"JPIC Issues," Thom Curnutte, SFO, REC Councilor and JPIC Team Member
La Pobrecita: Newsletter of Lady Poverty Region. October 2011. Vol. 13, No. 4. pp. 6-7.
On October 27, 1986, Pope John Paul II inaugurated what is now known as the World Day of Prayer for Peace, a day of prayer and fasting with religious leaders of many faiths from around the world in Assisi. During his opening talk, Pope John Paul II said:
I have chosen this town of Assisi as the place for our Day of Prayer for Peace because of the particular significance of the holy man venerated here- Saint Francis- known and revered by so many throughout the world as a symbol of peace, reconciliation, and brotherhood.
Twenty-five years later, Pope Benedict XVI is revisiting the event began by our now late Holy Father Bl. John Paul II. The Pope announced at the beginning of this year that,
Next October I shall go as a pilgrim to the town of Saint Francis, inviting my Christian brethren of various denominations, the exponents of the world’s religious traditions and, ideally, all men and women of good will, to join this Pilgrimage. It will aim to commemorate the historical action desired by my Predecessor and to solemnly renew the commitment of believers of every religion to live their own religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.
The theme of this year’s pilgrimage on October 27 is Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace. According to the Conference of the Franciscan Family,
We are all called to walk the path of peace as pilgrims, to pray and fast for justice in our world, and to dialogue with one another in an effort to discover creative ways to build peace in our own day.
The World Day of Prayer for Peace has been since its inception both a prophetic and courageous initiative. Br. Roger Marchal, OFM, President for the Service of Dialogue, explains that the event is,
Prophetic, because it is fully in the spirit of Vatican II, and courageous, because in doing so, [Pope John Paul II] exposed himself to the criticism of many. Indeed, there are many who will not hesitate to criticize this initiative by holding the spectra of syncretism, equality of religions, or, as Archbishop Lefebvre did, who publicaly protested against the so called, “abominable Congress of Religions” or “the imposture of Assisi.
Indeed there are many even within the Church who are critical of this initiative. The SSPX “version” of the Secular Franciscan Order has said:
Let us in no way make excuses for the abomination that is planned to take place in October of this year at Assisi. Let us pray, rather, that it does not happen. Let us make reparation for this mortal sin against the First Commandment about to be committed by the pope himself, which has been also approved by all the Novus Ordo Franciscan superiors.
There will always be obstacles and detraction on the road to peace. In union with the Holy Father and the Church, this must not deter us. As Franciscans, and as faithful Catholics, our response must be two-fold. First, we must work to remove all obstacles to peace and harmony in our communal life. Second, we must confront contemporary issues and discover how God is calling us to build peace in our world today.
Of course we all cannot be present in Assisi for this event in October. However, we can observe a Day of Prayer for Peace individually, in our local fraternities, in our parishes, and in our own larger communities.
Why should we make this event a priority? We are called by the virtue of our Profession to promote peace and dialogue. These are distinctive responsibilities for us as Franciscans. According to Br. Roger Marchal, OFM,
For the brothers and sisters of St. Francis, the only possible attitude according to the Gospel is not rejection of condemnation- things that happened in the past- but dialogue. Dialogue is a dominant trait, in my opinion, of the Christian and Franciscan attitude.
Following the example of St. Francis, dialogue entails employing one’s whole being in this task, listening, and speaking kindly to accept the other, whoever he may be, and welcome him as he is in himself with his convictions and actions, and calling for reciprocity.
This is a monumental challenge for us! Building relationships with others for peace and dialogue can be difficult. We must be willing to listen, and to accept and respect the positions of others. We must be sincere. We must seek to meet the other where they are. We must be willing to talk about our experiences as believers.
A current situation wherein we may see the value of peace and dialogue is the recent observance of the tenth anniversary of the attack on 9/11. Since the attack ten years ago, there has been a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, xenophobia, and Islamophobia in the United States. People, in their confusion, terror, or ignorance, have been suspicious or downright hostile to our Muslim brothers and sisters, treating them as outsiders and “the other,” as if they are somehow to blame for the actions of a few evil men.
In a beautiful example of Franciscan dialogue, the Franciscan Friars (OFM) of the United States and Great Britain released a statement on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, saying, in part,
Many of our ministries have developed close relationships with local Muslim communities in order to learn from one another, to address common concerns, and to stand in solidarity with one another. The desire to know “the other” as friend is an essential challenge and a necessary aim for those who endeavor to follow Christ in the manner of St. Francis. We need only recall Francis’ encounter with the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in which he chose to engage Muslims peacefully and respectfully in a time of violence and hatred.
Such an effort on the part of friars and their partners in ministry is needed now more than ever, for while September 11 has generated an interest in Islam for some, it has engendered excessive fear and hatred for Muslims in others.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has also reminded us that our response should be one of prayer, fasting, teaching, dialogue, witness, service, solidarity, and hope.
It is with this in mind that I propose that we all observe this 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace in solidarity with our Holy Father, the whole Church, and with our sisters and brothers of all faiths nations as we pray to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer for peace and justice.
Father Mychal Judge, OFM, Holy Passion-Bearer and Friend of God, pray for us.
Pax et bonum.