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Ministers Letter

Brother Clark Berge, Minister General of the First Order Brothers, writes:

page 7 Clark for Ministers Letter

Dear Friends,

This past year has seen big changes in C/SSF.  Most of the provinces have new ministers, and with them comes a burst of new ideas.  I find it exciting.  Of course they are building on the firm foundation of their predecessors.  With a sense of gratitude we move forward.

A friend of mine, Michael Lapsley of the Society of Sacred Mission, has recently published a book called Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer.  He has a remarkable story that challenges the reader on many levels.  One of the things that stands out for me is the clear decision he made to work to create the kind of world he wanted to live in.  From his first encounters with apartheid to the day of the bombing that took his hands and eye, and then to the founding of the Institute for Healing Memories, Fr. Michael took responsibility to create a just world.  In the end this has meant rejecting hatred and bitterness and being open to listen to and to help people who suffer from violence and oppression all over the world.  I celebrate his ministry and wonder if I am big-hearted enough to do the same.

Thank God we do not all live in circumstances where we fear bombings (though, who knows?).  But we do all live in circumstances where our Franciscan commitments as brothers, sisters, Tertiaries, Companions/Associates and subscribers to this magazine are clearly needed.  Ordering our lives according to our Franciscan values is a way to unleash creative, healing power in every corner of the world.

Political rhetoric can be fierce.  The election campaigns in America are at fever pitch as I write.  Casting votes is important and a great privilege.  But somehow we must duck under the radar of polls and party affiliation and help the people who need to be helped, build friendly working relationships with neighbours and local officials.  I think we are ideally suited as Franciscans to really make a difference because our usual way of working is with individuals.  Franciscans have a genius for friendship and significant symbolic gestures.  Like blessing animals: the annual spate of pet blessings at Francistide is a perfect example of the way to start a conversation about what we believe with people who have taken the trouble to seek us out.

But I don’t think we need to be afraid of politics either.  Sometimes our friendships draw us into local struggles for justice that are worthy of our vulnerability and commitment.  When I lived on Long Island I became friendly with and involved with the migrant day labourers.  Talk about getting involved in a heated debate!  The local county executive characterized us Franciscans as the ‘lunatic religious fringe,’ a description that went right to the heart of the memory of local townspeople shouting ‘Pazzo! Pazzo! (crazy fool!)’ after St. Francis.  But it was innumerable shared meals, giving rides and accompaniment to meetings and interviews that forged the commitment.  When I was installed as Minister General we celebrated with a huge Mexican meal prepared by my friends involved in this struggle.

Sitting down with outcasts and the poor is a good first step to creating the world we want to live in. Jesus did it, Francis did it.  Knowing them as our brothers and sisters we can join their struggles with hearts full of love.

I wish you much peace and all good in all your work to make the world a better place. f