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franciscan - May 2001

© The Society of Saint Francis, 2001

Minister's Letter


Brother Damian SSF, Minister Provincial of the European Province Brothers, writes:

A phrase and a question have been persistently invading my mind as I have pondered the subject of this letter. They are simply: ‘What an immense opportunity is given to Franciscans.’ ‘How do we use it today?’

Francis was a man of passion, and that passion, once directed away from his earlier pursuits into war, was re-directed towards the discovery of straightforward Gospel values. He began to light up situations of reconciliation, or identify where creation became community, and the Cross of Christ was recognised as central to everything.

In today’s world we think we have made remarkable progress – and we have.

But as every scientist knows, one answer poses half-a-dozen new questions, and one discovery poses six new areas of research. Science today is so swift returns answers that we hardly have time to understand, reflect, evaluate and respond before another wave of discoveries is deposited awkwardly into our (usually Western) laps.Franciscans inherit a basic wisdom from our Patron, along with patterns of thought and response that he generated. Perhaps I may give three examples upon which we as Franciscan-minded people might wish to focus right now.

Medicines are researched and marketed by mega-companies whose achievements are bringing relief and cure or a recovery of life to millions. The words of Ecclesiastes 38 spring to mind: ‘The Lord has created medicines from the earth … there is no end to the works of the Lord, who spreads health over the whole world.’ Not quite! While last year the four largest pharmaceutical companies made profits of over $20bn, and people with HIV are having the quality of their lives transformed, such drugs are only bringing health and vitality to sufferers in that part of the world which can afford it. If Franciscans believe in fraternity, we must do something on behalf of nearly half the world’s population who will die before they have achieved anything like a full life, for that cannot be right. The problem is a complex one but we dare not just sit idly by.

Weapons are probably the most popular single item among the world’s luxury trade. Weapons have a single purpose. As deterrents they only work up to a point. Francis changed his mind about engaging in war. He recognised that Jesus taught a more subtle, non-violent action towards enemies. He actually said we are to love them! In the long history of the world, it seems that it has only been in the last ten years that we have begun to witness some amazing results of non-aggressive, non-violent campaigns which have achieved peace. After the ‘velvet revolution’ in Czechoslovakia came the silent fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ending of Apartheid in South Africa in 1993; and suddenly Milosovic has gone (2000). ‘Lord, make us instruments of your peace’ is probably the best known of prayers, after the prayer Jesus himself gave us. It is written in a quite unusual style, for we pray that the action may be through us: ‘where there is injury, let us bring pardon’. The answer to our prayer is effected in ourselves. And there is no better way of defeating an enemy than by making him/her a friend, or if not a friend, at least no longer a threat.

My third target for a direct Franciscan response is in the area of ecology. In this matter it is not the Churches that are the most active, nor indeed the mature, responsible, educated Westerner. But it is clearly from children, in schools, from the minds of young people across the globe. We are acting pretty dumb about the causes of global warming. We are deaf to the predictions about serious land loss for the people of Pakistan or the Maldive Islands. I go on driving, so do the lorry-drivers and pilots, as we merrily discharge carbon monoxide from our intensely-industrialised and socially-mobile culture. ‘Greenhouse gases’ must be reduced by over sixty percent, and yet we can’t even agree on cutting it by five percent! What in heaven’s name are we playing at?

Franciscans do recognise the need to change our way of living, our attitudes to spending, our power over others. Do we double our efforts, or are we just about to rise up, shout aloud, undertake another non-violent, velvet turnaround? What an opportunity is ours! Together we must find the way to use it. f


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