Peacemaking: Exploring Franciscan Non-Violent Living

Mathias Doyle Features

The article below is third in a series from friars and Partners in Ministry (PIMs) of the Province and the Justice, Peace, Integrity of Creation Directorate who are sharing reflections on Franciscan peacemaking. Their observations are based on experiences as well as their impressions of an aspect of history.

BOSTON — In preparation for the JPIC proposal to have every ministry of Holy Name Province form group sessions dealing with the program “Engage:  Exploring Non-Violent Living,” adapted to our Franciscan approach, I formed one of the trial groups this fall here at Saint Anthony Shrine. This proposal is in support of the last Chapter’s mandate that the Province become clearly known (“branded”) as “peace-makers.”  As St. Francis always reminded the friars, real peace-making begins with each individual.  The more peace-like we become in our own prayer and lifestyle, the more we can be effective “instruments of peace” to our world today.

A group of 10 Franciscans and our partners committed to meeting for two hours every other week to explore the readings and proposals in Part I of the “Engage” book, “Exploring Non-Violent Power!”  Five Franciscans and five Partners made up this group. Over a period of two months, we explored the idea of non-violence as a “power for justice,” not just an issue of non-engagement in violence.

Using a series of readings, simple rituals, story-telling, role-playing and the sharing of personal experiences, we found a great deal of common ground in non-violent actions.  We began where all peacemaking must begin, with ourselves.  Deeply disturbed by the violence we experience all around us, we came to first acknowledge that “the roots of violence” are in each of us – as are the solutions to overcome violence and build a more just and peaceful world.  We sought to journey together from violence to wholeness, and then to find ways to share that wholeness with others.

Two examples stood out for me in our reflections. The first was the story of Popeye and the myth of redemptive violence!  From a very early age, we see our hero regularly beaten down until the last possible moment, when he gulps down his spinach and strikes back. Thus, violence is seen as necessary to save the innocent from the abuse of the evildoers.

The second was the teaching of Mohandas Gandhi that “no one possesses the ‘entire’ truth.  Rather each of us possesses a piece of the truth and the un-truth. In a conflict, nonviolent action seeks to reveal the pieces of the truth of both parties so that solutions can be constructed that incorporate them.”  He used the term “Soul-Force” to describe this power that could be unleashed to transform conflict and to create true peace, justice, and reconciliation.

It will take a tremendous effort and faith to transform the world we know today by the commitment to “non-violent living.”  But, joined together with our Partners-in-Ministry, we have the opportunity to do for our times what Gandhi did for India.  Hopefully, Holy Name Province will take up this challenge, and through “Franciscan Non-Violent Living,” truly be, what Francis called us to be “Instruments of God’s Peace.”