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Reflecting on 2018

Was it the best of times – or the worst of times?

The end of a year often prompts a look back at what has happened during the previous months. For some, the memories are positive, but for others, a bit negative. For most, the recollections are a combination of ups and downs, and lessons learned. Recently, friars around the Province shared their thoughts about incidents that they believe were significant and impactful. . Some described personal events while others shared thoughts about topics and issues affecting the broader population. The friars noted the connection between historic events and their lives, with some pondering the significance of the people in their lives – including the feelings brought about by deaths of parents and long-time friends. The thoughts of the following 10 friars seem to reflect the distinctions and similarities of the general attitudes of society.

Kenneth Himes, OFM: Chestnut Hill, Mass. (Boston College)
Despite the many possible incidents of significance to consider, I have chosen my experience of a conference sponsored by the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church, an alliance of more than 500 Catholic moral theologians from across the globe. We met last July for five days in the city of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Walking through the city prior to the conference’s opening, I came upon the exact site, which was commemorated by a plaque, where Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated – sparking the onset of WWI. It was chilling to think that in this lovely urban setting, an act of nationalist violence set off one of the saddest chapters in modern history.

But the conference was significant for me because of the hope it signaled. For the first time in my life, I was at an international conference where theologians from the southern hemisphere outnumbered those from the northern hemisphere. More than 40 percent of the attendees were female, and more than half were laity. The diversity of theological agendas, the richness of experience, the genuine universality of the theological community – it was marvelous to behold and enjoy. Having the honor of being one of those who gave a plenary address to the group, I was thrilled by the feedback and reactions I received from brothers and sisters united in faith, yet so different from me in my small corner of the theological world. The Catholic theological community is alive and well.

Stephen Kluge, OFM: Raleigh, N.C. (St Francis of Assisi Parish)
Christmas is a season of gift-giving and receiving – a season of a more concentrated remembrance of the many gifts we have received from God. Christmas is a season when we celebrate the greatest of God’s gift to us, the gift of God’s Word becoming one of us in all things but sin in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

At this time of year, I reflect on the many ways laypeople have gifted me, especially when I stand at the door of the church to greet these wonderful saints of God who respond to His invitation to give thanks and praise. They have broken open their blessed lives and shared them with me. We have prayed together, laughed together, and sometimes they have trusted me a portion of their pain. They have allowed me to anoint them with holy oil, while at the same time they have anointed me with their greetings, smiles, and tears.

Christmas is a season of gift-giving and receiving. Once again, I am reminded that I have received far more blessings of Christ because of you saints of God, than I have given to you, God’s holy and priestly people. Thank you, saints of God! Have a holy New Year!

Joseph Kotula, OFM: West Clarksville, N.Y. (Mt. Irenaeus)
The incident that made the strongest impact on me last year was a gathering in November called Ite Nuntiate, which I attended with 10 other friars, including four from Holy Name Province, from across the United States. Its purpose was for us to talk about new types of communities that could be formed in the future. It was held in a town called Dittmer, Mo., a 45-minute drive from St. Louis. I was with a group of men from five of the six Franciscan provinces participating in the restructuring process. We talked about new communities in the context of revitalization and restructuring. It was a very positive experience. Living there for a week with these guys made me realize that the Gospel way of life was very much alive. It was exciting to participate in the discussions, as I felt the creativity, enthusiasm and positive energy. It felt familiar to me, a lot like the way of life at the Mountain in Western New York. We shared stories and conversations that were very upbeat – especially about the type of communities that could exist when we form a new province over the next few years.

Led by Br. David Buer, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, the convener of this group gathering, we evaluated the eight points of Ite Nuntiate – and during our dialogue, we came up with a new name to make this group and its goals more understandable and pique curiosity and interest. It was impactful being with guys from five other provinces and being open and trusting. I found the gathering a great way to tap into people’s ideas, which was one of the reasons I participated. My background is a little different than most. When I joined the Province, I remember wanting to be a hitchhiking friar – to truly live in the itinerant style of Francis. I’ve been on the road a lot in my life and I enjoy meeting many kinds of people. I like to go where the spirit moves me, in the manner of prayer. David (Buer)has started a new ministry in Arizona near the U.S. border. I love the idea of itinerancy. That’s what Francis chose for his lifestyle. It’s important to structure our Franciscan life in ways that suit people, and in ways that are like what Francis originally saw as the Franciscan way of life. The people who go into religious life these days have had more life experience, and usually established professions, than in previous years. Almost two months later, I am still feeling the energy of this friar gathering.

Kevin Mackin, OFM: St. Petersburg, Fla. (St. Anthony Friary)
The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report in 2018 impacted me, and I would venture to say all active clergy. While the Pennsylvania attorney general released the report with considerable publicity, the bishops were virtually silent, providing no context. The report, covering a 70-year period, identified approximately two percent of the clergy in that period who were accused of sexual abuse against minors. Two-thirds of those clergy are deceased. The allegations were called “credible,” but many weren’t proven. These statistics came from the United States conference of Catholic Bishops, yet I did not hear a word from the bishops about policies the U.S. Catholic Church has in place to safeguard minors and vulnerable adults. If two percent of the clergy were accused, what do the bishops think of the 98 percent doing good pastoral ministry?

This brings me to my major point: the so-called Dallas Charter (for the Protection of Children and Young People), which focuses on priest-abusers and excludes bishops from the strictures of their own Charter. More to the point, the Charter is seriously flawed from the viewpoint of American jurisprudence. And finally, the policy undermines vocations to the priesthood. The accused – be they bishop or priest or layperson – and the accuser must have clearly defined rights so that the truth of an accusation may be determined, and justice served. But using the word “credible” seems to mean “not entirely impossible.” A “credible” allegation, therefore, has the semblance of truth, and is not found to be manifestly false or frivolous. What has become of the standard of “clear and convincing evidence?” Why should someone be suspended before transparent due process? The person with a good reputation has a right to keep that reputation. The Dallas Charter demands an update in light of U.S. jurisprudence. Bishops can’t do such a task; competent lay juridical experts can best serve the Church in accord with the principles of jurisprudence.

Dominic Monti, OFM: Allegany, N.Y. (St. Bonaventure University)
Two events of 2018 were very emotional for me and will probably have a lasting impact. The most powerful and immediate impact took place on June 10, the morning I discovered the lifeless body of my long-time friend, Bob Tocha – who was known to many friars – in the basement of his home in Silver Spring, Md. Bob and I had enjoyed a wonderful friendship for more than five decades – since our days as students at St. Bonaventure University in the 1960s. Seeing his remains was indeed a stark reminder that I myself would be turning 75 the following month, and that life is indeed brief.

Equally emotional was an event that occurred a couple of weeks earlier, on May 30, when we were gathered in Chapter at Siena College to vote on the proposal to join with our brothers in five other provinces to form one new U.S. province. This gathering will color the rest of my life. It is not often I have sensed that I was witnessing history in the making. Watching Jack Clark Robinson, OFM, announcing the results of the votes was truly dramatic. I believed it to be the movement of the Holy Spirit calling us friars to forge a new era of American Franciscan history together. Ultimately, this is more important: “life is for the living.”

Joseph Nangle, OFM: Washington, D.C. (Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Arlington, Va.)
A peak moment for me in 2018 was the week I spent on retreat at our nursing facility, Holy Names Friary in Ringwood, N.J. This friary, as we know, is designated as the official House of Prayer for the Province, so I thought it an appropriate setting for a retreat. The experience exceeded my expectations.

Beginning with renewed appreciation, even reverence, for the long and faithful lives of our brother friars there – peers whom I have known for five and six decades – I came away with deeper insights into examples of graceful acceptance of our inevitable diminishment. While I surely do not wish in any way to idealize or overly spiritualize these observations, I want to point in particular to one that summed up, for me, the gift of those August days in Ringwood.

I had lunch one day with Tom Ennis, OFM. We know Tom as one of those brothers among us who has lived his Franciscan life faithfully and, at least in my mind, without fanfare or even much recognition. That day I asked Tom how many years he had worked at the Franciscan Inn in Philadelphia. I was surprised and impressed to hear him answer, “35 years”. Day in and day out, 24/7, serving the poorest of the poor!

That in and of itself gave me much to reflect on as I continued my retreat – thoughts such as, “who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God?”. As if to reinforce my respect and admiration for Tom’s years of humble service – and consider how our loving Father will receive Tom when his time comes – another moment equally caught my attention. I had the privilege of presiding at the community Eucharist on one of the weekdays. At the very moment when I raised the Consecrated Bread after the words of Institution, I heard a whisper just to my right: “my Lord and my God’. It was Tom.

John O’Connor, OFM: Triangle, Va. (St. Francis of Assisi Parish)
On the positive side of 2018 memories, I think of the celebration of my 50th jubilee as a friar. It was great to be able to have my family and so many friars at the Mass at St. Francis Church on 31st Street. The liturgy was uplifting and the reception following the Mass at San Damiano Hall was the best, filled with family and fraternity. I was especially gratified for the presence of the current chairman of the Board of Trustees of St. Bonaventure University, and the two previous board chairs. The university has always held a special place in my heart, having been director of campus ministry, pastor of the University parish, and a member of the theology department, in addition to having served on the Board of Trustees for more than 25 years. All in all, it was a fun event!

On the negative side, as a pastor it was a difficult year because of the challenge of speaking out against the immoral behavior and decisions of the current leadership of our government, without being accused of meddling in politics – but, at the same time, responding to the current scandal in the Church. Just when we most need our Church leadership – bishops to be able to speak forcefully to the moral issues facing our country – they find their credibility compromised because of the scandal.

Francis Pompei, OFM: Syracuse, N.Y. (Blessed Sacrament Parish and Franciscan Mystery Players)
How overwhelming and discouraging the news has been about clergy sex abuse. The allegations have affected the Catholic Church and, more importantly, our brothers and sisters in the pews. I felt anger, disillusionment and shame – most of the anger toward the guilty – for the unimaginable damage done to the young victims.

As Franciscans, we are watching what Francis witnessed 800 years ago – the Church falling into ruins. As I listen to the diocesan clergy, many, if not most, are defeated as they focus on the structures crumbling around them. I know, because I was a diocesan priest. But thank you, Jesus, for the friars who taught and guided me to a new way of looking at faith, Church, and life. They put a fire in my belly to stay in the present, trust in the Holy Spirit, and be part of the new Catholic Church that will rise from the ashes. I may not be there, but we have terrific young friars in our soon-to-be one province who will be the voice of the people, the poor, and all of the forgotten, and who will be baptized anew with the Holy Spirit and ‘fire’.

Recently, I witnessed how the new Church will spring from the ashes. On Dec. 9, the Franciscan Mystery Players of Clayton, N.Y., presented their “living meditation” at Notre Dame Church in Ogdensburg, N.Y. Bishop Terry LaValley of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, along with about 125 people, attended. As with all the mystery play groups, teenagers and adults joined in an hour of prayer before the presentation. You just knew that all of the teenagers experienced the Holy Spirit while they were in the sanctuary preparing for their parts.

Afterward, when we gathered in front of the manger, everyone witnessed to one another their experience, with many weeping tears of joy. Bishop LaValley’s comments about the future of the Church rang prophetic for me. I was so personally moved by the events of the night and was filled with the Holy Spirit, not just through the play, but through the wonderful love these teenagers have for the Lord and the depth of their faith. To all my Franciscan brothers and Franciscan family, I say, “Alleluia, praise you Jesus, Francis and Clare.”

Dennis Tamburello, OFM: Loudonville, N.Y. (Siena College)
The incident that had the biggest impact on me in 2018 was the sudden illness and death of my mother. I am grateful that she lived for 92 years and was basically healthy until the last few weeks of her life after suffering a massive stroke. For me and my siblings, our world will never be the same. She was truly the glue that held our family together, so naturally we wanted her to be physically with us forever. But we know that she is still holding us together from her dwelling place in Heaven. One thing for which I will be forever grateful is the outpouring of love and support from the friars. As Francis said, “The Lord gave me brothers.” I know in a deeper way now what a great gift that is.

Patrick Tuttle, OFM: Greenville, S.C. (St. Anthony of Padua Parish)
This past year, I was deeply affected by the extent to which our Church has participated, directly or indirectly, in harming children and vulnerable adults. While our leaders were poorly informed by a science that claimed this disease could be healed, there is no prudence or wisdom in reassigning people. This gut punch nearly put me down. I was also deeply touched by the way our local church has responded to the Gospel call to serve the poor. At St. Anthony’s Parish, more than 60% of offertory went out into the community to assist people facing difficulties of varying degree. We are able, through the grace of God, to do more and more each year.

Editor’s note: Over the years, HNP Today has published previous collections of friar comments about other topics of broad interest. They included articles about friars’ reactions to the election of Donald Trump, to the election of Barack Obama, and on what being a religious brother means. 

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