Signs of the Times: How Would Francis Lead a Parish?

Jeanne and Joe Mitcho In the Headlines

The essay below is the 11th in a series of “Franciscan Response” reflections by friars and partners-in-ministry about issues facing our culture. The series is part of Holy Name Province’s response to the call to revitalize Franciscan life and ministry in the United States — a key objective of the leaders of the American OFM provinces. 

These reflections are meant to provide social analysis as part of the many considerations involved with creating a preferred future for the Franciscans of the United States. Because it is hoped that this initiative generates dialogue, friars are encouraged to provide comments about the content of the essays in the series. These essays do not represent the official policy of Holy Name Province.

Legend has it that St. Francis founded the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. In front of the building is the Piazza di Santa Croce, a large market square. Supposedly, St. Francis’ placement of the basilica was intentional, meant as a message to the people that before they entered the church together, he wanted them to be with the people “in the marketplace.”

That meeting of Franciscans and people in the marketplace, and the hospitality extended there to all is our first expectation of a Franciscan parish. We expect the friars to meet us and to welcome us where we live and then to move us beyond our narrow visions to the poor and to our larger communities, and ultimately to all of creation.

Leading to a Ministry of Justice
We expect the friars to lead us to a ministry of justice. As exampled by St. Francis, we expect to be led to a unity with the poor and powerless, not so they might remain so, but that they may come to a place of economic and social freedom, so they might join us in lifting up others. The Friars led us to march for the rights of the unborn as well as tackle issues like human trafficking. We were called to join with other faith communities in our marketplace for community organizing efforts to take action on key local issues like predatory lending, foreclosure and affordable housing.

We expect the Franciscans to help us stand side by side with the disenfranchised, especially those who are the target of hatred and bigotry in the marketplace of own backyards. The friars led us to march with our immigrant family members when our local government made them feel unwelcome and to break bread at our local mosque with our brothers and sisters, in a message of solidarity because of the mistrust they were feeling.

At St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, Va., the friars led us to set up our own St. Francis House to reach out to those with needs in our own community. They took us to the marketplace of inner city Philadelphia, and to the more than a dozen ‘churches’ in the barrios outside Lima, Peru.

Inspiring to Care for Creation
We expect the friars to inspire us to care for creation, not as rulers of that creation but as a member of it.   With the charism of Francis foremost in their spirituality, the friars helped us see the earth, sky, water, fauna and flora as brothers and sisters who expect the same kind of reverence as women and men. The friars led us to transform our parish into one that makes present by our actions, the care we purport to have for our world.

We also expect the Franciscans to inspire us with homilies that have meaning for our lives and lift us up with liturgies that challenge us to go out into the marketplace prepared to see Jesus in our brothers and sisters.

We see our friars as partners-in-ministry. We expect to be asked to contribute our talents, our ideas, and our treasure alongside theirs. We invite them into our parish communities to work together with us to see how we can best make God happen in our time by doing what Jesus did, eating with all and healing all with whom we come into contact.

While we ‘celebrate’ the work of redemption in our parish church in rite and ritual, we believe that as a Franciscan parish we are called to begin and end the work of redemption in the marketplace as Francis did.

mitcho— Jeanne and Joe Mitcho are parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in northern Virginia.

Editor’s note: An HNP Today series called Franciscan Influences offers reflections from the friars’ partners-in-ministry about the values and people that they respect. The most recent essay was published earlier this month.

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