Ministries Celebrate Peace Through Spirit of Assisi Services

Rebecca Doel In the Headlines

The celebrations described here are a sampling of many held in October throughout Holy Name Province to commemorate the anniversary of a historic peace gathering in 1986.

Last month, Franciscans and Catholics around the world commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Spirit of Assisi, also known as the World Day of Prayer for Peace. Friars and their partners-in-ministry planned prayer services, special Masses and lectures to highlight the need for peaceful relations among all faith traditions.

These events offered opportunities for dialogue and encouraged participants to find ways to spread peace in their day-to-day lives.

“So often in our world, differences are emphasized, which can lead to conflict; but with Spirit of Assisi, we experience a moment when people with different core beliefs come together and recognize their commonalities in the prayer for a more peaceful world,” said Russell Testa, director of the Province’s Office for Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation. “This is the example of Francis in modern times and is needed in our Church, communities and politics — to find the commonalities to build the Common Good. My hope is that these efforts are not isolated moments of hope, but a renewed start towards peace-building in our Province and the larger world.”

The JPIC Office in conjunction with the friars of New York City’s Holy Name of Jesus Parish organized a Provincial interfaith prayer service, “Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace,” at Holy Name of Jesus Church on the Upper West Side. The Oct. 27 program included prayers by six leaders from three faith traditions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Michael Tyson, OFM, who planned the event, welcomed attendees to the program, held in the church’s St. Mary of the Angels Chapel, named for the chapel in Assisi. Prayers were led by Holy Name pastor Daniel Kenna, OFM, as well as by leaders from Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, and Synagogue Anshe Chesed.

Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, closed the service with a description of the 1986 event in Assisi. Several songs about peace, led by parish musicians, and a Litany of Promises were also included in the evening. A reception for attendees — parishioners, people from the diverse neighborhood and friars from various HNP ministries — followed.

Presentations and Discussions
At St. Anthony Shrine, roughly 50 attended a program featuring three presenters — including Joseph Nangle, OFM, a member of the Provincial Council — despite sleet and near-freezing weather in Boston.

Joseph said the Oct. 27 event — ”Pilgrims of Peace” — lasted two and a half hours and featured talks by him, an imam and a rabbi as well as questions, observations and reactions. “I wondered if we would ever finish,” he joked.

“Each of us spoke about peace from our distinct traditions,” Joe said. “I based my remarks on the life of Jesus, moving then to the two currents that have traditionally marked Christian efforts on behalf of peace — pacifism and just war. I then spoke about peace as understood more recently in Catholic Social Teaching.”

He noted: “The yearning for peace is reflected in our Eucharistic prayers. I tried to draw a practical conclusion, asking how people of the Gospel — and perhaps of the Qur’an and Torah as well — can fail to resist the warlike culture of the United States.”

Joe said Imam Talal Eid and Rabbi Victor Reinstein spoke from their sacred texts, explaining passages that address peace. “I spoke basically about Jesus, the Prince of Peace. My conclusion, then, was that Islam and Judaism are religions of the book, while Christianity is about a person.”

St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., hosted “Jews, Christians, Muslims: Praising One God, Co-Creating Peaceful, Sustainable Future” on Oct. 27.

The evening began with an interfaith liturgy of prayer that focused on the “7 Billion Inhabitants” of the world and the ecological implications. Some 30 from the three faith traditions participated, said Jeffery Jordan, OFM, who noted: “St. Camillus’ Multi-Cultural Choir inspired the liturgy with music that weaved all three religious traditions.”

The event featured talks by Rabbi Fred Schlerlinder Dobb from the Adat Shalom Reconstructionalist Congregation, Rizwaan Akhtar of Green Muslims, and Sr. Marie Lucey, OSF from the Franciscan Action Network.

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, represented the Christian perspective in these presentations. Sr. Kristin Mattes, SND, director of lifelong faith formation at St. Camillus, facilitated the event, which included discussions.

Each presenter provided a brief reflection based on the theological insights from his or her respective tradition — namely, readings from the Torah, Qur’an, and New Testament — which spurred group reflections and personal resolutions. Resolutions were written down and prayed over. A Franciscan perspective on environmental issues was provided by Sr. Marie.

“As profoundly described by each presenter,” Jeffery noted, “all three religious traditions emphasize the sanctity of creation, and this point of consensus can powerfully motivate interfaith action concerning environmental issues.”

The program concluded with a “spirit-filled song” in Hebrew and Arabic, Jeffery said.

Prayer Services and Fellowship
St. Francis Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J., celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Spirit of Assisi on Oct. 27 with an ecumenical prayer service.

“Besides the Franciscan friars and sisters,” said pastor Stephen Kluge, OFM, “other clergy who participated were Rev. Jocelyn Johnson from Zion Lutheran Church; Pastor Ray Laird from Island Baptist Church; Don Pripstein, the president of the Jewish Community of Long Beach Island; and Rev. Donald Turner of St. Peter’s at the Light Episcopal Church.” Roughly 50 people from the various faith communities prayed for peace in the 45-minute-long service that was followed by a time for fellowship during a simple meal of soups and bread prepared by St. Francis parishioners.

In Paterson, N.J., St. Bonaventure Church, where Daniel Grigassy, OFM, is pastor, held a service for the World Day of Prayer for Peace in the “Spirit of Assisi” on Oct. 29 in the parish’s prayer garden.

Organized by the Missionary Sisters, “Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace” invited participants to gather in the garden. Promotional materials for the event emphasized: “In the footsteps of Francis and Clare, we are all called to walk the path of peace as pilgrims, to pray and fast for justice in our world, and to dialogue with one another in an effort to discover creative ways to build peace in our own day.”

Attendees moved from the prayer garden to a peace pole that stands next to a statue of St. Francis. There, a local imam read the story of St. Francis and the sultan with Daniel and Christopher VanHaight, OFM. The event concluded with an action component — asking participants to commit to further peace efforts in a concrete way.

St. Anthony of Padua Parish, in Camden, N.J., organized an Oct. 27 peace walk from nearby St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church to St. Anthony’s. “In attendance were people of both churches, the chief of police, the representative of the mayor and two councilmen,” said Karl Koenig, OFM.

He said, “On their way to the church, two people were robbed at gunpoint. This incident added to the concern we were feeling.”

The event included discussion about the problem of violence and prayer for peace. “We lit candles at each church, as well as where the men were robbed,” Karl said. “At St. Anthony’s, all the people entered the sanctuary where a candle was lit at the foot of the altar. We formed a circle, holding hands, and said a final prayer for peace.”

On Oct. 29 and 30, Karl spoke at Masses explaining the significance of the original Spirit of Assisi and the need for justice in order to achieve peace. He noted: “Twenty-five years ago, we witnessed a gathering with Pope John Paul II. This was a witness for the need of world peace. … (Today), we need to build respect and love for all people and for all of God’s creatures as well.”

Immaculate Conception Church in Durham, N.C., commemorated the Spirit of Assisi on Oct. 23, with an interfaith prayer service. Roughly 150 parishioners, along with leaders from several faith communities — including Buddhist, Latino-Pentecostal, Jewish, African-American Christian, Muslim, Baptist, Hindu and Roman Catholic — joined in a communal prayer for peace, said Lawrence Hayes, OFM.

Each faith leader, including Lawrence, offered a brief meditation, prayer or song that reflected his or her faith’s understanding of peace. These presentations were punctuated by songs and prayers for peace offered by participants.

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“The whole point is to get together as brothers and sisters of one God to pray for peace in the world … especially at a time of fracturing in our society and of demonizing others who don’t think the same way. The Spirit of Assisi service is about peace and respectful dialogue,” explained Larry to local newspaper the Herald Sun.

He said he hopes the Spirit of Assisi celebrations will “animate the local ministries of Holy Name Province to seek other opportunities in the upcoming year to sponsor respectful dialogues concerning contentious current issues — such as immigration reform, the role of government in the common good, Christian-Muslim dialogue, the economy and the poor, and the protection of the environment.”

Next week, the Washington Theological Union will hold a Franciscan lecture and charism celebration with a presentation on the World Day of Prayer for Peace. Fr. Steven McMichael, OFM Conv, will discuss the day from a Franciscan historical perspective at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 16.

Both Siena College and St. Bonaventure University — sponsored by the Province — also held prayer services to mark the anniversary.

— Rebecca Doel is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Jocelyn Thomas contributed to this article.