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franciscan - January 2002

© The Society of Saint Francis, 2001

Minister's Letter

Sister Joyce CSF, Minister of the First Order Sisters of the European Province, writes:

Dear Friends,

We cannot escape the impact of September 11, 2001 on our lives as Christians and as Franciscans. It so happened that the majority of First Order brothers and sisters of this Province, including the Ministers from the other Provinces, were gathered together in General Chapter at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick on that date. Although glued to the televison news and overshadowed by the awfulness of it for all those directly affected in those days immediately following, as the weeks and months tick by and the war on terrorism takes on its grisly shape, I become more convinced that as Franciscans we have a distinctive rôle to play. On the personal, national and international levels, to a shocked and grieving world, we offer the possibility of living the reality of the greeting given to Francis, ‘The Lord give you peace’. We know that, at the least, two RC Franciscans lost their lives in the tragedy, Carol La Plante SFO and Mychal Judge OFM  – may they rest in peace.

 We know that many more people in Afghanistan are losing their lives every day – may they rest in peace.

Franciscans International (FI), a non-governmental organisation at the United Nations, is in a unique position to inform us of the many initiatives and opportunities that might enable us to play our part, however seemingly small or simple, in establishing ways of being instruments of peace, in a world so fragmented by injustice, oppression and abuse. The president of the FI board of directors, Agostinho Diekmann OFM, wrote on September 12: We urge all Franciscans to redouble their efforts as instruments of peace in this time of danger and ongoing international conflict.

Much has been written and said as a consequence of this world-shattering event. I would like to highlight some of this that has spoken profoundly to me and challenged my assumptions and my fears. From religious leaders: ‘For all the tragedy that took place on 11 September, with the loss of probably 7000 lives, that number is relatively small compared with the number of people who die each year through lack of clean water and poverty. Yet we do not marshal all our troops and energy... to support the relief of poverty in the world’ (Christopher Mayfield, Bishop of Manchester); ‘At the end of every war, the protagonists end up talking. Why can’t the talk simply replace the destruction?’ (Njongonkulu Ndungane, Archbishop of Cape Town); ‘The current conflict must not be used by any as a basis for division amongst our faiths’ (Mark Santer, Bishop of Birmingham); ‘In Islam, all innocent human life is precious. These attacks will only lead to further polarisation in the world. This will not be a fitting memorial to those who died in the 11 September atrocities’ (Yousuf Bhailok, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Great Britain). John Paul Lederach, a Mennonite who has been involved in conflict resolution internationally, in an essay titled The Challenge of Terror, advocates a change in metaphor for the conflict from smoking out the enemy from their holes and destroying them to fighting a virus that has entered the system by strengthening its immunity. He suggests that we need to understand the power of simplicity: ‘From the standpoint of the perpetrators, the effectiveness of their actions was in finding simple ways to use the system to undo it ... our greatest task is to find equally creative and simple tools on the other side.’ He urges us all to break the cycle of terror and give birth to the unexpected and ends his essay with a quote from the poet Seamus Heaney:

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

May we be united in prayer with all people of peace, whatever their faith. Pax et bonum
. f


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