(Reflections from the Joint Committee on Franciscan Unity Retreat, August 5-6, 2016)
By Brother Gary “Coyote” Nabhan
When the Joint Committee on Franciscan Unity met August 5-6, 2016, at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Aston, Pennsylvania, our Order of Ecumenical Franciscans was well represented as we soulfully engaged in shared discussions with three other Franciscan orders: TSSF, OFS, and OLF. We were also well prepared to discuss how Pope Francis’s Laudato Si encyclical on Caring for Our Common Home intersects with our daily contemplative life, our values regarding baptism, our vocations, our charism, and our prophetic voices. Those were the themes that the organizing committee selected through which the four Franciscan orders could discover common ground as well as respect cultural differences in our approaches to contemplative action.
To be sure, the focus of all the orders present for the retreat in Aston remains grounded in Christ-centered spirituality, perhaps enhanced and richly colored by our inspirations from Saints Clare and Francis. But the prophetic and deeply interfaith vision of Pope Francis’s encyclical have, in ways, “upped the ante,” by demonstrating the relevance of the Franciscan traditions to dealing with the profound challenges facing our planet, as well as all of its creatures, cultures, and faiths. Thus, reflections on Laudato Si were a perfect springboard for us in finding common ground among the diverse orders present.
Representing OEF were Sister Shoshanah, Sister Nancy, Sister Markie, Brother Elijah, Brother Louis, and Brother Coyote, such that we composed the largest delegation of any order present at the retreat. Brother Elijah played a special role (and a profoundly moving one) in facilitating our guided reflection on Laudato Si’s vision of baptism, the sacredness of water, and the unalienable right of all humans and creatures to clean water, which Pope Francis suggests underlies all other human rights necessary for our survival as a species. Sister Shoshanah also offered an elegant summary of our order’s social history and unique charism among all the orders assembled. It should be noted that while all the orders had extraordinary voices represented at this retreat on Franciscan Unity, participation in Franciscan vocation has declined over the last two to three decades by as much as 30% among the largest orders. Our hope is that the interest among young people of all faiths in the Franciscan underpinnings of Laudato Si might inspire some of them to join our ranks and continue to renew the vitality of our orders.
The five guided reflections we shared—on baptism, on vocation, on charism, on Christ-centered spirituality, and on prophetic voice—were wisely guided by Father Masud ibn Syedullah, along with Anne Mulqueen (OFS), Joan Verret (TSSF), Patrick Martin (OFS) and Brother Elijah (OEF). Following each guided reflection, groups of four or five—each including at least one member of the OFS, TSSF, and OEF—engaged in animated discussions of how we see our shared values regarding prayer and contemplative action.
We live on a planet with more refugees fleeing from military violence, political unrest, economic disparity, and climate-aggravated social injustices than ever before in human history. And yet, we also live in an era when more Christians (and those of other faiths) are thirsty to incorporate Franciscan sensibilities into their daily lives, prayer practices, consumptive patterns, and social actions to soulfully deal with these challenges. We all agree that the cries of the poor and the deep groaning of the earth itself are profoundly and inextricably connected. How do we build on the insights offered by Pope Francis to more deeply engage ourselves and others in healing the wounds found on earth and in the most vulnerable individuals, genders, ethnicities, races, classes, and faiths we share this earth with? To restore our common home—not just the walls of San Damiano—was the call that God challenged not only Francesco di Bernardone, but all of us, to respond to. Seize the moment. Andiamo!