In February of 2020, the General Delegate for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (GPIC) moved from the Maximilian M. Kolbe Friary in Rome to the Franciscanum on via Arnaldo Fortini 24 in Assisi. The move was due to the decision of the Minister General and his Definitory for the GPIC office to join with the Center for Franciscan Interreligious Dialogue (CEFID). Now CEFID is comprised of the GPIC and the Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue (EDI) offices and engages two friars.
Barely a week after my arrival in Assisi, Italy imposed its first national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No one thought this catastrophe would last so long. Last March I wrote a letter of solidarity to express our Order’s closeness with all our afflicted friars and other people in the world. Unfortunately, the second wave of the pandemic has hit our Order more severely than the first. Many more friars got the virus and recovered, but we have lost some friars, especially in Poland.
The COVID pandemic has disrupted justice and peace in diverse ways. The poor often suffer the most from such plagues. Nevertheless, others also think the pandemic restored some ecological balance, especially during the universal lockdown, an event which drastically reduced carbon emissions. The pandemic has brought about a punctuated equilibrium; that is, it has called the world to pause and reflect. It has tested and challenged our paradigms of development. It has justified the central thesis of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, which states that the earth cannot sustain the pace of our current development unless something is done to address its abuses. The Pope reiterates this in his Fratelli Tutti (33), “The pain, uncertainty and fear, and the realization of our own limitations, brought on by the pandemic have only made it all the more urgent that we rethink our styles of life, our relationships, the organization of our societies and, above all, the meaning of our existence.”
The “Spirit of Assisi” project did not see much development this year because of the pandemic. The new community entrusted with the project was only able to fully gather together during the second half of the year. Although the activities of GPIC are very compatible with the project, the style of GPIC animation will have to change to fit into the new paradigm. The new modality anticipates that friars will draw from the rich and fresh “Spirit of Assisi” spring, which is flowing from the Franciscanum.
Outreach activities of the GPIC office were limited to online conferencing. The only exception was a seminar given to the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi.
However, the phenomenon of meeting via the Zoom Internet platform was not new to the members of the Franciscans International (FI) Board of Directors. Besides using it for their bi-monthly online meetings, they had to use it again when COVID-19 kept them from holding their two face-to-face meetings scheduled for April in Geneva and November in New York. FI renewed its strategic plan. Two members of the Board finished their second terms this year. Clark BERGE of the Society of St. Francis will move on and be replaced by Blair MATHESON. Jose Eduardo Jazo TARIN replaces Kevin QUEALLY as the T.O.R. representative. Benedict AYODI, OFM Cap., joins the New York staff as the Outreach Officer. FI is making a big impact at the UN. The Board acknowledges the interest and support that the Franciscan Family shows our organization. However, the organization faces the challenge of getting younger Franciscans interested and involved.
On July 4, 2020, the Delegate for GPIC delivered an online seminar for the Franciscan Families in Nairobi. The workshop’s theme was “The Franciscan Foundations for Environmental Justice.” Over fifty men’s and women’s Franciscan religious and tertiaries participated in the online conference. The participants were grateful for the new insights they got into the encyclical Laudato Si’. They felt challenged to take on more responsibility in caring for the earth.
The GPIC office was able to solicit some financial assistance for the St. Maxmilian M. Kolbe Afforestation Project in Burkina Faso. Many thanks go to the Director of the Franciscan Mission Associates (FMA), Mr. Joseph Hamilton, and to the Province of Our Lady of the Angels in the USA for their immense assistance. Our friars in Burkina Faso organized the local labor and materials needed to realize this project. They planted over 500 trees during the rainy season last June and July. The property has been fenced in and a well has been dug. Some parishioners are tilling the land to cultivate groundnuts and maize while tending the trees.
Friar Joseph BLAY