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franciscan - September 2003

© The Society of Saint Francis, 2002

Minister's Letter

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


As this is my first letter since election as Minister General, I have been reflecting on this past sixteen months of settling into new responsibilities. As a former Minister Provincial in this Province there has inevitably been the letting go of a familiar pattern to my year and the establishing of a new rhythm - one that is quite open and flexible but certainly needs some shape to it. There are no road maps to follow but for me there is a growing sense of new opportunities to be embraced. The world we live in has changed dramatically in the past few years; we talk of post-September 11 and now post-Iraqi war. Not long after taking up my new role I was one of the millions who marched the streets of London in protest against the war. That experience was deeply moving, the wide spectrum of people who responded, the mood of outrage at the prospect of war, a clear message proclaimed, that undoubtedly had an effect on the Prime Minister even though not the desired one!


We have been bombarded with images of the trauma of war in an unprecedented way - almost blow by blow on our TV screens! The wonders of computer technology enable us to communicate masses of documents world-wide in minutes, and much has been written in the aftermath of the war, for and against decisions made and about what should or should not happen next. Liberation, régime change, weapons of mass destruction, collateral damage, friendly fire became the all too familiar catch phrases of each news bulletin. We rarely hear or read about those who are still dying daily in Iraq because of lack of clean water and basic medical supplies or the post traumatic stress that is unquestionably being experienced by those 'heroic' soldiers who had the misfortune to have been in the front lines of the war and witnessed its horrors.


But this is only a part of the picture. What is being done for the hungry of Ethiopia, the victims of the Congolese war, the situation in Zimbabwe, the Palestinian people living under occupation?  Many effective humanitarian efforts have been launched, but it is a mega effort that is required. It is  so easy to be complacent, but keeping it all 'out there' means we can avoid getting too involved. On the other hand it is easier to be paralysed by the scale of the problems and in effect do nothing as we sit in our wheelchairs of inactivity and accept being pushed around by the rich and powerful, self-interested companies and nations.


As Christians and Franciscans we are committed to do our part in what might seem like an unattainable mission of peacemaking and reconciliation. I am reminded of the many instances in the Gospels of how Jesus dealt with the seemingly impossible.  At a recent Chapter meeting we were reflecting on Luke 5.1-11, the story of that miraculous draft of fishes caught by Simon Peter and the others after they had unsuccessfully toiled all night.  It is easy to forget some of the miracles of recent times which we all marvelled at:  the toppling of the Berlin wall; the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. Francis responded to the seemingly impossible mission from God of building the Church and throughout the ages has attracted thousands of men and women to share in this with joy and enthusiasm. The Principles of the First Order SSF remind us that 'it is the purpose of Christ to work miracles through his servants'.


However when it all becomes too much we could begin again with asking ourselves: What are my weapons of mass destruction? Where do I hide them?, for it is useless if I decry weapons of  mass destruction in Iraq and cannot recognise them in myself. What oppressive regime do I operate?, for I cannot condemn oppressive regimes unless I recognise elements of the oppressor in myself.  Whom do I terrorise?, for I cannot root out terrorism unless I am willing to root out my own terrorist tendencies.


It is interesting that God is always on the side of people of violence these days!  I believe that the God I serve, the Source of all good, not only blesses America but also Iraq and indeed us all. f


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