RINGWOOD, N.J. — More than 20 representatives from the Province’s parishes and ministries gathered here this month for HNP’s fifth annual Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Local Contacts Retreat.
The local contacts for the Province’s Office for JPIC in Washington, D.C., met May 1 to 3 at the Franciscan Spiritual Center at Mount St. Francis in Northern New Jersey to exchange ideas on how better to advocate for justice and peace.
“We learned new methods to deliver old strategies,” said JPIC local contact Bob Simpson of St. Mary Parish in Pompton Lakes, N.J. In addition to formal presentations, the weekend included time for prayer, music, meals and fellowship. They also enjoyed a visit from Lawrence Burke, OFM, who lives on the property of Mt. Saint Francis Convent
Varied Ministries, Shared Goals
Local contacts consisted of friars, parishioners and staff members, representing eight Province locations:
· St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden, N.J.
· St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J.
· St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J.
· St. Mary Parish in Pompton Lakes, N.J.
· St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md.
· St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.
· Bethany Ministries in Middleburgh, N.Y.
· St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C.
The retreat gave JPIC representatives opportunities to learn about the Province’s goals for JPIC and successful methods to prompt justice and peace awareness. Participants both learned and offered ideas, according to Russell Testa, HNP’s director of JPIC, who facilitated the retreat.
“The role of the local JPIC contact is to be the conduit of information both to the ministries and to Provincial administration,” said Testa. “The sharing of ideas and knowledge — knowing that we are not in this alone — helps keep us all going.”
Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, co-chair of the Province’s JPIC directorate, told attendees, “We need your feedback for the Province to be more effective.”
The retreat’s agenda was divided, with some sessions taking place inside and others on the green lawn of the expansive spiritual center run by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.
• Local contacts describing a highlight of the past year as well as a future goal
• Testa reporting on the Province’s strategic plan and JPIC focus, describing HNP’s approach to young adult ministry, the fraternal life plan, service to the poor, the alienated and immigrants and inter-religious dialog. He also discussed the possibility of forming Franciscan Peace Action Teams.
• Small group discussions
• Jacek reporting on JPIC priorities and actions. He encouraged attendees to promote the upcoming Webinar.
• Demonstration of the Care for Creation (C4C) program being developed by the Franciscan Action Network(FAN), of which Testa is executive director. Testa expects to have C4C ready for use later this year.
Diversity and Enthusiasm
The JPIC activities and ideas described by the local contacts were as diverse as the parishes and ministries represented at the retreat.
Some of the more innovative programs that were discussed that day include:
· A hunger conference that attracted hundreds
· A JustFaith program
· Parish ministry called People of Peace
· An alternate Christmas event that raised funds as well as awareness of fair trade
· Helping an immigrant family threatened by deportation
· Expanding outreach to the poor and homeless at a community center
· Writing regularly about JPIC events in the weekly bulletin
Reactions from Local Contacts
Carlos Ramos, a parishioner and volunteer at St. Anthony of Padua in Camden, said he did more listening than talking during the retreat so he “could be like a sponge and soak up all of this information.” He and wife, Lourdes Trinidad, who also participated in the retreat, are launching a parish newsletter to publicize the parish’s justice and peace activities.
Karen Simon, a volunteer at St. Camillus Church, Silver Spring, Md., said talking to others was very helpful. “I not only learned what other parishes are doing, but I feel, from participating in this retreat, that I am part of a larger organization, which is good.”
Jackie Schramm, director of social justice ministry at St. Mary, Pompton Lakes, N.J., who came with five others from her parish, said: “As a result of the JPIC retreat, I am becoming more informed and able to engage in legislative advocacy. The Franciscan Action Network is another example of the visionary leadership of the Franciscans. Just as when the JustFaith program came into my lap at the perfect time due to the HNP support, so, too, with FAN.”
She continued: “I have participated in two previous JPIC retreats. Those retreats were laying the groundwork for what Russ (Testa) should be proud to have presented to us this time. Some of us who attended the JPIC retreat also attended the Ecumenical Advocacy Days this past March in Washington, D.C., which was a powerful experience, focusing on the climate change legislative bill and its critical need to be enacted into law by December. It helped us get our toes wet and experience the importance of lobbying our representatives.”
Bob Simpson said, “Our JPIC meeting brought me back to the reality that there are still strong proponents of social justice alive, well and working hard for the poor.”
Energizing of Efforts
Testa said the retreat was “an excellent opportunity to recharge one’s efforts for JPIC ministry and help with the 2009 to ’10 planning of Provincial and local strategies for JPIC ministry.”
“The group continues to offer great leadership and direction as to where to take JPIC for the HNP. The commitment and depth of the participants always is humbling to me. I’m challenged to offer them the service and support they deserve,” Testa said.
The retreat began Friday evening with an informal dinner, followed by opening prayer and welcome. It concluded Sunday with Mass, celebrated by Jacek. Peter Chepaitis, OFM, of Bethany Ministries, provided violin accompaniment for several of the songs used during the weekend.
Many participants said they left with new enthusiasm to continue their programs with added energy.
Kate Shiring, a staff member at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C., said, “I appreciated being with JPIC people from other HNP parishes and hearing all the different projects that our Province is involved in.”
“Since the retreat, we have gathered with a group of JustFaith grads and are forming an environmental lobbying group,” added Schramm. “We have visited a representative already and are arranging two more through FAN. We are moving our social justice action to a new level, thanks to the guidance of Russ (Testa), HNP and FAN.”
Testa suggested parishes show the three-minute video on climate change, which is on the FAN Web site, at all the Masses in June, along with a petition-signing campaign as a way to raise awareness about this critical bill and issue to parishioners.
“The time-sensitive and crisis nature of our times demands that we be more organized in our action. Russ (Testa) is providing such a vehicle for us,” Schramm said.
—Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.