A Message from br. Tim Blanchard, OFM Conv.
“This summer I have taken on a double internship with both the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) and our province’s JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation) ministry to further explore and utilize the major I am pursing in Media and Communications, at CUA (The Catholic University of America, Washington DC). In this JPIC Update, I would like to share a quick reflection on two past events I had recently attended and how they have impacted me as a student friar. Its my hope to integrate the deeper truths about what it means to actively participate in social justice as a Franciscan.
On May 21, I participated with FAN and Friar Michael Lasky, OFM Conv. (our Province JPIC Chairman) in the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement that seeks to eradicate the evils of poverty, systemic racism, and actions that lead to war. Already this Campaign has reached 30 states across the nation challenging political leaders to fight against inequality and redirect misguided moral narratives for a better society. The pre-rally began at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in DC where I listened in on the main speaker who, at the core of his message, highlighted the fact that “the values we are demanding should go beyond just a campaign, we are looking to enable the broader movement of equality that will echo in future times”. Looking around at the excited responses and reactions of the people gathered around the speaker it was evident that this was a community willing to take risks, to disrupt unjust systems and illuminate immoral policies. We could look at the failure by federal assistance to distribute public resources to those who are absent of a good job having to fend for themselves as one example of an inactive immoral systems in the economy. Federal programs are not meeting the growing needs of the poor so who will? The group’s willingness to practice civil disobedience to be arrested is considered by them a last resort having unsuccessfully lobbied for the change of policy. It is by this action that we see the impact of the rally transition from words to actions, from being heard to being seen. This operation is not executed just for some political spite but rather displays a great witness to resistance of immoral authority for a positive social change. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the officers who, with a big smile on his face, shared with me how much he “enjoyed arresting this group.” He and the other officers expressed their respect for our groups advocacy for the poor and their organization in making civil disobedience peaceful and orderly. What a shining example of defending human rights in a peaceful manner, it can be done with everyone playing their part. Without failure to mention, both Friar Michael and I were approached throughout the day by several faith leaders, students and ministers on the Capital lawn simply because we were in habit creating a visible Franciscan presence that was clearly noticed that proved both hearting and encouraging for many.
Later that same week, on May 24, along with Friar Michael Lasky, I had joined Friar Timothy Dore, OFM Conv. (pictured at center left) and parishioners from St. Ann Church (Baltimore, MD – one of the parishes where he serves as pastor) for the monthly “Prayer Walk for Peace,” in the city. Leading this assembly of prayer was Bishop Denis J. Madden (urban vicar and auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Baltimore) who opened with the following remarks: “Peace is something that is very possible to spread within the human heart, and its going to be done today within these streets that have seen such terrible violence. Our prayers reach out to this city this evening that it may find God’s love and redirect the violent actions into actions of charity.” As we walked down the busy streets of Baltimore with all eyes fixed on us, hymns of praises were being chanted speaking of the search for a peaceful change. This faithful assembly made this walk with a vulnerability and an openness to forgive and love freely. Various stops were made along the walk where we prayed at specific locations that were affected by physical and social violence one of those locations being the killing of a 16 year old boy who lived not far from the parish due to gang violence. Amidst the weight of hearing these unfortunate stories of violence tainting the city, an image I will never forget was seeing those joined in the walk flood the streets offering a glimpse of something this city sees rarely, hope. Smiles found themselves on the faces of those we passed by as if we had released them from some weight upon their backs that allowed them to finally look up and see the light above that is ever so reachable. God’s voice is heard amid fantastic visuals that signal his presence and this was certainly one of those sights. After the walk several of the parishioners came up to me expressing how wonderful it was to have a Franciscan presence for the walk. This indeed was a ministry of presence embodying the spirit of St. Francis that still lives today.
If you would ask me my takeaways from these past two events I would have this to say. Our faith calls us to be wise in our social actions, bold in our moral beliefs, and courageous in what we know to be right and just. Questions also parallel these paradigms, when a people are living in fear, how do we step in as friars to proclaim Gabriel’s message “do not be afraid” through presence and solidarity, walking with them in the difficult places asking difficult questions and seeking equally different answers and then ACT on it? What is my witness when it comes to upholding equality within our society? There is a part to play in this, pray my brothers that I may find mine and that the Lord may continue to enlighten me during this summer experience. My prayers are with you always!”
(The photos were also taken by br. Tim Blanchard, OFM Conv.)