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Justice and Peace Retreat Focuses on Hope and on Value of Francis in Trying Times

Participants of the 2018 JPIC Local Contacts Retreat on the property of St. Francis Springs Prayer Center during their gathering. Jud Weiksnar is at far left and Russ Testa on far right.

STONEVILLE, N.C. — On the weekend of July 13, members of the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation ministries from throughout Holy Name Province gathered for the annual local contacts’ retreat, this year at the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center. The 36 attendees, friar and lay JPIC local contacts and JPIC Directorate members, participate in JPIC initiatives and activities at their local parishes, mission locations, and Secular Franciscan Fraternities. The purpose of the annual retreat is to learn new skills to support JPIC activities, discuss important current issues, review initiatives from the previous year, establish strategies for the coming year, build a sense of fraternity among those involved in JPIC work, and strengthen the relationship between HNP’s JPIC Office, Directorate, and Local Contacts.

The retreat, which had a workshop feel, featured both large and small group discussions. Morning and evening Liturgy of the Hours was prayed as a retreat community throughout the weekend to help ground and connect those gathered.

The 2018 retreat was co-facilitated by Marie Dennis, a Third Order Secular Franciscan and co-president of Pax Christi International, and Russ Testa, director of the Province’s JPIC Office. The retreat began with attendees considering the current political reality in our country and sharing how they sustain hope amidst the many challenges.

Most of Saturday focused on a deeper examination of those challenges through a Franciscan lens and a consideration of how the Franciscan charism equips us to respond. Marie Dennis’s session, “Impediments to the New Creation and Broken Relationships”, presented a variety of themes for discussion, including the Dysfunction of War, Clashes of Value Systems, Security, Injustice, and Social Structured Sin and personal sin. Discussion was far-ranging: from the existential threats to the climate and planet, the potential use of nuclear and other weapons, the interrelationship between the economy and ecology, the role of women in society, the plight of indigenous people, ideologies and fears that divide us, violations of basic human dignity, and racism, to an understanding and reconciliation of social and personal sin.

Russ Testa’s session, titled “Values That Shape Our Franciscan Steps Toward New Creation,” took the group through an exercise involving the story of Francis and the Sultan, the myth versus the story. The retreatants subsequently broke into small groups with the direction that they use certain principles from the story to guide their discussions: Inclusion, Goodness, Beauty, and Limits.

Afterward, Russ shared the four issue areas on which the 2017-2020 JPIC Directorate is focusing: 1) immigration; 2) racism and white privilege; 3) peacemaking; and 4) climate change.

Later in the afternoon, friars Julian Jagudilla, OFM, and Juan Turcios, OFM, spoke about the important work they are doing at the Migrant Center of the Church of St. Francis in New York City – an initiative critical to the Immigration focus of the JPIC Office/Directorate. In addition, Bob Menard, OFM, of Clemson University Campus Ministry provided an update on the consolidation of six U.S. Franciscan provinces into one.

Saturday evening brought time for the popular ministry sharing. Each represented ministry offered one accomplishment from the past year and one plan for the coming year. Attending ministries included:  Chicago, Ill., Theological Union; Clemson, S.C., University Campus Ministry;  Immaculate Conception Parish of Durham, N.C.;  St. Camillus Parish of Silver Spring, Md.;  St. Francis of Assisi Parish and Secular Franciscan Fraternity of Triangle, Va;  St. Francis of Assisi Parish of Raleigh, N.C.; St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Long Beach Island, N.J.; St. Francis Springs Fraternity of Stoneville and Greensboro, N.C.;  St. Mary of the Angels Parish and Fraternity of Anderson, S.C.;  and  St. Mary’s Parish, Pompton Lakes, N.J. Additional friar retreat participants included John Gill, OFMIgnatius Harding, OFM, David Hyman, OFMJoseph Kotula, OFM, and Jud Weiksnar, OFM, chair of the HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate.

“This gathering is vitally important because the participants are learning directly from people such as Russ and Marie, who are experts in JPIC matters and in Marie’s case recognized internationally for her peacemaking efforts,” said Jud, who is pastor of St. Columba -St. Brigid Parish in Buffalo, N.Y.  “They also benefit from sharing best practices with their fellow JPIC contacts. But the most important thing about the retreat is that we gather around the persons of Jesus and St. Francis, who didn’t just question the religious and social dynamics of their time, but created new paradigms. Our retreatants are being prepared in their own ways to follow in Jesus’s and Francis’s footsteps.”

The final session on Sunday, “Changing Political Structures”, focused on “next steps” for JPIC efforts in the Province. Russ outlined elements of a 2018 election strategy centered on increasing voter participation, particularly from those on the margins.  The JPIC Office is working to create a variety of resources to support these efforts.

The retreat participants were encouraged to consider organizing voter registration drives in their communities. These events should particularly target children of immigrants and other young adults. Another suggestion was to hold workshops highlighting the importance of citizenry engagement and the challenges that result from tighter restrictions on voter identification. One retreatant recommended arranging for a representative from the League of Women Voters to run a voter registration event.

The retreat concluded on Sunday after a Mass celebrated by Ignatius and lunch.

— Gary Burton is a Secular Franciscan and member of both St. Francis of Assisi Parish and Secular Franciscan Fraternity in Triangle, Va. He has been involved in Franciscan Action and Advocacy and JPIC-related ministries for several years.

Editor’s note: Information about the JPIC Office and Directorate can be found on the Justice and Peace section of HNP.org.

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