Patriotism and Diversity
Franciscan Formation – Inspirations (Part 11)
“The relationship and exchanges between cultures, in the teaching of the Church, are values that also enrich fraternal life. Therefore the wide-ranging richness of the various cultures is to be welcomed by all the friars, who are to promote encounter and dialogue among them while being aware of their own identity.”
I once listened with interest to the reflection of a tour guide in a museum. He ended his tour in a section of the museum devoted to the history and culture of the country and he asked his group, “What do you think a patriot is?” The group was silent. The guide proceeded to answer the question he had just asked: “Each of us is born, grows up and matures in a certain place: in a home, in a village and in a particular territory or area. This piece of land is what we call our homeland. It is where our lives develop, where we have important relationships such as with our parents, family, peers, friends, and neighbors far and near. The other people who inhabit this piece of land with us form our nation. We learn our language from them, our spiritual values, traditions and customs. We learn about religion, history and culture. So we can say that a patriot is someone who comes to love the land where he was born and raised, someone who cares for his homeland.”
I was struck by this encounter; questions arose in me: Should a Conventual Franciscan be a patriot? How does our place of origin, our nation, our culture and our customs influence our ministry and community life?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church presents love of country as an obligation taken from God’s fourth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex 20:12). We Conventual Franciscans did not originate from the moon, so like anyone else, we, too, are born, live, and grow up in our homelands. Like all Christians, we are called to cultivate the virtuous aspects of patriotism. We do this by maintaining ties with our nation and learning about its history, culture and traditions. When we respect and care for our piece of land we develop roots in it. In this way, we can identify what derives from our homeland and how we can share it with others, with our brothers in the community and with the people to whom the Lord send us.
When we think about patriotism and diversity, we can see two opposing tendencies (or temptations): nationalism and cosmopolitanism. Nationalism is essentially the recognition that one nation (usually the one I come from) is supreme. It is the belief that my nation is superior to all others, that its customs and culture are wiser and nobler, that it is better adapted to perform certain activities, etc. With nationalism we find ourselves firmly rooted in our own homeland, but we lack the drive to carry the Gospel to new lands and nations. We are easily drawn into political squabbles and cheering for certain political parties. We find it difficult to undertake missionary service in places that have different languages, cuisines, customs and cultures, because we are comfortable and at ease in our own home, in our homeland. Nationalism can appear very discreetly in the life of our communities. Moreover, in certain environments such as the friary, parish or Province, friars from different nations (or even from different regions) may not be given particular respect, trust or sympathy. They may not be allowed to assume certain responsibilities or share their own culture. No one attempts to understand them when they want to express something of their own and have difficulty communicating it. In our pastoral work, we may restrict the rights of foreigners to uphold their national traditions and religious services, their catechesis and prayers, to say the Mass in their own language, etc.
It might therefore seem that a Conventual Franciscan should be cosmopolitan, that is, he should see the whole world as his homeland. However, this leads us to the second temptation, namely, being a citizen of the whole world without recognizing any tradition, value, custom or culture. In this case, the main value of the cosmopolitan outlook is to be free from everything and able to accept anything. Such an outlook encourages a liberal attitude: what is good, what is appropriate or inappropriate, is all relative and is subject to change—through law, modified ethical norms, the promotion of certain lifestyles, etc. Sometimes, in this context, one may develop contempt for his homeland or other places he is connected to. Perhaps this stems from fear of attachment. It seems that the cosmopolitan outlook can give one a strong drive to move elsewhere, to fly the coop in search of a new place to live. However, one should not expect the cosmopolitan person to have any enduring devotion to the nation in which he lives and works. He experiences every corner of the world in the same way. Apparently everywhere is his homeland. However, that is not all there is to it. Indeed, he is missing the ability to put down roots, to have a point of reference through his national identity. It is as if he lacks awareness of the fact that his culture of origin is worth carrying with him on his journey around the world, that it is a wonderful gift he can bring to other nations.
Maturity requires us to adopt an attitude characterized by both strong roots and a strong drive. This means that a friar knows where his home is, but he is also able to go outside his comfort zone to proclaim the Gospel. God sends us forth to foreign lands and as we live and minister in them, we come to know them as our new homelands. Sometimes it happens that over time, our relationship with our own country lessens and we begin to love our new places of life and ministry more. On several occasions, longtime missionaries have said that although they love their country of origin, in their old age they prefer to stay in the place where they have given their lives to God through many years of service. Sometimes, in a new country, there is a certain sense of emptiness, an uncertainty about where one’s own beloved piece of land is. In the place where a friar serves, he can sometimes feel like a stranger. Similarly, in a friar’s country of origin, he may increasingly feel like a stranger to his new brothers that work there, or to his family members, especially after the death of his parents.
What does St. Francis of Assisi suggest to us on this topic? Francis himself went into the world to preach the Gospel and the need for conversion and penance. He treated the whole world as a home that the Creator had given to him and to everyone. However, he was not cosmopolitan; he was an itinerant missionary. He proclaimed the Gospel first in and around his city and then further afield, in areas with completely different cultures and religions. His successors would follow the same pattern, going forth to all possible parts of the world. One might say the main homeland of St. Francis and his friars was the Church. However, Francis also felt attachment to his little homeland; at the end of his life, he wished to die in the place he loved. On the way to the Portiuncula, he asked the friars carrying him on a stretcher to pause so he could bless Assisi. It is interesting that in this blessing he acknowledged that there were many wicked and evil people living in his city; he asked God to show mercy to them. At the same time, he thanked God for making his city a refuge and a home for those who knew him and practiced evangelization.
Like our founder, we too have different homelands. Our homelands are not only geographical in nature, they can also be spiritual. In this sense, our homelands are the Church, our Order and the friary in which we live. In each there were, and are, holy people and people who behave badly. Each has its own wonderful events and shameful stories. Our Conventual Franciscan patriotism should be real and prayerful. Real, because it sees what was, and is, bad, but also sees what is good. It sees the vices and virtues we have taken from our family, national and religious backgrounds. It sees what is useful in community and what should be avoided. Prayerful, because those who govern our homelands (both spiritual and geographical), those who serve them, and the people within them, need our blessings and our prayers.
Regardless of our place of origin, nationality or race, we must remember that we are all children of the same God. Therefore, we are brothers and sisters. We each have our differences and there is no point in imagining that everyone is the same as everyone else. Our communities have been, are, and will be, culturally diverse. Many communities are international. Others, while made up of friars from the same nation, are also culturally differentiated. They are composed of friars who come from different regions within the same country or belong to different social groups. In the friaries, we experience the otherness of friars: in addition to culture and tradition, we each have different behaviors and customs, culinary and aesthetic tastes, we support different sports teams, and so on. The bonding agent of our diversity is certainly the Gospel. Therefore, we firmly believe that anything that runs contrary to the Gospel, the commandments, the Rule or the Constitutions, cannot be justified by another culture or by other customs. Nevertheless, by being together we have an opportunity to share and welcome what others bring with them, with an attitude of respect and understanding.
Friar Piotr STANISŁAWCZYK
General Delegate for Formation
 Friars Minor Conventual, Constitutions, Rome 2019, art. 56 §2.
 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2199.
 Cf. P. Przesmycki, Patriotyzm w nauczaniu Kościoła katolickiego, https://cejsh.icm.edu.pl/cejsh/element/bwmeta1.element.hdl_11089_2578/c/2008_02_przesmycki_195_203.pdf, December 5, 2022; Wikipedia, Patriotyzm, https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriotyzm#Rodzaje_patriotyzmu.
 Cf. Encyklopedia PWN, Nacjonalizm, https://encyklopedia.pwn.pl/haslo/nacjonalizm;3945094.html. December 13, 2022.
 Cf. A. Komendera, Stanisław Ossowski o patriotyzmie i kosmopolityzmie, Annates Academiae Paedagogicae Cracoviensi, Studia Sociologica I, 2006, https: https://rep.up.krakow.pl/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11716/7389/AF035–03–Stanislaw-Ossowski–Komendera.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y, December 20, 2022.
 Cf. Zbiór Asyski. Wydarzenia z życia świętego Franciszka opowiedziane przez jego pierwszych towarzyszy, tł. P. J. Nowak, in: Źródła franciszkańskie, edited by R. Prejs, Z. Kijas, Cracow 2008, pp. 1507-1669, no. 5.
 Cf. Friars Minor Conventual, Franciscan Discipleship, Rome 2022, no. 21.