By Russell Testa
One aspect of the lives of the friars that enjoys broad support, and is present in the varied ministries in which they serve, is a strong commitment to justice, peace and integrity of creation; “JPIC” as it is called for short. In the Franciscan tradition, attention to JPIC is a core part of what it means to live out Franciscan values.
Commitment to justice, peace and integrity of creation is evident in St. Francis’ first call to leave the ranks of the soldiers and become a troubadour of peace. It is evident in his and his early followers’ experiences of service and community with the lepers. It is evident in the Franciscan call to a life of poverty, which demonstrates that the care for the friars cannot be at the expense of others, including creation. As one looks back through the history of the Franciscan movement at its high points — those in which we take humble pride — almost all are grounded in the experience of justice, peace and integrity of creation.
In Holy NameProvince, the friars and ministries have embraced this gift of the Franciscan charism and made it their own. How do we see this reality taking shape in our time and place?
In Camden, N.J., Fr. Jud Weiksnar, OFM, and the friars and lay community of St. Anthony Church have taken the adage “feed my sheep” to heart. Confronting the challenges of extreme poverty as well as sparse availability of fresh vegetables in local stores, they transformed vacant lots and abandoned houses into more than 30 community plots, or “gardens of plenty.”
Together with other members of the Hispanic Ministry Committee, Fr. Chris Posch, OFM, is working to ensure that our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters feel welcomed in Holy Name Province communities and our world. As many in their ministries are immigrants to the U.S., their efforts are a major part of the overall Provincial focus on comprehensive immigration reform. This priority was reaffirmed in the Chapter earlier this year.
Over the past several years, Fr. Sean O’Brien, OFM, and the friars of Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, Fla., have ministered with hundreds of persons who are homeless, providing a place of hospitality and working to ensure that the dignity of our brothers and sisters in need is respected by the local government. Their efforts on behalf of the poor are in addition to running both a school and parish.
Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, a member of the friar community at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., has always heeded the call to JPIC work. He recognizes the need not only to care for people who are poor or marginalized, but to address the reasons for their suffering. Most recently his efforts have focused on bringing peace to the Holy Land and communicating the Franciscan approach to the challenge of global climate change.
Each year friars and lay partners in Holy Name Province ministries are active participants in Ecumenical Advocacy Days, a three-day grassroots event in Washington, D.C. This collaborative effort demonstrates the Franciscan ability to reach across the Christian family to join hands in the work of social change.
These examples are just a taste of JPIC efforts that are lived out in the friaries and ministries of Holy Name Province. The whole continuum of service, justice education and advocacy brings the love of Christ to our world. Even with all these efforts, we realize there is much more to do. But we do not lose hope, as we have a vibrant community of friars and lay partners-in-ministry carrying on the work of our brother Francis to bring social change to our world in response to God’s unceasing invitation.
Russell Testa is the animator and director of Holy Name Province’s JPIC Office, based in Washington, D.C. He has served in this role since 2000, having come to work with the friars after a number of local and national Church positions. A native of Kansas, Russell resides in Wheaton, Md., with his wife Megeen, and their dog Clare.