In the aftermath of the violent events in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month, the provincial ministers of seven U.S. provinces released a statement emphasizing the need for continuous respect and communication:
We hold that all forms of racism, white supremacy, neo-Nazism, xenophobia and hatred are wrong.
Because we believe that every person is created by God in love, we also hold that disrespect or diminishment of– or violence against – anyone offends not only that person, but also the One who created that person.
As Franciscans, we strive to be bridge-builders. To avoid future instances of the tragic violence that tore not only the community of Charlottesville but also the fabric of our nation, we call for a renewed commitment to respectful dialogue by all, whereby our opinions and differences can be shared in constructive and illuminating ways that lead to the possibility of growth and conversion for all. Such dialogue might lead us beyond the overt displays of violence and intolerance into an understanding of the subtle and even unconscious forms of discrimination and intolerance that may still inhabit our hearts as well as our society.
We commit ourselves to the responsibility of respect for and dialogue with all who seem ‘other’ than ourselves. And we pray that all the citizens of our nation will join in striving to attain respect and peace in our communities.
The letter, published on USFranciscans.org, was signed by the provincial ministers of Assumption BVM, Holy Name, Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe,Sacred Heart, St. Barbara, and St. John the Baptist provinces.
HNP’s ministries have also released messages calling for peace. Friars and partners-in-ministry urge all people to examine their attitudes about race and to promote actions that bring about acceptance and equality.
Reactions from New York to South Carolina
In New York City, St. Francis of Assisi Parish was one of the first to share via social media a response to the violence that erupted in Charlottesville on Aug. 12:
“First and foremost, the friars and staff at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi condemn any act of violence, especially the senseless attack with the car that took one person’s life and injured many more,” the Facebook post said. “Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God. Any attitude, philosophy, or ideology that seeks to deny this fundamental truth is antithetical to the Gospel and the Christian faith. We pray for the victims. We also pray for our nation and for all people of good will, that we will all work for justice and for peace for the good of all.”
In Western New York, Daniel Riley, OFM, director of Mt. Irenaeus, also shared a few words on Aug. 13. “It will free us to hear the Word as the world’s first food to heal those in Charlottesville and each of us where there’s division or hate or fear – deep hurts that long to be clear. ” Dan said in a reflection posted on Mt. Irenaeus’s Facebook page. “Let us free ourselves, multicolored as the flowers – we have bloomed together and will continue to flower brightly.”
In Connecticut, St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford offered a Mass of healing. “In the midst of conflict and division, we know it is you who turn our minds to thoughts of peace (Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation II),” said the parish’s announcement on Facebook. “We seek to be healed and to be healers for our sisters and brothers who feel lost and broken.”
“We gathered and celebrated the Word, with an imposition of hands and signing with chrism. We commissioned the community to work for peace and to consider creating communities of compassion, and we shared the Eucharist,” said Thomas Gallagher, OFM, pastor. “We had a significant number of people join us, especially since we had given short notice and it was a Friday evening in the summer.”
In South Carolina, students at Clemson University held a vigil of solidarity on Aug. 19. Robert Menard, OFM, director of Catholic campus ministry, offered an invocation at the event.
“There were about 150 people present,” said Bob. “We came together to honor the sacrifice of Heather Heyer, a student at the University of Virginia. We stand in solidarity with those who resist prejudice, bigotry, hate speech, racism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia and Nazi-inspired ideologies.”
Christopher VanHaight, OFM, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, N.C., shared the same sentiments. “There is no acceptable middle ground when it comes to racism. These evils need to be denounced and never accommodated,” Chris said in a post on the parish’s Facebook page. “Christ does not call us to be lukewarm on this issue or any other where the dignity of human life is concerned. We must stand with Christ and the truth.”
On Long Beach Island, N.J., James Scullion, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, said, “In light of the violence in Charlottesville, we need to challenge one another as Christians: racism, hatred, and violence can never be our way as followers of Jesus. We cannot claim to be Christians and belong to such hate groups as the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and members of the Ku Klux Klan. Racism is a sin. We need to fraternally challenge one another when we see sin in our society and especially in our parish and Church.”
Response from Siena College and St. Bonaventure University
The presidents of both Province-sponsored colleges also weighed in after the tragic events in Charlottesville.
F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, president of Siena College, said: “As we continue to pray for the victims and their families, let’s also remember those who live in fear, criminally and unconscionably targeted because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or political beliefs. Especially in these moments of sadness and disbelief, I ask all of us to renew and redouble our efforts to be messengers of reconciliation, mercy, and compassion whenever we encounter hatred, bias, or the inclination to violence.”
His statement, which appeared on the college’s website, continues: “The peacemaking message of St. Francis was directed at restoring ‘right and ordered love’ (caritas) whenever disorder and discord are encountered. Therefore, in the spirit of Francis, I invite all of us to dedicate some effort each day to being a peacemaker—an ambassador who shows others how to walk the path of right living, right relationship and right loving ‘in whatever way [you] are best able to do so (Francis of Assisi, Earlier Rule, XXII).’”
St. Bonaventure University president Dennis DePerro was equally concerned.
“The rage and disgust I feel, that we all surely feel, is still palpable after the heinous acts of cowardice and terrorism over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va.,” said DePerro in an email sent to the St. Bonaventure community. “The notion that free speech has given warped minds license to spew malice and divisiveness is antithetical to everything this nation stands for, and disparages the efforts of institutions like St. Bonaventure that value dignity, community and individual worth.
“As we embark on a new academic year in less than two weeks, armed with new core curriculum requirements steeped in equity and inclusion, I ask all of us to channel our frustration and outrage into constructive acts that promote civility across difference. Our obligation remains to provide society with intelligent, thoughtful and respectful leaders who will work tirelessly to challenge the scourge of hatred that too often stains our nation,” he added.
— Johann Cuervo is the communications assistant for Holy Name Province.
- “Marching for Human Rights” – Feb. 2, 2017, HNP Today
- “Franciscan Communities Come Together to Pray for Peace” – July 27, 2016, HNP Today
- “Ministries React to Orlando Tragedy with Prayer, Calls for Reform” – June 28, 2016, HNP Today
- “Provincial Leaders Speak Out About Charleston Tragedy, Racism” – July 7, 2015, HNP Today