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Minister’s Letter

Brother Samuel, Minister Provincial of the First Order Brothers in the European Province, writes:

 

Brother Samuel SSF

Dear Friends,

 

We’re in a season of jubilees.  Here in the UK the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is sparkling and is somehow caught up in the excitement of the impending London Olympics.  In the European Province of SSF we’ve recently passed the 90th anniversary of the arrival of the first brothers at Flowers Farm, Hilfield, and are now into the 75th anniversary year of the establishment of SSF through the amalgamation of the Brotherhood of St Francis of Assisi (Douglas’ lot) with the Christa Prema Seva Sangha (Algy’s lot), and the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross (George Potter’s lot) – not to mention those brothers who have recently celebrated 50th and 60th anniversaries of their profession in vows.

 

There’ve been many changes over the past fifty, sixty, seventy-five and ninety years – in religious life, in the Church and on the national and international scene.  Perhaps the most significant of these is that we’ve become a much more culturally diverse society.  When Elizabeth II acceded to the throne, the ‘Windrush’, the first of the boats bringing West Indian immigrants to the UK to run the trains and buses of London and other cities, had only recently docked at Southampton.  Great Britain still considered herself to be a Great Power.  The young Queen ruled over a very substantial Empire and we had just turned down the opportunity to become a founding member of the European Common Market.  Europeans, after all, were ‘foreigners’; we were better off on our own.

 

Today, sixty years on, things look and feel very different.  The grandchildren of the ‘Windrush’ arrivals are now embedded into the life of our society and have been joined by millions from almost every country around the globe, bringing with them their customs, their music, their food, their religion, their language; London is arguably the most multicultural city in the world.  The Empire may have gone, but it seems to have come back to live with us!  And whatever is felt about the structures of the European Union, the fact is that, increasingly, we cross European and other borders to find work, partners, holidays or homes.  The four novices who were clothed at Alnmouth in January come from Germany, Sweden, Romania and Lebanon – not an Englishman among them!  We benefit from cultural diversity; it brings new life, new ideas and new perspectives.

 

Yet immigration is an increasingly ‘hot’ issue in our world.  The brothers and sisters who live and work in Leeds, Leicester, Birmingham and the London borough of Newham know something of the fear and hostility often felt and expressed towards those who come as refugees from violence, oppression and persecution as well as towards those coming to escape poverty and seeking opportunity for a better life – the reasons why borders have always been crossed throughout history.  At a conference at Alnmouth in January we shared our experiences of living and working among immigrants, and we heard from some who had been through the often lengthy and frustrating process of seeking permission to stay in the UK.  We recognised that if our Franciscan order here in the UK began in the 1920’s as a movement providing hospitality, fraternity and rehabilitation for homeless men, our vocation today may well be to provide the same for those living here stateless and friendless, often under the radar of the immigration authorities.

 

A jubilee in the biblical tradition is an occasion for celebrating justice for the poor, freedom from oppression and the gift of hospitality.  In a world where politicians and others often buy into people’s fear of the outsider and claim to be ‘cracking down’ on illegal immigrants, we as Franciscans are committed to living the Jubilee and to sharing the vision of a multicultural society where the stranger becomes a friend.

 

Pax et bonum,

Samuel SSF