BUFFALO, N.Y. — One month after the killing of a man classified as possibly the most notorious terrorist in the world, Western New York Catholic, the monthly publication of the Diocese of Buffalo, printed Holy Name Province’s statement on the May 1 death of Osama bin Laden.
The statement — written by Provincial Minster John O’Connor, OFM, and Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM — expresses the very human struggle to sort through an appropriate Christian and Franciscan response to a death of someone who hurt so many people.
Because bin Laden’s involvement with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “became the embodiment of our fears,” the initial expression of joy that was shown by many upon the announcement of his death was understandable, the provincial leaders said. However, they reminded their friar brothers and friends that “if we are honest with ourselves as Christians, we quickly feel quite uncomfortable with a joy that comes from the death of another human being — even one we call an enemy.”
The perspective distributed by the Holy Name leaders — through email to HNP member friars, by press release and in HNP Today — was a sentiment that has resonated with many people.
The Provincial Office received more than a dozen emails from people extending their appreciation for the Franciscan perspective. The messages came from around the world, from men and women in all walks of life, said Jocelyn Thomas, HNP director of communications.
“We even received a message from Australia,” she said. “Everyone we heard from talked of the powerful effect that the friars’ message had.”
Gratitude for Courage
“I thank you with all my heart for what you wrote and had the courage to post,” emailed a former Franciscan nun. She said, “Even though bin Laden cost me a lot in terms of people, a job, physical and mental health, and a fundamental core sense of safety, I was so upset at the rejoicing of others. I couldn’t seem to carve out a context for what I was feeling — you know? I couldn’t get it all to make sense until my best friend, a Franciscan Sister of Peace, shared your message with me.
“Please continue to stand in your truth. We need to hear you proclaim the simple message of peace, change of heart and forgiveness. The Franciscan challenge is not an easy one sometimes, but it is always clear and unambiguous. May your words move hearts to the good as deeply as they were able to comfort mine.”
An Ohio resident and former parishioner of St. Francis Parish in Triangle, Va., said, “I too, was deeply troubled by the celebration of another human being’s death and thought it reflected poorly on us as a nation. It was spoken with the same pious, practical language I remember as a teenager at St. Francis in Triangle. I appreciate your holy thoughts and will say a prayer for the Franciscans tonight.”
A Powerful Lesson
A professor at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, Don Swanz, who volunteers several hours a week at a local high school, said he used the Province’s statement as a teaching tool.
“I discuss legal and international issues with seniors at the invitation of one of their teachers,” he wrote in a May 7 email. “This past week, bin Laden’s death was the topic. The night before class, my email delivered your HNP Today newsletter. I took it along the next morning hoping to share the important message of John and Dominic. A significant issue in the discussion was the TV focus of the celebrating young people like what one might see if Bona’s beat Duke in the Final Four. One of the students said that the revelry they saw on TV was disturbing. More than half of them had similar comments. Some who never contributed on any topic were heard. Their message was not as eloquent as the letter’s quote from Proverbs, but it was good to hear these young people speak out as they did on this most serious matter. We read the letter to them and they were happy to see that some important people agreed with them.”
Pastors around the Province published the statement in parish bulletins. Mark Reamer, OFM, in Raleigh, N.C., said he shared it with the employees at St. Francis of Assisi Parish and received almost immediate feedback from them. He said, in a note to John and Dominic, “I thought you might be interested to know the positive impact of your reflection.”
One Raleigh parishioner said to Mark, “I’ve been waiting for something like this. Thank you for the difficult, beautiful, and authentic reminder of who Christ calls us to be. I needed it. Thank you and thank God for the Franciscans.”
Another parishioner told Mark, “Thank you. I have been bothered a lot by our national rejoicing. I understand it, but have felt very uncomfortable at our celebrating someone’s death. We are called to forgive. That doesn’t seem to be a part of our conscience. The HNP piece speaks my thoughts. I appreciate your passing it along.”
In a detailed letter to the Provincial Office, Charles Finnegan, OFM, wrote, “I am confident that I am not the only one who is grateful to ‘The Leadership of Holy Name Province, Franciscan Friars’ for their ‘Franciscan Reflection on the Death of Osama bin Laden.’ It was indeed a Franciscan reflection and greatly needed. St. Francis has much to teach us all today. Before his conversion to Jesus Christ and His Gospel the young Francis was a violent young man. His dream was to become a warrior, a knight. In the year 1202 at the age of 20 he took part in the Battle of Collestrada, which was an exceptionally bloody battle. Francis may well have killed men in that battle — certainly that is what he wanted to do, before he was taken prisoner. Released from prison because of an illness Francis rides off to battle again after his recovery, this time under the leadership of the famous warrior, Gauthier of Brienne. Francis was an enthusiastic and competent swordsman.”
The former Provincial Minister went on to say, “St. Francis’ early followers were known as a ‘Delegation of Peace’ — a service that is surely much needed today. Thanks to the leaders of Holy Name Province who invite us to be that today.”
As the friars and their partners-in-ministry realized, this statement of peace in our modern era has had a strong impact. The Province’s message had broad reach, since many people shared it with others, by email and through social media. Both Stephen DeWitt, OFM, and Daniel Horan, OFM, posted the Province’s statement on their blogs.
— Rebecca Doel is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.