or groups, time was set aside for ministry sharing. Retreat participants were energized to hear highlights of both the varied and parallel JPIC efforts of their counterparts in other HNP ministries. Presented examples included:

 • Maryland “Dream Act” advocacy organizing efforts that helped bring passage of the state bill
 • work to strengthen JPIC subcommittees for Latino and French-speaking members of our parish communities
 • “Cell Phones for Soldiers,” an effort to raise money to purchase calling cards for those serving in the armed forces through the collection of old cell phones
 • the development of a “Mommy and Me” program to get children ready for kindergarten and their caregivers basic English classes
 • “Justice Walking,” a JustFaith module for teens that works to engage them in JPIC efforts
 • “Stamp Out Despair,” an effort to raise money for stamps and supplies to allow incarcerated undocumented immigrants to communicate with their families
 • peace-centered groups that grew out of past Engage Peacemaking Program efforts and work to promote peace within the self, family, community and the greater world
 • a fruitful parish experience of the “C4C: Franciscan Care for Creation” program
 • efforts to bring good, affordable housing to economically-depressed parish neighborhoods

Learning about Fracking
Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, chair of the Province’s JPIC Directorate and a retreat attendee, expressed his gratitude for the JPIC Local Contacts and for their many vital local efforts. He helped frame those efforts in the context of the Province’s overarching JPIC priorities. He made clear how the HNP Strategic Plan, with its commitment to Peacemaking, Immigration and Care for Creation efforts, worked to speak to the current day’s political, economic and environmental challenges — to the signs of the times.

During the course of sharing, a stimulating discussion around “fracking” developed. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a means of natural gas extraction employed in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure fractures the shale and props open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well. The effect of the process on the water and land is very much an environmental concern. This method is being employed and/or considered in areas of Pennsylvania and New York that directly impact many HNP parishes in New York and New Jersey — either through a drilling presence and/or by potentially affecting their water sources.

Representatives from a few of these parishes attended the retreat and added compelling personal stories to the dialog. Retreat participants from Obernburg, N.Y., in economically-depressed but naturally-rich and pristine Sullivan County — a potential drilling site — offered to host groups from parishes in Pompton Lakes, N.J. and New York, N.Y., both situated in the watershed for Sullivan County (which extends as far south as the Washington, D.C., area). With the visit, the Obernburg parishioners hope to provide a first-hand look at the situation and an opportunity for further education and strategy-building on the important care for creation issue.

Jacek said that the lawmakers in North Carolina have taken the first steps towards legalizing hydraulic fracturing in the state. If the dirty fossil fuel industries have their way, and push through legislation legalizing fracking in N.C., there could be disastrous effects: drinking water, private wells and rivers in the area in and around our two Franciscan parishes in Durham and Raleigh could potentially be contaminated.

The retreat conversation resulted in a consensus that, since fracking is such a serious environmental and social justice issue that could directly impact the life and health of thousands of people in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, we as Franciscans must not remain on the sidelines. Rather, we should look for ways to network among our ministries in areas impacted by fracking, share resources, help educate others on this issue, speak up publicly, and engage in advocacy. Likewise, there was a commitment to work with other faith and secular groups to help protect the health of people and ecosystems and ensure that our sister water remains “useful, humble, and precious and pure.”

The attendees were empowered by the call to action and hope their shared effort will inspire many other people and ministries.

Connecting with Peers
Retreat participants also connected with one another through prayer experiences, and over meals and breaks.Peter Chepaitis, OFM, and Sr. Anna Tantsits, IHM, of Holy Name Province’s Bethany Ministries, led a water-centered ritual and prayer service that was especially meaningful to the group, helping attendees return to their ministries reinvigorated for JPIC work.

In this writer’s mind, the weekend captured the best of the Franciscan charism: a commitment to religious and lay working side by side, the power of the personal story in the living out our Gospel call to care for the poor, marginalized, and all of creation, and an appreciation for the many different ways we answer that call.

— Fran Eskin-Royer is senior staff assistant in the HNP Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Silver Spring, Md.

Editor’s note: An article about fracking, written by retreat participant Renee Bowers of St. Mary’s Church, will appear in the July 13 issue of HNP Today. Information about projects around the Province relating to care for creation and immigration reform can be found on the Justice and Peace page of