Last week, the Franciscan Friars Conventual from Our Lady of the Angels Province invited the Franciscan Action Network and the DC/MD/VA chapter of Interfaith Power and Light to join in a Forum and Symposium on Environmental Justice and Service to Vulnerable Populations (held at our Shine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City, MD). The goal for the gathering was to bring together peoples of various faiths, government officials, and other interested parties to discuss greater coordination and collaboration on issues pertinent to the protection of the environment, public health and other quality of life concerns which were elevated by Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.”
At Wednesday’s (April 11, 2018) interfaith St. Francis Forum, participants listened to faith leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu traditions as well as from the Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, Evangelical, and Catholic/Franciscan traditions. (Pictured at left are Christopher Fici – writer/minister/teacher of the Hindu Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition; Sr. Joan Brown, OSF – Executive Director of the New Mexico Interfaith Power & Light; Rabbi Fred Dobb – Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland, serving on the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, Shalom Center, Religious Witness for the Earth, and Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light) Each half hour presentation included ample time for a larger group discussion, which often demonstrated the many similarities within our traditions while nuancing differences in approach to environmental justice issues.
Each presenter was then partnered with a friar of the province and other participants to continue the discussions in small groups. (Pictured at right) These groups will eventually put forward pastoral applications as to how interfaith cooperation might bring about practical pastoral applications in our various communities. The fruits of these discussions will be shared later this summer.
Thursday’s (April 12, 2018) Spirit of Assisi Symposium brought together the faith-based community with federal agencies for three panel discussions on environmental justice and service to vulnerable communities. We discussed ways of enhancing collaboration and finding new avenues of partnership in service to at risk communities. The federal government, sent representatives from the US Department of Agriculture, General Services Administration, Department of Labor, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, Department of Interior, Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Energy.
The symposium ended with an interfaith blessing of the fields and Little Portion Farm. The friars were joined by the farmers of Mary’s Land Farm, representatives of the Franciscan Center in Baltimore, interfaith leaders, members of federal agencies and the faithful who attended the 12 noon Mass at the shrine, as well as the shrine staff and other visitors.
A special thank you to Friars Michael Heine (pictured here), Julio Martinez, Dennis Mason, Gary Johnson, Ed Falsey, Michael Lorentson, James McCurry, Douglas McMillan, Donald Grzymski, and Eric de LaPeña; as well as Joseph Hamilton (Lay Mission Advancement Director – Franciscan Mission Association) for their participation in these days. In addition, much appreciation is owed to Friar Joseph Dorniak, OFM Conv. who sketched the logo (above) of St. Francis used for the events.
On the following Sunday Friar Michael Lasky, OFM Conv. (Chairman of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission for our province) traveled to Shamokin, PA with a representative of the EPA for a stakeholder’s dinner organized by the local friars, in relation to the projects of sustainable development in partnership with Bucknell University.
Over the past several days many notes of thanks have been received, commending the friars for envisioning such interfaith gatherings and including government representatives. Many expressed how their long-held hopes for such a gathering were finally realized through our efforts in a productive and practical manner. One Daughter of Charity even mentioned how the symposium inspired her to go home and see what her local government in Prince Georges County (Maryland) is doing in relation to environmental justice and service to vulnerable communities. She has a meeting already set up with local government officials next month.
A special thanks to the staff of the shrine for hosting the event. Mr. Munjed Murad, our Muslim presenter who is a doctoral student of Islamic and Christian Studies at Harvard, offered this thought on the event and its location at the shrine. “This [building] is a place where great things happen, and I am honored to be a part of so great a gathering.”