Sad to say that each day seems to be filled with more and more stories which indicate the spread of violence increasing on global, national, and local levels. This blanket of violence seems to be like a plague that knows no boundaries. In just the past week or so, we are repulsed to learn about the senseless loss of life in Istanbul, Dhaka, Bagdad, Orlando, Falcon Heights (Minnesota), Baton Rouge, and Dallas. People have been targeted and killed because of their religion, ethnicity, race, sexuality, and profession. The perpetrators of these killings seem to be filled with ignorance, fear, and hatred. They tragically disregard the intrinsic value of life and commit crimes against God and humanity.
We, Franciscan friars, must recognize that the current context of our world has a profound impact upon the way we choose to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the 21st century. Now more than ever, we must choose peace and we must witness to the value of non-violence. We must see ourselves first and foremost as instruments of peace, healing, and reconciliation. We are called to be bridge-builders. We enter into the midst of the ignorance, fear, and hatred, and we offer a different response — not an “eye-for-an eye” or a “get even” type of response, but rather an alternate approach that walks in the midst of suffering, injustice, pain and death and calls out in a non-violent voice for understanding, dialogue, healing, justice, mercy and peaceful resolutions.
As friars, our attitudes, words and actions express our deeply held convictions. Each friar must resolve to intensify his relationship with God through individual and communal prayer, especially though the celebration of the Eucharist. As members of local fraternities-in-mission we must live at peace with one another in order to give credible witness to the people we serve. In our work and in our ministries, we must always promote peace, harmony, and the cause of justice. Our words should be expressed in ways that help to build-up and bring people together as opposed to the words — expressed all too frequently in these times — that tear down and cause disruption and divisions.
Fifty-three years ago within our country when basic human and civil rights were being denied to African-Americans, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. writing from his prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama, reminded people of some fundamental truths. Dr. King wrote: I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
His words challenged and united people then and they can hopefully do the same for us now. We must remember we are all sisters and brothers.
Looking to the immediate future, as Franciscans we need to respond now to the violence and injustice that is occurring. I propose that each fraternity begin to pray, reflect, discuss, and plan how they can celebrate our annual Franciscan Feast of the Portiuncula on August 2 in a manner that promotes forgiveness, healing, justice and peace. The Portiuncula Feast is not only part of a devotional tradition, but it is also part of a Franciscan response to the social ills of the world and is often referred to as “the Great Pardon of Assisi.”
Celebrating the Portiuncula Feast is highly significant this year as we join with the entire Franciscan family throughout the world to begin the observation of the 800th anniversary of the “Portiuncula indulgence” that was given to our Father Francis by Pope Honorius.
For us, remembering the Portiuncula is more than a nostalgic sentiment for a “place” that was loved by Francis. Rather, it is sustaining a living voice that is heard in every Franciscan heart, calling us back to our foundational values and continually sending us forth on our mission within the world. The Portiuncula is a dynamic and living memory that reminds us that we must freely give what we have received: the merciful love of God. We must be witnesses of forgiveness, healing, justice, and peace with our global, national, and local communities.
Brothers, please prepare for and celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Portiuncula on August 2. Please let its fundamental message and core values take hold once again in your lives, in your fraternities, and in your work and ministry.
Kevin Mullen, O.F.M.
Holy Name Province - Franciscan Friars
129 West 31st Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-3403