With Attentive Eye, Open Mind, and Heart

With Attentive Eye, Open Mind, and Heart 

by Mike Carsten OFS


     Recently in my day job, I had the honor of escorting one of our neighbors in downtown Detroit to his final resting place at the National Cemetery in Holly Michigan. Carl was a veteran of the Korean war and lived in section 8 housing in the inner city of Detroit. He was someone that I was able to serve in life and honor in death. Carl was given a full military funeral with a flag draped casket. The 21- gun salute, sounding out in the silence, demanded an acute awareness of lives lived and lost. 
 
     The National Cemetery in Holly is a beautiful place. My father is buried there. In going to the cemetery, whether to visit my dad or escorting one of our seniors, I am reminded of pilgrimage. Immediately upon entering, I find myself slowly moving in silence along a roadway that is lined with American flags, surrounded by perfectly placed white headstones shimmering and gleaming in the sunlight. Row after row after row.

     After Carl’s memorial service, I went to visit my dad. While standing in silence amongst all the headstones, I noticed (maybe for the first time) that there were many different religious symbols marking the top of each stone, most of them I did not recognize. I looked out across the vast white rolling field of thousands upon thousands of headstones and marveled at the amazing diversity of beliefs that were represented. In that moment, there was no need to debate the worthiness of individual belief systems. No need to defend my own beliefs. Just the silent witness of shared experience, unity in diversity and love of country. I was standing in the most ecumenical-interfaith place I have ever experienced. It is a Sacred Place.

    I quote the following as found in the Pilgrim's Companion To Franciscan Places (as printed by Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs):

  James Postell, teacher and architect, provides a rich explanation of sacred place: 
"Sacred has to do with both an inner and outer presence – a spiritual power, an intersection of Heaven and Earth. … Place implies human significance, human action derived from history, belief, ritual, and everyday… activity."  According to Postell, sacred places are perceived as sacred and serve to mark  important geographic, cultural, political, and religious transitions involving spiritual power. As such, their presence requires an attentive eye and open mind and heart.

     My pilgrimage to the National Cemetery allowed me a moment of insight. I was able to see and experience our “unity in diversity” as a nation in the signs and symbols we employ at death. I pray that with your help we together can work with attentive eyes, open minds, and hearts to educate and raise our awareness as Franciscan sisters and brothers to the ecumenical and interfaith efforts taking place in our communities, in our parishes, in the Church, and in the Franciscan movement.  We, then, may accept all people as a gift of the Lord.

Peace
Mike

Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World - Recommendations for Conduct

World Council of Churches
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
World Evangelical Alliance

Preamble
Mission belongs to the very being of the church. Proclaiming the word of God
and witnessing to the world is essential for every Christian. At the same time, it is
necessary to do so according to gospel principles, with full respect and love for all
human beings.
Aware of the tensions between people and communities of different religious
convictions and the varied interpretations of Christian witness, the Pontifical
Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), the World Council of Churches
(WCC) and, at the invitation of the WCC, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA),
met during a period of 5 years to reflect and produce this document to serve as a
set of recommendations for conduct on Christian witness around the world. This
document does not intend to be a theological statement on mission but to address
practical issues associated with Christian witness in a multi-religious world.
The purpose of this document is to encourage churches, church councils and mission
agencies to reflect on their current practices and to use the recommendations in this
document to prepare, where appropriate, their own guidelines for their witness and
mission among those of different religions and among those who do not profess
any particular religion. It is hoped that Christians across the world will study this
document in the light of their own practices in witnessing to their faith in Christ,
both by word and deed.


A basis for Christian witness

  1. For Christians it is a privilege and joy to give an accounting for the hope thatis within them and to do so with gentleness and respect (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).
  2. Jesus Christ is the supreme witness (cf. John 18:37). Christian witness is always a sharing in his witness, which takes the form of proclamation of the kingdom, service to neighbour and the total gift of self even if that act of giving leads to the cross. Just as the Father sent the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, so believers are sent in mission to witness in word and action to the love of the triune God.
  3. The example and teaching of Jesus Christ and of the early church must be the guides for Christian mission. For two millennia Christians have sought to follow Christ’s way by sharing the good news of God’s kingdom (cf. Luke 4:16-20).
  4. Christian witness in a pluralistic world includes engaging in dialogue with people of different religions and cultures (cf. Acts 17:22-28).
  5. In some contexts, living and proclaiming the gospel is difficult, hindered or even prohibited, yet Christians are commissioned by Christ to continue faithfully in solidarity with one another in their witness to him (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:44-48; John 20:21; Acts 1:8).
  6. If Christians engage in inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means, they betray the gospel and may cause suffering to others. Such departures call for repentance and remind us of our need for God’s continuing grace (cf. Romans 3:23).
  7. Christians affirm that while it is their responsibility to witness to Christ, conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 16:7-9; Acts 10:44- 47). They recognize that the Spirit blows where the Spirit wills in ways over which no human being has control (cf. John 3:8).

 

Principles
Christians are called to adhere to the following principles as they seek to fulfil Christ’s
commission in an appropriate manner, particularly within interreligious contexts.

 

  1. Acting in God’s love. Christians believe that God is the source of all love and, accordingly, in their witness they are called to live lives of love and to love their neighbor as themselves (cf. Matthew 22:34-40; John 14:15).
  2. Imitating Jesus Christ. In all aspects of life, and especially in their witness, Christians are called to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ, sharing his love, giving glory and honor to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 20:21-23).
  3. Christian virtues. Christians are called to conduct themselves with integrity, charity, compassion and humility, and to overcome all arrogance, condescension and disparagement (cf. Galatians 5:22).
  4. Acts of service and justice. Christians are called to act justly and to love tenderly (cf. Micah 6:8). They are further called to serve others and in so doing to recognize Christ in the least of their sisters and brothers (cf. Matthew 25:45). Acts of service, such as providing education, health care, relief services and acts of justice and advocacy are an integral part of witnessing to the gospel. The exploitation of situations of poverty and need has no place in Christian outreach. Christians should denounce and refrain from offering all forms of allurements, including financial incentives and rewards, in their acts of service.
  5. Discernment in ministries of healing. As an integral part of their witness to the gospel, Christians exercise ministries of healing. They are called to exercise discernment as they carry out these ministries, fully respecting human dignity and ensuring that the vulnerability of people and their need for healing are not exploited.
  6. Rejection of violence. Christians are called to reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness. They also reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts.
  7. Freedom of religion and belief. Religious freedom including the right to publicly profess, practice, propagate and change one’s religion flows from the very dignity of the human person which is grounded in the creation of all human beings in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26). Thus, all human beings have equal rights and responsibilities. Where any religion is instrumentalized for political ends, or where religious persecution occurs, Christians are called to engage in a prophetic witness denouncing such actions.
  8. Mutual respect and solidarity. Christians are called to commit themselves to work with all people in mutual respect, promoting together justice, peace and the common good. Interreligious cooperation is an essential dimension of such commitment.
  9. Respect for all people. Christians recognize that the gospel both challenges and enriches cultures. Even when the gospel challenges certain aspects of cultures, Christians are called to respect all people. Christians are also called to discern elements in their own cultures that are challenged by the gospel.
  10. Renouncing false witness. Christians are to speak sincerely and respectfully; they are to listen in order to learn about and understand others’ beliefs and practices, and are encouraged to acknowledge and appreciate what is true and good in them. Any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions.
  11. Ensuring personal discernment. Christians are to acknowledge that changing one’s religion is a decisive step that must be accompanied by sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation, through a process ensuring full personal freedom.
  12. Building interreligious relationships. Christians should continue to build relationships of respect and trust with people of different religions so as to facilitate deeper mutual understanding, reconciliation and cooperation for the common good.

Recommendations
The Third Consultation organized by the World Council of Churches and the PCID of the Holy See in collaboration with World Evangelical Alliance with participation from the largest Christian families of faith (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal), having acted in a spirit of ecumenical cooperation to prepare this document for consideration by churches, national and regional confessional bodies and mission organizations, and especially those working in interreligious contexts, recommends that these bodies:

  1. study the issues set out in this document and where appropriate formulate guidelines for conduct regarding Christian witness applicable to their particular contexts. Where possible this should be done ecumenically, and in consultation with representatives of other religions.
  2. build relationships of respect and trust with people of all religions, in particular at institutional levels between churches and other religious communities, engaging in on-going interreligious dialogue as part of their Christian commitment. In certain contexts, where years of tension and conflict have created deep suspicions and breaches of trust between and among communities, interreligious dialogue can provide new opportunities for resolving conflicts, restoring justice, healing of memories, reconciliation and peace-building.
  3. encourage Christians to strengthen their own religious identity and faith while deepening their knowledge and understanding of different religions, and to do so also taking into account the perspectives of the adherents of those religions. Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions.
  4. cooperate with other religious communities engaging in interreligious advocacy towards justice and the common good and, wherever possible, standing together in solidarity with people who are in situations of conflict.
  5. call on their governments to ensure that freedom of religion is properly and comprehensively respected, recognizing that in many countries religious institutions and persons are inhibited from exercising their mission.
  6. pray for their neighbors and their well-being, recognizing that prayer is integral to who we are and what we do, as well as to Christ’s mission.

Appendix: Background to the document

  1. In today’s world there is increasing collaboration among Christians and between Christians and followers of different religions. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) of the Holy See and the World Council of Churches’ Program on Interreligious Dialogue and Co-operation (WCCIRDC) have a history of such collaboration. Examples of themes on which the PCID/WCC-IRDC have collaborated in the past are: Interreligious Marriage (1994-1997), Interreligious Prayer (1997-1998) and African Religiosity (2000- 2004). This document is a result of their work together.
  2. There are increasing interreligious tensions in the world today, including violence and the loss of human life. Politics, economics and other factors play a role in these tensions. Christians too are sometimes involved in these conflicts, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, either as those who are persecuted or as those participating in violence. In response to this the PCID and WCC-IRDC decided to address the issues involved in a joint process towards producing shared recommendations for conduct on Christian witness. The WCC-IRDC invited the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) to participate in this process, and they have gladly done so.
  3. Initially two consultations were held: the first, in Lariano, Italy, in May 2006, was entitled “Assessing the Reality” where representatives of different religions shared their views and experiences on the question of conversion. A statement from the consultation reads in part: “We affirm that, while everyone has a right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be exercised by violating others’ rights and religious sensibilities. Freedom of religion enjoins upon all of us the equally non-negotiable responsibility to respect faiths other than our own, and never to denigrate, vilify or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith.”
  4. The second, an inter-Christian consultation, was held in Toulouse, France, in August 2007, to reflect on these same issues. Questions on Family and Community, Respect for Others, Economy, Marketing and Competition, and Violence and Politics were thoroughly discussed. The pastoral and missionary issues around these topics became the background for theological reflection and for the principles developed in this document. Each issue is important in its own right and deserves more attention that can be given in these recommendations.
  5. The participants of the third (inter-Christian) consultation met in Bangkok, Thailand, from 25-28, January, 2011 and finalized this document.

Secular Franciscans Learn the Similarities between our Faith and Islam

Secular Franciscans Learn the Similarities between our Faith and Islam

By DON WATKINS, OFS

December 13, 2016 at 9:23 PM

The St. Irenaeus and St. Bonaventure fraternities had a unique opportunity to attend  a lecture titled, “Islam: A Catholic-Franciscan Perspective.” Fr. Michael Calabria, OFM,  Director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies  at St. Bonaventure University spent nearly two hours lecturing our fraternities and answering our questions about this timely topic. Our fraternity had been discussing an article that appeared on the Franciscan Action Network website. The article referred to a recently released study from The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University which stated that, “most American Catholics do not personally know a Muslim and most do not have a good understanding of Islam as a religion.” The report found that “nearly half of Catholics can’t name any similarities between Catholicism and Islam, or say explicitly that there are no commonalities.”

After sharing this article with our fraternity, our Vice Minister, Betty Hooker, OFS suggested that we take steps to acquaint our fraternity with Islam. We approached Fr. Michael and he graciously agreed to present. Fr. Michael said that it was an interesting correlation that Catholic publications that viewed Pope Francis positively also tended to view Islam positively and that those publications who were not favorable to Pope Francis tended to view Islam negatively. He also said that most Catholic bookstores seem to sell highly questionable books about Islam, but he said that is also true of other bookstores as well. Through his talk we gained an appreciation of the many intersections of Jewish, Christian and Islamic faith.  Fr. Michael told us that he wanted to dispel the myth that Christians and Muslims have been at “each other’s throats” since time immemorial. He said that while various Muslims and Christians have been involved in wars with each other the same can be said for Christians fighting other Christians and Muslims fighting each other.

He talked of his early interest in Islam which began when he was an Egyptology student at Johns Hopkins University.  He was on a trip to Egypt with his professor in 1981 and how this experience evolved into an academic interest. His first encounter with Islam came with the call to prayer early in the day while he was there. Muslims pray five times a day. The prayer begins. “God is the most great.” He said that contrary to popular belief “not everyone drops to the floor” but you do see that in some places. Fr. Michael equated Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” with this call to worship. We are invited to bring God into our consciousness. This call to worship five times a day was the result of a bargain between God and Moses. He said, that Moses is the most frequently mentioned prophet in the Quran. Islam shares most of the prophets from the Jewish and Christian traditions. He drew a contrast between Western church architecture which is designed to “shut out the world” so that people could focus on the altar.” In a mosque the focus is on what lies beyond the walls of the mosque. This outward orientation is because the focus is on the universe where everything is taken to be a sign of God’s presence. Fr. Michael saw this as parallel to the spirituality of St. Francis which sees all creation as brother and sister. Although we sit, rise and kneel in our prayer, Fr. Michael said that “Islamic prayer is a more fully embodied prayer.”  When the person who is at the lowest point of the prayer, with their head on the ground, that is when they glorify God and also ask for forgiveness. Before praying Muslims perform ablutions, which are a way of ritually preparing yourself for prayer which is very similar to the Hebrew practices in the Bible.

In a mosque, there is an architectural convention called “The Niche” which directs a person toward Mecca which is the holy city. We have a similar structure called the apse in Christian churches where the altar is placed and that serves much the same purpose to direct our attention. Fr. Michael shared about Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj and the prayer directed to the Kaaba which is believed to have been the house of worship built by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham and his son. The Kaaba is the primordial center of their worship. No matter where Muslim are in the world their prayer is directed toward it.

Fr. Michael also told us that another significant aspect of Islam is the practice of almsgiving which is computed to 2.5% of your annual earnings. Significantly in the Quran almsgiving is always mentioned with prayer. Regular prayer and regular charity are believed to bless those who practice this. In other words prayer alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by almsgiving too. My relationship with God must find itself expressed in my relationship with others, particularly the poor. This is the message of the Hebrew prophets and it is the message of Jesus and the message of Islam as well. Our relationship with God in all three religions is expressed in our relationship with the most vulnerable in our society.

He drew the contrast between our Catholic fasting and ritual fasting that Muslims practice during Ramadan. Fasting in Islam is much more rigorous. Nothing passes your lips either water or food from sunup to sundown. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar the time of Ramadan changes each year. Sometimes when Ramadan falls during the summer months this could result in fourteen or fifteen hour days of fasting.  Fr. Michael says that this fasting re-orients one to God. He said, “every time you hear your stomach grumble or your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth this can reorient you to God.” He also said, that while fasting in Ramadan is much more rigorous than Lent but it is a much lighter time than Lent and more like Christmas for them. This is because during those night hours during Ramadan, Muslims meet, eat and celebrate. This ritual fasting in Islam like our own in Christianity is to turn your attention to the remembrance of God. One of the symbols of Ramadan are little tin lamps that people hang outside their home or hang outside their businesses this symbolizes the light of the Quran which was originally revealed during the month of Ramadan. Fr. Michael drew our attention to our own practice of candles in Advent wreaths before Christmas. He shared that Muslims believe in one God, as do Christians and Jews. He said, “This is the God of Abraham, the God of Moses and the God of Jesus. He dispelled the common belief that Allah is a different God by showing us an Arabic Christian Bible where God is referred to as Allah. In fact he said, that Allah is the word that Arab Christians use when they refer to God.

He said, that while we have different theologies we share many common beliefs.  He said if we want to understand how Muslims relate to Christians it is very similar to how we Christians relate to Jews. Muslims see their faith as a fulfillment of the promises of its two predecessors. For Muslims, what is revealed in the Quran is a fulfillment of all that went before. He said, “for Christians Jesus is most immanent in the Christ.” For Muslims everything in creation reflects the in-dwelling of God. Fr. Calabria cited one of his favorite passage from the Quran to illustrate the closeness of God to all creation.  “And indeed We have created man, and We know whatever thoughts his inner self develops, and We are closer to him than (his) jugular vein.” In other words, God is closer than the veins in one’s neck. For Muslims this is the immanence of God. Fr. Michael said, “For Muslims God has spoken to humanity in the Torah, in the psalms of David,  the Gospel of Jesus Christ and finally in the Quran.”  They see their faith as a fulfillment of all that has gone before. Fr. Michael’s had us spellbound for almost two hours. Everyone from our two fraternities emerged with a much fuller understanding of our common Abrahamic roots and an appreciation for nuances and intersections of our faiths. We are grateful to Fr. Michael Calabria for his time, eloquence and scholarship.

Don is a member of St. Irenaeus Fraternity - St. Kateri Tekakwitha Region USA

Message of the OFM Minister General for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby exchange a sign of peace during Vespers at the Monastery of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome, October 5, 2016.

Message of the Minister General for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
 Rome, 18 January 2017
 
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. —  2 Corinthians 5: 14-20
 
My dear brothers of the Order of Friars Minor, and all brothers, sisters and friends of our Franciscan Family,
 
May the Lord give you all His peace!
 
The love of Christ, indeed, urges us on; it compels us to share with all members of the human family what we have seen and heard, namely that in Jesus Christ, God’s Word of love became flesh so that we may be reconciled to one another as His children and to Him as our Heavenly Father (cf. 1 John 1:3). This is our vocation – as Franciscans, yes. This is, after all, the Good News we profess as our Rule and Life. More fundamentally, this is our vocation as Christians, and in world crying out for news of just such love, it is a most fitting theme for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
 
 It is by no means an exaggeration to say that we are living in an age of unprecedented disparities and divisions – social, economic, political, even environmental – and open, armed conflict, including horrific violence committed in the name of God. We do not have to open a newspaper, turn on a television, or log-onto the world-wide-web to see images of unimaginable suffering. All we need do is look outside the window; this world is literally at our doorsteps, crying out for that justice which alone provides the foundation for peace: the effective recognition of people’s inherent and inviolable dignity as God’s children, regardless of the name(s) by which they call upon God. This cry should find a heartfelt and singular welcome by all who claim to be disciples of God’s Son. 
 
As Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby recently stated in their Common Declaration marking the fiftieth anniversary of official dialogue between our two ecclesial communions, “Jesus gave his life in love, and rising from the dead overcame even death itself. Christians who have come to this faith, have encountered Jesus and the victory of his love in their own lives, and are impelled to share the joy of this Good News with others.” Therefore,
 

“We can, and must, work together to protect and preserve our common home: living, teaching and acting in ways that favor a speedy end to the environmental destruction that offends the Creator and degrades his creatures, and building individual and collective patterns of behavior that foster a sustainable and integral development for the good of all. We can, and must, be united in a common cause to uphold and defend the dignity of all people. The human person is demeaned by personal and societal sin. In a culture of indifference, walls of estrangement isolate us from others, their struggles and their suffering, which also many of our brothers and sisters in Christ today endure. In a culture of waste, the lives of the most vulnerable in society are often marginalized and discarded. In a culture of hate we see unspeakable acts of violence, often justified by a distorted understanding of religious belief. Our Christian faith leads us to recognize the inestimable worth of every human life, and to honor it in acts of mercy by bringing education, healthcare, food, clean water and shelter and always seeking to resolve conflict and build peace. As disciples of Christ we hold human persons to be sacred, and as apostles of Christ we must be their advocates.”

Of course, such faith-filled work does not, and indeed cannot, obscure or obviate the real and significant differences that divide us as disciples. This rightly acknowledged, our differences also “cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism. Nor should they ever hold us back from discovering and rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find within each other’s traditions,” principally by our working together to proclaim the Good News of God’s Reign. Indeed, it is through such a common, lived proclamation of the Gospel that we divided disciples may come to appreciate that “wider and deeper than our differences are the faith that we share and our common joy in the Gospel,” and discern the path towards that unity of mind and heart Christ prayed would be ours, “so that the world might believe. (John 17:21)”
 
My brothers, it is no coincidence that this year, when we commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, our Week of Prayer for Christian Unity should center upon this theme of reconciliation. In fact, it was precisely because of this anniversary that this theme was chosen. Therefore, as Pope Francis and Bishop Mounib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation, requested in their recent Joint Declaration, may we Protestants and Catholics not only give thanks “for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation,” but also “confess and lament before Christ” that we have so wounded the visible unity of His Body. Truly, as Pope Francis and Bishop Younan stated,
 
 “Our common faith in Jesus Christ and our baptism demand of us a daily conversion, by which we cast off the historical disagreements and conflicts that impede the ministry of reconciliation. While the past cannot be changed, what is remembered and how it is remembered can be transformed. We pray for the healing of our wounds and of the memories that cloud our view of one another. We emphatically reject all hatred and violence, past and present, especially that expressed in the name of religion. Today, we hear God’s command to set aside all conflict. We recognize that we are freed by grace to move towards the communion to which God continually calls us.”
 
My dear brother friars, and all sisters, brothers and friends of our Franciscan family, may our hearts truly be open to receive the gift of this grace as we celebrate this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, so that we might be the ministers of reconciliation our Lord calls us to be: Friars Minor; faithful Catholics; brothers of all the men and women compelled by His love to heal the broken world for which He died – and was raised.
 
Pax et bonum,
 
 
Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM General Minister and Servant
 
Appendix
 
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches have prepared resources in English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish:
 • https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/week-of-prayer. 
 
Br. Tecle Vetrali, OFM, founder of the Institute for Ecumenical Studies in Venice (formerly in Verona), has prepared a translation of all this material into Italian:
 • http://www.ofm.org/ofm/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/UnitaCristiani2017_IT.pdf
 
These and other resources are available online from the Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement:
 • http://www.geii.org/week_of_prayer_for_christian_unity/.

Assalamu Alaikum

Assalamu alaikum is the traditional Muslim greeting which is not something most of our sisters and brothers hear every day. Nor do we often hear positive comments when the name Allah is used in reference to God. There are in today's world, certain buzz words that catch our attention and give us pause that makes our anxiety rise. What is the conditioned response to our angst? Fear.  Keep people out. We must "build a wall".

My wife Kathy and I work and serve the poor on the streets of Detroit, a stone’s throw from the city of Dearborn.  Dearborn is home to the largest population of Muslims in the United States. If I have learned anything serving the poor on the streets of Detroit (which is so close to Dearborn), it is that poverty, misery, hunger, and fear know neither jurisdictional boundaries, nor recognition of or honor religious affiliations.

This past month, a young man volunteered with us as we served the poor. He is 19, a Muslim, and his family has sent him here from Turkey to escape the current political turmoil and violence in his homeland. He is a senior in high school learning our language and experiencing our culture. For this young adult's parents, the United States is viewed and used as "sanctuary". Coming to downtown Detroit and serving the homeless and poor was not anything that was on this young person's radar when his parents sent him here for an education. Yet here he was. How did he come to us? He was brought by another 19 year old high school senior who is here in Michigan from Poland. They both are looking to serve, and at the same time, experience a place of peace and community. Imagine!  A 19-year-old Catholic high school senior works side by side, hand in hand with a 19-year-old Muslim high school senior, serving those in need regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious affiliation, serving with volunteers who are Secular Franciscans, Southern Baptists, Romanian Orthodox, Lutheran, and agnostic.

Our Rule, Constitutions, and National Statutes call for us in our Ecumenical and Interfaith efforts to move beyond talk. We are called to follow the example of the young adults I have mentioned above and fearlessly move out into our communities

From our Rule, we read-

Secular Franciscans
therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters - Article 5
are stewards of the good received for the benefit of God’s children - Article 9
should set themselves free to love God and their brothers and sisters - Article 12
with a gentle and courteous spirit accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ - Article 13
place themselves on an equal basis with all people, especially the lowly - Article 13
seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue - Article 14
trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone - Article 14
strive to bring joy and hope to others - Article 14
— Rule of Life - Secular Franciscan Order

We are called to set ourselves free to love God and our brothers and sisters - all of them.

It is my honor as the Ecumenical and Interfaith Chair to assist each of you to fulfill the plea of the National Fraternity.

O Breath of God, unite us in action!

2016-2017 Theme of the National Secular Franciscan Fraternity - USA

The Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee is here to help you in your journey, to encourage you to action, and then to help you tell your stories.

To empower you to "live the gospel of our Lord" and "make present the charism of our common Seraphic Father".

To that end we have created a new Ecumenical and Interfaith website, www.ofsusaecumenicalinterfaith.org.

The web site is active; the list below is our beginning. 

  • Calendar of events
  • Photo gallery for your Ecumenical and Interfaith photos
  • A page for each Committee component:
  •          Ecumenical and Interfaith
  •          Joint Community on Franciscan Unity
  • Interfaith prayer services for your use, and
  • Links with related information.

Yes - O Breath of God, unite us in action! 

Assalamu alaikum / Peace be upon you

Mike Carsten OFS

Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee Chair     

Our e-mail address – INFO@ofsusaecumenicalinterfaith.org          

Share with us your Ecumenical and Interfaith experiences, photos and stories.

Please let us know how we can help you.