Franciscans on 9/11: ‘Actions based solely on fear are rarely fruitful, and frequently destructive.’

At Mass today at St. Camillus, newly minted Franciscan friar Erick Lopez preached a powerful sermon. Drawing on the prescient lectionary readings from Sirach, Romans, and Matthew, he reminded us of the great compassion that we have all felt toward the victims of the al-Qaeda attacks.

He also read a letter from an Afghan third-grader to her American counterparts, in which she also expressed her compassion for those who had suffered in the attacks. This kind of unjustified violence is something her country has experienced for more than 30 years.

He laid out the path that one must walk to follow the Prince of Peace. A path that is paved with our human brokenness and that leads toward healing when we make a decision – every morning when we wake up – to choose to forgive. He concluded with a thundering voice from the pulpit: “We must NOT look for our security in flags, but in the cross of Jesus Christ.” The congregation responded with thunderous applause.

Below is a letter signed by representatives from eight Franciscan provinces in the U.S. and U.K. addressing the Sept. 11 memorial.

As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, the friars of Holy Name Province and seven other Franciscan provinces — six American along with one in England — have released a statement urging Catholics in the United States and around the world to stay informed, to stand firmly against all forms of prejudice and discrimination and to find responses that “can unlock the full potential of the human imagination for good.”

In this message, distributed last week to Holy Name friars, the collaborating provinces recommend five ways that friars and partners-in-ministry can “live the Gospel in the way of St. Francis.” The statement is also available in Spanish.

As we remember and honor, may we move away from fear and toward “the other”

Throughout the liturgical year, as Catholics and Franciscans we are called to remember events in the life of Christ, the Church and the holy men and women who served the Church. Likewise as Americans, we annually remember those individuals and events that have significantly shaped our nation. These days of remembrance — both religious and civil — invite us to examine where we’ve been as a Church and as a nation, where we are now, and where we need to go.

For the past 10 years, since Sept. 11, 2001, we have remembered the men, women and children — our family members, our friends and co-workers — who lost their lives on that tragic day. For many, the process of healing from that trauma continues to this day. In addition to summoning us to solemnly honor the dead and gratefully remember the many compassionate “first responders,” these annual commemorations also have underscored the urgent need to understand the complexity of our world in terms of politics, economics, culture and religion, particularly that of Islam.

To this end, many of our ministries have developed close relationships with local Muslim communities in order to learn from one another, to address common concerns, and to stand in solidarity with one another. The desire to know “the other” as friend is an essential challenge and a necessary aim for those who endeavor to follow Christ in the manner of St. Francis. We need only recall Francis’ encounter with the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in which he chose to engage Muslims peacefully and respectfully in a time of violence and hatred.

Seek Patience and Discipline. Such an effort on the part of friars and their partners-in-ministry is needed now more than ever, for while 9/11 has generated an interest in Islam for some, it has engendered excessive fear and hatred for Muslims in others. Left unanswered and unchecked, these fears can lead to prejudice, racism, hate-speech and even violence against our Muslim brothers and sisters. In the past decade, this has sometimes taken the form of attacks on Muslims in the U.S., their houses of worship and their Scriptures.

Many of these fears are based on perceived differences of values and faith. Yet, if the recent revolutions and uprisings in the Middle East are any indication, the vast majority of Muslims in the world fervently desire many of the rights and privileges that we enjoy under the U.S. Constitution.

These “spring uprisings” in the Middle East highlight for us a second challenge since Sept. 11, 2001: the urgent need to develop effective policies and strategies to deal with global violence and international terrorism through non-violent means. Ten years ago, the dominant belief was that the only way to respond to the attacks of Sept. 11 was by means of military force. We lacked the non-violent tools of robust diplomacy and crisis resolution which, coupled with an internationally shared strategy for police action, might have brought the perpetrators of the attack to justice without massive military intervention and additional loss of lives.

Regrettably, seeking the non-violent tools of robust diplomacy and crisis resolution is not an easy road to follow, but we must always seek the patience and discipline to pursue this path as a first option. We remain challenged to find responses that can unlock the full potential of the human imagination for good.

Be Not Afraid. As we move into the second decade after the tragedy of Sept. 11, we must, as people of faith, remember the words of Jesus who tells us: “be not afraid.” Actions based solely on fear are rarely fruitful, and frequently destructive. We are at a crossroads as a nation and world. We can choose to remain primarily on a path of excessive fear and the use of force, or we can choose to find new ways of building communities of respect and cooperation across faith traditions and national boundaries.

As brothers and sisters committed to living the Gospel in the way of St. Francis, we encourage you, your partners-in-ministry, and your families and friends to:

• Increase and deepen your efforts to understand and build relationships with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and indeed with all those from faith traditions different from our own.
• Stand firmly against all forms of prejudice and discrimination, including Islamophobia.
• Stay informed about world events through reliable sources of information in order to better access American foreign policies and their impact on others.
• Call for deeper investments in diplomacy and development so that options beyond military violence are employed.
• Take time for prayer, both private and communal, asking God for peace in your hearts and minds, for wisdom and understanding, for healing and forgiveness.

Followers of the Gospel — in particular followers of St. Francis — must never be timid or satisfied with lesser “solutions” born of fear and prejudice. Rather, let us be inspired by the bold example of our brother Francis who, obeying Jesus’ new commandment to “love one another,” reached out to the Sultan and thereby created new paths of peace.

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