Our Theme for June 5 – 8, 2020 in Denver is
Called to this Hour
When Taking Risks Carves a New Path
Sr Carol Woods, sfma, Co-Executive Director
As we end the 800th anniversary year of the meeting of Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil in Damietta, Egypt, I am struck by some similarities between Francis and his times and our Franciscan Federation and our times. Two scholars have written about Francis’ ventures in ways that I would like to apply to our own ventures in 2019-2020.
“Francis was a traveler. He knew he had ‘no lasting city here below.’ … Francis’ greatest journey took him to Egypt and the Holy Land. … In 1219, he arrived in Damietta. … Francis spoke with the Sultan. We do not know what transpired between them, save that the encounter came off humanly, to the honor of them both. He journeyed to the Saracens as their brother and servant. … While among them Francis kept his eyes open and his wits lively.’ (Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Movement by David Flood OFM, published by The Franciscan Institute of Asia, Quezon City, Philippines, in 1989, p. 135).
“Innocent II had pushed the appeal to liberate the Holy Land to the forefront of the church’s agenda at the Fourth Lateran Council, calling all Christians to give it their active moral support. Perhaps only some could fight, but many more could give alms, and everyone could take part in mandatory intercessory processions for its success. … The Lesser Brothers apparently believed they could advance the cause of Christianity, not by fighting Muslims with weapons, but through the testimony of their lives and words, even though they were fully aware that any attempt to proselytize in a Muslim nation could probably spell death.” (Francis and His Brothers: A Popular History of the Franciscan Friars, by Dominic V. Monti, OFM, published by St Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH, in 1989, p.28-29).
“Their land base in the Holy Land had been lost in 1291 when the city of Acre fell to the Muslims. However, a few brothers managed to lead a tenuous existence within Muslim territory ever since a truce in 1229, living peaceably and placing themselves at the service of Western pilgrims. Finally, King Robert concluded a treaty with the Sultan of Egypt in 1333, through which the property of the Cenacle in Jerusalem was secured for the use of the Lesser Brothers, who were allowed to minister at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and a number of other holy places. In 1342, Pope Clement VI ratified their role by erecting the Custody of the Holy Land for the friars who served there. Franciscans have remained as the Catholic guardians of these places to our own day.” (Francis and His Brothers: A Popular History of the Franciscan Friars, by Dominic V. Monti, OFM, published by St Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH, 2009, p.74).
These three passages, literally and timely, help me to see a parallel between Francis’ involvement with the people and issues of his time, with his ear, simultaneously, to the ground and to the Church’s voice, and our own tasks before us in 2019 – 2020.
Francis’ approach, used in his first historical moment in relation to the Sultan, led to an unforeseen, yet characteristic and charism-related, witness eight hundred years later: in facing the Crusades with a choice for a non-violent encounter with an enemy, he placed himself and his brothers in the Holy Land. Who could ever imagine that the Franciscan presence there would be so needed, evident and effective even today?
Our focus on the realities of our nation and our Church, last June in St Louis, MO, with Mary Elizabeth Imler OSF and Michael Blastic OFM, gleaned good fruits from our Franciscan Sources, and helped us hear God’s calling us still to be like Francis and his followers: Saints, Founders, and Prophets, here and now.
At the same time, we have welcomed the CCS on-line Survey asking all of our members to voice opinions about the service of the Federation today and to envision its future. (N.B. The deadline for participating has been extended to December 20, 2019, by using the link provided to the Leadership of our member Congregations.)
In the meantime, the Denver Assembly Planning Committee, composed of some Franciscan Federation Board members, Charism Services Commission members, representatives from Franciscan Action Network, the Secular Franciscans, and the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities, has engaged the two Presenters: Kerry Robinson, Brian McLaren, and our Facilitator, Bryan Froehle, who will lead us to describe and celebrate our present reality, value our past, extend our relationships, and create and color our future. It is only by acknowledging our limits, and our riches, that we define ourselves by our capacity to, ultimately, be in relationship with God and each other. Only then will we do our part to entrust our charism to those who are already among us in this world and those who will come as we leave.
We can only do what is ours to do, as Francis did in his day, and step aside in gratitude and wonder. Our view of what Francis did in Damietta in 1219, and our recognition of what his Brothers and Sisters still do in the Holy Land and today’s global scene, help us be open to what God will do with our concerted efforts today to reach out in love and hope to our larger Franciscan Family and to move together for the good of our Church and our world.
In doing so, we are just like our Saints, and our Founders and Foundresses, who saw and heard in faith, lived and grew in hope, and remain and revive in love, over time. One day, the seeds of the Spirit’s works today will yield fruits that we cannot truly envision from where we are now. Let us trust that the Incarnation continues in every heart, every place, every age.