Memory and Prophecy: Franciscan voices at the United Nations

As part of the celebrations to mark its thirty-year presence at the United Nations, the Conference of the Franciscan Family (CFF) organized a gathering on 16 July in the Auditorium Antonianum in Rome.

Themed ‘Memory and Prophecy’, the event brought together over 90 sisters and brothers to reflect on the accomplishments of the past three decades as well as the challenges and opportunities ahead. 

The keynote address was delivered by Br. Michael Perry, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. Tracing the history of Franciscans International (FI), he acknowledged the particular contributions of the late Sr. Elizabeth Cameron OSF, and Br. Dionysius Minthoff OFM – who, at age 88, continues to work with vulnerable migrants in Malta.

Their conviction that Franciscan spirituality and ethics shared many common values with the founding charter of the United Nations ultimately lead to the establishment of FI as the first ever common ministry on the international and intra-familial scale in the history of the Franciscan movement.

Looking toward the future, Br. Michael emphasized a dichotomy in the modern world, where people are simultaneously becoming more connected and disconnected resulting in an rise of political, economic, social, and cultural exclusion. Quoting Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, Br. Michael reaffirmed the strong commitment of the CFF and FI to care for the poor, promote peace, and protect and preserve our common home, the planet.

Read his full remarks in English or Italian

Br. Michael was joined by two long term regional partners of FI from Mexico and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sr. Diana Muñoz Alba FMM and director of the Bethany Santa Martha migrant shelter, recounted the story of Wendy, one of the first migrants she encountered – a powerful testimony that reminds us there is always a human face behind migration. 

Wendy was kidnapped and abused at age 11 by the Marcos in Honduras, but ultimately managed to escape with her children after nearly 16 years of captivity. After a perilous journey to Mexico was welcomed at Casa Bethany Santa Martha. Yet despite reaching the safety of the shelter, she was later forced to return to Honduras after her family received death threats by her captors. She has not been heard from since.

Sr. Diana also highlighted the importance of international solidarity for her and her fellow sisters, who have repeatedly been threatened for their work. “It is crucial at this time to have the support of Franciscans International, and to raise awareness of the situation that those welcoming migrants in their homes in Mexico are facing,” she said.

Read her full remarks in Spanish

Mgr. Fridolin Ambonga OFMCap and Archbishop of Kinshasa, has played a prominent role in mediating political disputes in the DRC. Starting in 2016, scheduled presidential elections in the country were repeatedly postponed, raising tensions and occasionally sparking violence. Through its strong engagement and moral appeal, the Conférence Épiscopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO) managed to facilitate a dialogue that, in December 2018, led to the first peaceful transition of power since the country’s independence in 1960. Throughout this process, Mgr. Ambongo and his colleagues worked with Franciscans International at the Unite Nations to advocate for international support for an inclusive and transparent electoral process.

During his address, Mgr. Ambonga elaborate on his inspiration derived from the Gospels. “Without falling into historical-theological disputes over the reasons for the death sentence of Jesus, we know with certainty that Jesus died also because of his struggle for justice,” he said. “As long as there is any form of injustice in society, His memory cannot leave his disciples indifferent and inert.”

Read his full remarks in Italian

Br. Markus Heinze OFM and Executive Directory of Franciscans International, also paid tribute to the memory of Sr. Crescencía Lucero SFIC, who was meant to take part in the celebrations but passed away on 15 May 2019. Throughout her life, Sr. Cres worked as a tireless advocate for human rights in the Philippines and throughout Asia-Pacific. Together with Franciscans International she conducted yearly workshops to build the capacity of the Franciscan Family and other civil society partners. Sr. Cres traveled to Geneva most recently in 2017, where she denounced the devastating impact that President Duterte’s so-called ‘war on drugs’ has had on the Philippines.

The gathering concluded with a celebratory receptions where attendees had the opportunity to meet the speakers, mingle, and further discuss the work of FI and the CFF.

Throughout 2019, we are hosting a number of events to celebrate the accomplishments of the past three decades, call attention to the many challenges we still face, and share the roots of our organization.