JPIC Friar Focus

Subsidiarity, Rights & Responsibilities…in the words of Fr. Mark Szanyi, OFM Conv.
Friar Mark is the pastor of St. Lucie Catholic Church, in Port St. Lucie, FL

In late October 2016 we at St. Lucie Parish, decided to present a program on gun violence and gun control.  This was in response to all the violence and terrorism happening around the world, and in particular, in response to the Orlando attacks that happened just 90 miles north of us.  The shooter in the Orlando attack came from Fort Pierce, and his parents live just a few blocks from the friary here in Port St. Lucie.
As part of the program we were going to show a film, with some editing so as not to speak critically of the National Rifle Association.  Our hope was to approach the subject with the notion of promoting sensible gun legislation.  The diocese heard about our program, decided the film was controversial, and asked that we not show it as it was not approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
At this point we involved Franciscan Action Network (FAN), knowing that they would have some insights for us.  Gun control is one of the major issues FAN undertakes as part of their Peace Building Initiatives. FAN replied that the film had been shown in other dioceses and they contacted the USCCB for their response.  The USCCB replied that they never screen or “approve” the showing of films, and noted their reason for this is the principle of subsidiarity, making decisions at the local level.
After some back and forth with the Diocese of Palm Beach, it was agreed that the decision concerning the showing of the film was best made at the local level.  We decided to move forward, inviting other neighboring parishes and churches, as well as the County’s Sheriff’s Department, which sent two deputies to participate.
The reaction to the program, from our parishioners and others in the area, was unexpected.  Their reaction was very negative, and we were accused of trying to promote the repeal of the Second Amendment of the Constitution.   It was also presumed that holding the program just prior to the election, that we were secretly promoting one of the presidential candidates.  Of course, none of the accusations were true, so we decided to move forward with the program.
The night of the presentation did not bring a large crowd.  Most of those who attended had their own pro-gun agenda.  Throughout the evening they continued to repeat the false accusations we had been hearing in the weeks prior.
We assured them that our intention was to reduce gun violence in our country by promoting sensible laws for gun control.  They would have none of it.  Unable to enter into an authentic discussion concerning rights & responsibilities, they stated that they wanted their guns to protect their families, and ANY restriction was viewed as an infringement on their Second Amendment rights. Not everyone was of this mindset, but due to the anger in the room people in this smaller group felt uncomfortable speaking up.  They did voice their support of our efforts afterward, privately with me, and one in a nice note the following day.
One good that came out of the evening was that the deputies understood what we were trying to do, and at least were able to take the opportunity to speak at length on gun safety, fielding many questions from participants.
While the evening was difficult, it was worth the effort.  It also showed us friars how many of our parishioners feel on this issue, and how the political polarization that has occurred in our country has left even people of faith entrenched in their own perspectives, to the point of not being able to listen or participate in productive conversations.  This experience taught us friars, how important it is that we continue to break open the language of social justice in our community while being on the lookout for future opportunities to offer programs and facilitate conversations concerning social justice.

To learn more about gun control, as part of a Franciscan effort in peace building, contact Sr. Marie Lucey at FAN: lucey@franciscanaction.org