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.

Pete King is on the Wrong Track

Pete King is on the wrong track. In America, we don’t segregate people by where they go to church.

Faith leaders in New York, organized by Pax Christi/Long Island, sent a public letter this week to Rep. Peter King (R-NY) asking him to call off his hearing on Capitol Hill that promote Islamophobia. (Additionally, 50 Members of Congress did the same.) More than 80 religious and peace leaders signed the statement saying:

Protecting our nation requires allegiance to the fundamental values that give life to our democracy. A commitment to pluralism and respect for diversity are strengths in the fight against terrorism. We agree that law enforcement must find practical solutions to stop terrorism, whether these threats come from religious or non-religious extremists. Muslim-Americans have consistently denounced terrorism and worked closely with law enforcement to prevent violence. Building and maintaining trust with the Muslim community is crucial to furthering this cooperation, and we fear your hearings will only sow greater distrust and division at a time when unity and moral courage are needed. …

Let us remember the lessons of history. Entire communities should never be targeted for suspicion of disloyalty. During World War II, Japanese Americans were deprived of their rights and forced into internment camps because of blanket distrust of their commitment to our country. The McCarthy hearings became a shameful national spectacle that falsely impugned the loyalty and destroyed the lives of many Americans. Catholics were once demonized as threats to democracy beholden to a foreign power. Jews and African Americans have faced centuries of suspicion and prejudice. Today, Muslim-Americans in many communities face fierce opposition when they propose to build mosques and worship peacefully. A growing number of Muslims are victims of hate crimes. This bigotry and discrimination, rooted in fear and ignorance, diminishes us all and unfairly maligns Americans who teach our children, serve our country, live peacefully and believe in the American dream.

“I am disappointed that these religious leaders and peace advocates wish to obstruct my search for the truth,” King responded. “Obviously, I am going forward with my hearings into Muslim radicalization.”

Sr. Jeanne Clark, a member of Pax Christi/Long Island, has spoken eloquently about why Catholics should be very clear in condemning religious intolerance and should instead hold up examples of interreligious partnerships.

Over 80 religious leaders, social justice advocates and people of faith on Long Island sent the congressman a letter urging him to cancel these misguided hearings. Many of us recently gathered in prayerful protest in front of his office.

Although Congressman King has insisted that his hearings will focus on Islamic extremism, his own rhetoric suggests that he will cast a cloud of suspicion over the entire Muslim community. He told a radio host that radicals lead 80 percent of mosques and once described Muslims as “an enemy living amongst us.”

Leaders across the political spectrum agree that we must work together to prevent terrorist attacks. My opposition to King’s hearings isn’t motivated by “political correctness” or a naïve belief that evil does not exist in the world.

Rather, we need a different approach because I fear these hearings will undermine practical approaches to confronting violent extremism in all its forms and threaten our most inspiring ideals as a nation. –Sr. Jeanne Clark

No person who has sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution should be allowed to targeting a single religious group. It threatens democratic values and let’s the terrorists win.

As Christians we can read King’s approach through the biblical lens of empire. King’s rhetoric and actions are part and parcel of imperial projects bent on a strategy of “divide and conquer.” As Christians we hold an alternative vision, we practice a “divine counterstrategy” that elevates rich cultural diversity as part of what strengthens the human family.

Read all of Why Catholics Must Speak Out Against Islamophobia.
Read the letter sent by religious leaders to Pete King.