On October 4, the church commemorates the Feast Day of St. Francis, that holy man of Assisi whose Gospel witness, simplicity and humility has captured the world’s imagination and love now for more than 700 years.
Last year, upon being elected Pope, Pope Francis told thousands of journalists that he took to heart the words of his friend who whispered in his ear, “Don’t forget the poor,” and chose to be called after St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. . . . How I would like a church that is poor and that is for the poor.”
Since his election, not a day has passed in which violence in some part of the globe has brought untold suffering to millions of human beings, destroying lives and hope, creating millions of refugees, and fueling hatred among religious and ethnic communities which had for centuries lived together in relative peace.
On several occasions, Pope Francis has implored the leaders of the world to end the violence and instead to seek peace: “Brothers and sisters, never war, never war!” he cried, in his Angelus speech from St. Peter’s Square in July.
During the past year, Columbans as a society have continued to live among the poor in different parts of the world and bear witness to peace through efforts to support interfaith dialogue and end violence. In recent months, the General Council of the Columbans has urged leaders to choose the path of active non-violence and work for dialogue and reconciliation in the Middle East:
“As an international Catholic Missionary Society, we have lived and served for nearly 100 years in many countries around the world that have been scarred by war, dictatorships, military oppression and low-grade conflict. We know the devastation that violence causes in all its forms as a result of political intolerance and ideological aggression. Through our ministry with migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced peoples, we encounter in a particular way the human suffering as a result of systemic violence.”
“We condemn the use of military force. We mourn the loss of so many innocent lives, especially children. We pray for the families who have lost their loved one and for the countless injured due to the bombings. . . . We applaud and encourage the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish peace and humanitarian groups working together in the region and globally which promote dialogue, reconciliation, and tolerance. We reject structural violence and advocate for replacing international policies of militarization with humanitarian assistance.”
In the U.S., Columbans have heeded that call. In 2013, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso asked Fr. Bob Mosher, director of the Columban Mission Center, to organize an Interfaith Prayer for Peace in Syria. Several hundred people, including Syrian citizens and descendants of Syrian immigrants, attended the service, held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in El Paso. Now, one year later, the entire Middle East region has been engulfed in violence, and people of all faiths – Christian, Muslim, and Jewish – have been targeted by terrorism and state-sponsored violence.
We join Columbans around the world and the poor whom they serve to urge our leaders to seek peace through non-military means, and to pray together and take to heart the prayer for peace of St. Francis:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”
Faith in Action: Stand in Solidarity with the People of Burma (Myanmar)