Franciscan documents

Franciscan bits & pieces picked up by Ted Witham tssf

Archive for the category “Franciscan life”

The Founders of the Third Order


At a Franciscan Enquiry Day [September 2, 2017], I introduced some of the colourful personalities who were the founders of the Third Order using this presentation:

Dorothy SWAYNE

 

Advertisements

Obedience, Poverty and Chastity for All?


Brother Clark Berge SSF, The Vows Book: Anglican Teaching on the Vows of Obedience, Poverty and Chastity, CreateSpace 2014, 142 pages.  (from $AUD 18.20 online)

Reviewed by Ted Witham tssf
[Published in Anglican Messenger April 2014]

The late Abbot of New Norcia Dom Placid Spearritt OSB once claimed that Franciscans invented the idea of ‘vows’: Benedictines, he said, only had ‘promises’. I don’t know enough history or canon law to evaluate Abbot Placid’s statement, but as a Franciscan, I take the point that we should treat our promises with the least complication we can. Let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no”. (see Mt 5:37)

Brother Clark Berge, currently Minister General of the Society of Saint Francis, explores what it means to be a vowed person. All of us are vowed persons, as promises were made in our baptisms, and The Vows Book speaks to all Christians about the discipline and constraints inherent in following Christ. ‘The vows protect in us deep down the courage and strength to live for God,’ Br Clark writes, ‘to help God create a world we want to live in, a world of love.’

Vowed persons are counter-cultural. We have promised to make the world a different place than it is now. For those called to ‘give their lives to God in a special way’ as brothers and sisters in religious orders, the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity structure their lives to have the freedom to tell out the Good News.

Obedience means listening – listening to the Scriptures, to the Founders, to each other, to one’s inner voice and to nature. It means living as a responsible adult. Poverty is a free choice to follow Christ in a sharing lifestyle clarifying one’s social vision and helping those who are poor not through choice.

For members of religious orders like SSF chastity implies celibacy, which sets brothers and sisters free to love in new ways without the ties of family. Brother Clark is brutally honest about the difficulties of celibacy and gives practical advice on what to do with ‘sexy thoughts’.

Br Clark has printed his book in long thin columns. Each line of text has three or four words only in the style of the Catholic Workers’ Peter Maurin’s Easy Essays, making his ideas accessible to all members of the Society who have a very wide range of educational levels.

Br Clark’s ideas are also profitable for Tertiaries, as we too are vowed people, promising obedience, poverty and chastity as appropriate for our life-situation. He challenges us to use our promises as a framework to follow Jesus more closely, to find more joy in our life in Christ and to find more freedom in telling the Good News. These Franciscan values are ours too, and while our life-situations are not the same as the brothers and sisters of the First Order, our call to be Christ-like is.

It is challenging to be reminded to be responsible adults in listening to the wisdom of those around us and so learning to be more mature in our obedience. When we have so much materially our vow of poverty should cause us difficulty, and Br Clark asks us to re-consider if we are serious about sharing our resources with the whole community. Do I have the purity of heart I promised in my vow of chastity and what impact does that purity have on my ability to love as Christ would have me love?

Br Clark’s teaching about the vows may have started from his life-situation as a brother, but his wisdom, simplicity and depth is for all of us.

The Vows Book has a Foreword by Archbishop Roger Herft AM, Bishop Protector General of the Society of St Francis and the cover is graced by one of Br Clark’s own paintings, a reflection inspired by the words of Ephrem the Syrian on baptism. Br Clark’s book will help us say our ‘Yes’ with greater conviction and with joy and simplicity. It will help us bring our promises to life.

 

Heaven Times Three


Jacopone da Tode

Lauda LX – Holy Poverty and the Third Heaven

 Love of poverty, realm of peace!
Poverty, secure life with no grief, no rancour,
with no fear from robbers nor from storms!

Poverty dies in peace, makes no will,
leaves the world as clean as an arrow,
and leaves people in harmony.

It needs no judge nor notary
owes no fees to court,
laughs at the greedy man
who stands in so much anxiety.

Poverty, high wisdom, subject to nothing,
despises possessing, yet possesses
every created thing.

Those who despise possessions
possess without offense to themselves,
nothing a trap for their foot
as they face their days.

Those who are possessed by self
have sold themselves to that which they love:
if they think they have gained,
they have gained damaged goods.

So pernicious courage can enter into slavery,
the image of God, its grace, sullied by emptiness.

God does not dwell in narrow hearts,
the larger the heart
the greater the desire for God –
poverty has such a great heart
that Deity dwells there.

Poverty is hidden by heaven
from those darkened on earth;
those who have entered the third heaven
hear the mysterious deeps.

The first heaven is the sky,
stripped of every honour,
offers the great obstacle
in finding security.

To make honour die in you,
you must abandon riches,
silence learning,
and flee reputation of holiness.

Riches rob you of time,
Knowledge is blown away in the wind,
Reputation breeds hypocrisy
and sticks with every deposition.

Steady in the starry sky
are those who are stripped of all three.
Look – another heaven behind the veil,
clear and sturdy.

Four winds stir the sea
and disturb the mind –
fear and hope,
grief and joy.

These four strip away
more than riches, reputation or learning.
So I say, contradicting
those without spiritual capacity.

You need not have fear of hell
nor hope for heaven,
nothing should make you rejoice
or make you grieve for adversity.

Righteousness does not come through these,
since these hold you outside of it;
Completely cloaked righteousness holds you
and heals your failings.

If righteousness is without covering,
and vices are clothed,
mortal blows are given
and wounded on earth you will stay.

When the vices are dead,
and righteousness restored,
you will be strengthened in God’s company,
in every way protected.

The third heaven is the highest,
it has no bounds or measures,
beyond imagination,
all fantasy terminated.

All good has been stripped from you,
divested of all righteousness,
treasure the bargain
of your own shame.

This heaven is built strong,
founded on a nothing,
where purified love
lives in truth.

Since what appears to be the case to you is not,
because it is so much higher than it is,
pride in this heaven
damns itself to humility.

Between righteousness and action
many are mocked as “mad”,
as long as they think they are well served
they remain on earth separated from God.

This heaven has no name,
the tongue tries to say
where love is in prison
and light is in darkness.

All light is darkness,
and all darkness is day,
the new philosophy
has consumed the old wineskins.

There where Christ is grafted,
and the old wood is pruned,
one is transformed into the other
in wondrous unity.

Love lives without desire
and wisdom without intellect,
the will, chosen by God
to do his will.

I live and yet not I,
and my being is not my being,
this is so cross-wise,
that it cannot be circumscribed.

Poverty has nothing
and can desire nothing;
and yet possesses everything
in the spirit of liberty.

–          Translation Ted Witham 2013

 

 

 

 

Christians in Favour of Gay Marriage


A petition organized by the Australian Christian Lobby can be found at www.australianmarriage.org.

The view on that website is clearly against legislating for gay marriage, and this view point is presented by some homosexual Christians as well as a broad range of (presumably) heterosexual Christians.

The Australian Marriage website does not present the argument for gay marriage. There are, however, Christians who support gay marriage and equally deserve a voice. I know Franciscan Tertiaries whose children are married to same sex partners. I know Tertiaries who wish they could marry their same sex partner. I know also that for some Tertiaries, mine will be a challenging viewpoint: let’s argue the case with respect and love!

If you wish to send a message to the ALP delegates in favour of gay marriage, you may wish to make use of the points below. Send your letter to your local ALP branch, to your local member if she or he is ALP, or to the ALP Senators in your State or Territory.

*******

Some thoughts on gay marriage from a Christian perspective

Christians who support gay marriage agree with the secular arguments that to oppose gay marriage is discriminatory and that all civil rights should be extended to people who are not heterosexual.

However, as Christians, they also argue from Genesis 2 for gay marriage. It is clear in Genesis 2 that the man (Adam) is seeking intimacy and companionship and finds that with the woman who is created from him. Heterosexual marriages are normal and usual! But it is not then necessary to assume that gays are excluded from marriage as Genesis 2 describes it. A woman can find intimacy and companionship with another woman in ‘flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone’ relationship, and surely find it blessed by God.

St Paul in Galatians 3:28 makes a strong case that ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ Quite clearly, Paul does not mean that in Christ the distinctions are meaningless; there continue to be Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, and males and females. The point he is stressing is that these categories are not important ‘in Christ’: at some levels, it doesn’t matter to Christ whether you are male or female. This is a radical teaching, asking us not to be so accepting of socially constructed roles that we stop seeing the basic humanity of people.  In a relationship, it is not your sex that counts. It is your ability to give and receive love.  It doesn’t matter in Christ whether your partner is male or female.

In Ephesians 5:24-30, Paul carefully outlines the connection between marriage – the love of spouse for spouse – and the love of Christ for the Church; Christ as bridegroom, Church as bride. In the Anglican prayer book tradition this is given as the first reason for marriage . It has a sacramental import. The first aspect is that the love Christ has for the Church empowers the married couple. Their love derives from His. The second aspect is that marriage then becomes a picture of Christ’s love for the Church. When you look at a married couple, you see Christ’s love illustrated plain.

In real life, we see gay marriages which are strong and tender and are pictures of Christ’s love for the Church. It is difficult to argue that the love expressed in these gay marriages is not provided by Christ.  Where else would such love come from? Why are these relationships less illustrative of God’s love than some fragile heterosexual marriage?

For these and other reasons, I as a Christian support gay marriage.

Eugene Rogers’s Christian Century article is helpful in exploring these arguments.

Ted Witham
November 2011

For those about to be Professed in the Third Order


SERMON FOR PROFESSIONS, NOVICING AND RENEWAL,

Western Australia Region, AD 2011

by Ted Witham tssf

A wonderful word in the New Testament is ‘homologia’, which means ‘profession’. In Hebrews 10:23, we are urged to ‘hold fast to the profession of our hope without wavering, because the One who promised is faithful.’ Earlier in Hebrews in 4:14, ‘Having then a great high priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold tightly to our profession.’

Today some of our number come to make Profession, and others of us will renew our Profession. We note that it is Profession of hope, and that Jesus, the Son of God, empowers us to make this Profession.

In the three centuries following the death and resurrection of Jesus, there was an extraordinary process for new believers who wanted to make the great Profession that they had been filled with the resurrection faith. They underwent a two or three year preparation called the catechumenate, which involved learning about the faith, attending the Eucharist up until the Offertory, and being mentored by another Christian into works of charity. When Easter came after two or three years, the catechumens made their great Profession, their ‘homologia’ during their baptism by immersion in a great ceremony. They went down into the font naked (or dressed in a loin cloth) and were robed in white when they came up out of the waters.

I promise you that the Profession you make does not involve immersion baptism or even near nudity. And of course you have made your great Profession in your baptism and confirmation. Profession as a Tertiary does not replace baptism, but in it you effectively renew your baptismal promises. Listen to the words you will say:

I, N., give myself to our Lord Jesus Christ, to serve him for the rest of my life in company with my brothers and sisters in the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis, seeking to spread the knowledge and love of Christ, to promote the spirit of love and harmony as the family of God and to live joyfully a life of simplicity and humble service after the example of Saint Francis.

A big Profession indeed; a public statement of an earnest and passionate response to a call from God.
Don’t under-estimate the power of this renewal. A friend of ours years ago had a charismatic experience, and he asked his fairly conservative parish priest if he could be baptised again. The priest answered, correctly, ‘No.’ And our friend kept asking. The priest could not give any other answer. Then the parish had its first Easter Vigil including the renewal of baptismal vows. Our friend was ecstatic, “It’s happened, it’s happened!” he shouted excitedly, “I’ve been baptised again.”
I hope that your great Profession this morning captures some of that same excitement.
The preparation for your Profession has been similar to the catechumenate. You have met for two or three years with a mentor. The Novice Counsellor has helped you reflect on this Franciscan way. She or he invited you to find ways of expressing Franciscan spirituality in prayer and action.
The catechumenate has a number of other characteristics worth mentioning. One was that if catechumens were martyred before they were baptised, they were considered to have been baptised in their blood. It is my personal belief (not in the statutes at all!) that Novices who die should be considered full Tertiaries, but in any case, the comparison expresses something that your Profession says about the claim that Christ is making on your life and death and beyond.
Catechumens were also kept from the mysteries of the Eucharist, until the night of their baptism, when they received their First Communion. Then in the months after Easter they continued their learning about the Christian faith. Now it was no longer called the catechumenate, but the mystagogy – the teaching about the mysteries.
You who will be make your great Profession in a few moments will also continue to meet with your Novice Counsellor for another 12 months to reflect more deeply on what it is to be a Franciscan Christian. This will be your mystagogy – although I doubt anyone will actually call it that. There are no secrets to learn, as there were for the catechumens in the Early Church – sorry about that – but it is a reminder that the Franciscan Way is not something to be learned in a few months or a couple of short years. You will continue to discover depths in it as you walk in it.
Rae and I were professed 28 years ago. We were seeking an expression of community in our Christian way, and we began as Franciscans by seeking out people. But our mystagogy has included falling in love with Francis and Clare and many other Franciscan saints. For me in particular, as one who enjoys theology, it has been a joy to discover the Franciscan intellectual tradition from Bonaventure to Duns Scotus to Ilia Delio.
But you will discover different things than I have, maybe new depths in social activism; maybe new courage for evangelism; maybe new springs for community – they are all there to discover following the great Profession.
So remember how the writer encouraged the Hebrews:
• Firstly, to make the great Profession in hope, in Christian hope, in the great hope that there always lies before us more joy, more love, more delight in trusting than we have experienced so far; and

• Secondly, that Jesus, the Son of God, our great High Priest is both the energy and the destination of our Christian life.

Your great Profession is that Jesus will always empower you as you seek to serve him in love, humility and joy.

Remembering Brother Douglas


Brother Douglas

BROTHER DOUGLAS DOWNES (“Apostle to the Wayfarers”/First Minister of the Society of St Francis)

1878-1957

September 7

Brother Douglas was a priest and an Oxford economics don. Moved by the plight of homeless men living ‘on the road’ in the depression, he helped set up the community at Hilfield Farm to minister to the wayfarers.

Sentence

Happy are those who consider the poor and helpless;
the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. (Psalm 41:1)

Collect

God of the poor, you called Brother Douglas to care for the poor and helpless: give us grace to see our brother and sister in every person we meet and to deal generously with those in need following the example of our Brother and Lord, your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Readings

Micah 6:6-8

Psalm 68:4-8

2 Corinthians 4:5-15

Matthew 5:1-14

Sentence

All who believed were together and had all things in common. (Acts 2:44)

Source: Third Order, Society of St Francis, Australian Province, Manual. Brother Francis’ memoir of Douglas can be found here.


Do Franciscans Bless Animals?


Before I start criticising the practice of blessing animals, let me confess that I have blessed animals, and would do so again.  In fact for a couple of years, Tom Sutton of Subiaco Parish in Perth invited me, along with other Franciscans and other priests to a great outdoor animal blessing.

Bless me, St Bernard!

There is a picture of me blessing a great St Bernard, and it was a delight to make friends with this gentle creature.

This jamboree was stopped only because a certain dog food manufacturer was a sponsor and took advantage of this event.  It took it over by emblazoning its name on every object and dog parade and snail race in sight.

Fr Tom rightly believed that such rampant capitalism was at odds with the spirit of animal blessing.

But as a Franciscan I do feel ambivalent about blessing animals. Not that I have any theological problem with asking for God’s blessing on either pets or wild animals. Our blessing simply confirms the reality is that God has already blessed creation. See Genesis 1.

Nor do I mind the chaos that can be caused by creatures great and small in a little church with God’s people trying to celebrate the Eucharist with devotion.

My problem, I think, is twofold.  Firstly, blessing animals can become a sentimental act. “Isn’t it nice?  Isn’t it lovely?”  If an animal blessing is organised only to evoke superficial sentiments, then it is a dangerous waste of time.  If an animal blessing is organised only to delight children, then it is a diversion from reality.

Secondly, blessing animals can easily turn companion animals into possessions rather than being seen as God’s gifts to us.  The attitude that our pets are simply a convenience can easily lead to neglect and abuse, but even before it gets to that stage, this attitude diminishes us, making us, consumers of animals’ services, rather than their grateful friends. (Click HERE for an RSPCA view of pet ownership.)

What Franciscans can do is to encourage people to think carefully about our relationship with animals.  Saint Francis believed that each creature is a Word of God.  In our encounter with an animal, St Francis encourages us to allow that animal to disclose its story to us.  The animal is not there simply for our unfettered use, but is a fellow-creature put on this earth to share existence with us and to join our praise of the Most High Creator.

Our pets are our companions, not our slaves.

And do we bless the animals that give food, are food for us?  Much has been written about the distance between us urban dwellers and the milk and meat that we enjoy.  If we bless our pets, then we should equally bless the animals that nurture us.  We should be prepared to ask whether the cost of being a meat-eater is too high.  Dr Rajendra Pachauri Chair of the IPCC spoke of the positive environmental impact of eating one less meat meal each week. (Click HERE to read his comments).

Wild animals are a blessing, too, although I suspect it’s impossible to catch a blue wren or an Oenpelli python to lay hands on and pronounce a blessing over it!

So my plea is a Franciscan is, if we are to bless animals, then let’s do it with thorough thought and prayer, and not just as a liturgical stunt. But no one would do that, would they?




Medium term help for Haiti’s vulnerable


Joint statement on behalf of Caritas Internationalis, International Catholic Child Bureau, Dominicans for Justice and Peace [Order of Preachers], Franciscans International, Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice, VIDES International, Teresian Association, and OIDEL[1]

At Thirteenth Special Session of the Human Rights Council: Special Session “The Support of the Human Rights Council to the Recovery Process in Haiti after the Earthquake of January 12, 2010: A Human Rights Approach”

As Catholic Church-inspired organizations deeply engaged in humanitarian assistance, development, and defence of human rights programmes in Haiti long before the most recent catastrophe, we express our gratitude to this august Council for its wise attention to the human rights implications of the current emergency. The impact of this disaster is felt most directly by the victims themselves. It also has resulted in an exponential deterioration of structures necessary to deliver effective and efficient aid and to assure enjoyment of human rights by the Haitian people who have suffered injustice, want, and marginalisation for too long a period of time. In this regard, we appeal to this Council to call for a balance between emergency action and a long-term development perspective in response to the crying needs of the Haitian people.

The immediate dimensions of this crisis already have been communicated widely within the international community and to the general public, even if total consequences are yet uncalculated. Thus, we will focus on the human rights concerns that our organizations have seen firsthand in the course of our immediate and widespread emergency relief efforts. These efforts continue to suffer from severe lack of resources and of coordination.[2] These initiatives are supplementary to the efforts of local persons, many of whom are motivated by faith-related values of solidarity, concern for the most vulnerable, and commitment to the common good to share what little food, water, and shelter they have with those less fortunate than themselves. Thus we acknowledge that most effective humanitarian response, that also is respectful of basic human rights, must be located in families and local communities.

We wish to raise a special appeal to prioritize the immediate survival and protection needs of women and children. Both the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child have called attention to the striking vulnerability of these populations even before the present disaster occurred. Thus we call on the Human Rights Council to urge development, by the international community, of special action plans to ensure adequate access to and provision of nutrition, water, shelter, health care and protection against violence for both women and children. We also appeal for attention to emotional as well as physical needs of children in order to promote their future development and resilience. In this regard, education must be included among the first lines of response, especially for children who are separated from their families, so that they can regain a sense of “normalcy” and thus benefit from safe and secure spaces where they can interact positively with caregivers and with each other.

A particular challenge to delivery of immediate aid has been the lack of coordination evident in many sectors of humanitarian response. In a country with little infrastructure or rule of law, the international community must take measures to guarantee basic protection, especially for those who are most vulnerable. Our organizations insist that self-serving actions by countries and organizations engaged in relief efforts must be prevented.[3]

As organizations that will remain on the ground in Haiti long after other international organizations have left, we also wish to raise deep concerns about the possibility of envisioning and implementing long-term development strategies and action in this long-suffering country. As was pointed out by Caritas Internationalis President, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, “We have long warned that the lack of development in Haiti, its dire poverty, and its decaying infrastructure leaves it vulnerable to disasters.[4]” We believe that the time has come for the international community, with strong urging from this distinguished Council, to mobilise “lasting solutions and commitment to alleviate the misery of Haitians and the infrastructural poverty of this beleaguered nation.[5]” In accord with the Catholic Social Teaching principle of subsidiarity, we believe that such solutions cannot be developed without the direct participation and leadership of the Haitian people.

Key to such a long-term development strategy will be strengthening of health, education, agricultural, and overall economic infrastructure in the country. Caution must be taken against aid approaches that will cause further dependency among the Haitian people. For example, Haiti can produce its own rice, beans, and corn that can save the lives of its own children! Equally crucial is the development of a truly democratic system that allows free expression of opinion and the rule of justice and law based on the common good for all Haitian people. A careful balance between assistance and development efforts concentrated in the capital and those undertaken in other parts of the country could facilitate a solution to situations of over-crowding in Port-au-Prince as well as further development of trade and industry on a more equitable basis throughout this nation.

We believe that Mme. Claudette Werleigh, former Prime Minister of Haiti, and present Secretary General of Pax Christi International has aptly described this goal as follows: “Haiti and its institutions must be strong enough to be prepared for the next tragedy that may hit the country. It is not every time that we can rely on international help.”[6]

In conclusion, we recommend that the Human Rights Council request all relevant mandate holders and Special Rapporteurs (the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, the Special Rapporteur on the right to heath, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children,  the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the Independent Expert on access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti) to urgently carry out a joint mission to investigate the violations of human rights in Haiti and to submit  their report to the 14th session of  Human Rights Council in June 2010.


[1] The Fondazione Marista per la Solidarietà Internazionale and Centro Poveda align themselves to this statement.

[2] A most recent report on the situation from the Caritas Internationalis team on site in Haiti, with participation from local Caritas Haiti workers as well as specialists from 16 additional countries indicated: “Food assistance does not meet the demand in the neighbourhoods and camps. There is high demand for medical care, but a limited number of specialists and medicines, and minimal facilities for operations. There is a need for more water and for removal of rubble and waste, and roofing and shelter are in short supply.” (“Caritas official: Agencies must gear up to help Haitians in long term, by Barbara J. Fraser, Catholic News Service, 25 January 2010.)

[3] Military contingents mandated through unilateral decisions taken by individual countries may not represent the most balanced or efficient responses to such crisis situations. A more vigorous response by the international community, through joint action taken in the context of the United Nations system, should be considered. Another important contribution to emergency response planning and action may be sought from regional structure of CARICOM and the Caribbean countries that constitute themselves as geographical neighbours to Haiti.

[4] http://blog.caritas.org/2010/01/14/caritas-president-calls-for-international-support-to-haiti/

[5] Ibid.

[6] “The only way to help is to have the Haitian people themselves involved in the rescue operation,” The Tablet, 23 January 2010.

Hard-pressed but firm in the faith


Reflections on the catastrophic earthquake of 12 January.

Monsignor Jean Zache Duracin

Monsignor Jean Zache Duracin, Bishop of the Episcopal church of Haiti.

“Hard pressed but firm in the faith.”

This cry arises from the heart of Monsignor Jean Zache Duracin, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Haiti after the evidence of this devastating catastrophe of this Tuesday 12 January in the afternoon; a date which will be engraved for ever in the memory of Haitians and the inhabitants of the whole world.  12 January, about 4:53 in the afternoon, is the beginning of another page in the history of this republic called the “First Black Republic in the world.”

The humanitarian assistance which has been announced for this catastrophe is also historic. The quake has been a hard blow in a country of more than 10 million souls.  Residents have lost everything, their house, and their former lives.  The capital has been transformed into a huge refugee camp.  They desperately need water, food and medication.

“I was almost buried under the roofing of Bishop’s House,” Monsignor Duracin, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Haiti, told us. “I was two seconds away from the entry door, and I was just able, thanks to the help of the Most High, to escape with my life.  My wife who was inside the house is still in the ZANMI Health Centre, with injuries to her legs which were crushed in the debris of the house. We had just time to drag her from the rubble. Two of my children miraculously got out of the collapsed house. Holy Trinity Cathedral succumbed to this earthquake, magnitude 7.3 on the Richter scale, which has devastated our country: the roof of Saint Cecilia Hall, the only stadium in Haiti, has practically come down on the stage where concerts are held regularly… most of our churches are destroyed; a number of our schools are piles of rock.

St Peter’s College, where I have set up a makeshift tent with my family among about 3000 refugees during the day and many more at night, is fragile, because there is no water or food. Hygiene conditions are precarious with so many young children, nearly 200 children, and the presence of handicapped children from St Vincent school, which sustained irreparable damage, has complicated the life they had developed in an appropriate environment on Paul 6 Street.  A large part of the capital has been completely destroyed.  The National Palace has partly collapsed.  Several Ministry buildings, Parliament, churches, hospitals, hotels, schools and several universities have been destroyed, the University of the Episcopal Church of Haiti among them.  The scene before our eyes is truly sad.

The shock has severely disrupted communications in the country.  The wounded are conveyed to the hospital centres that are still standing.  Holy Cross Hospital is sorting itself out to help the wounded from Leogane.

“I hold out the arms of the diocese to the thousands without shelter, and I offer my prayers,” says the Bishop of the Diocese of Haiti.  “Haiti already had serious difficulties before the earthquake with an extremely poor population, so after the earthquake it will be difficult for us to pull through alone.

“International media are speaking of between 150,000 and 200,000 dead.  There would be 250,000 wounded and a million without shelter, over half of whom are in Port-au-Prince, the capital.  We have all being surprised during the 48 seconds of this deadly tremor.  The UN itself recognizes that this earthquake as a catastrophe without precedent.

“The course of THE HISTORY OF HAITI has changed.

“I want to say THANK YOU to all who have extended a helping hand to us.  What is more, I would like to think that we are at the beginning of a long partnership.  I invite you to accompany us in helping our Haitian brothers and sisters.

Hard pressed, but firm in the faith.”

[From the website of the Diocese of Haiti:

Translation Ted Witham tssf 23 Jan. 10]

Smooth a Highway


The Scriptures of Advent invite us to repair, straighten, restore a way for Christ to come again into our world. The images are powerful.  It is in our hands to smooth the coming of God’s reign of justice and peace.  It is left to us to prepare a way for God’s people to move beyond whatever holds them captive or oppressed to reach a place of peace and plenty.   Advent calls us into the mystery of our deeper lives in Christ.  It reminds us that Christ comes into our world today through us: we are the hands, the eyes, the  compassion of Christ reaching out to touch our world.   We are the healers, the liberators, the presence and action of God here among us.

There is a saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, weather patterns in the Atlantic Ocean are affected.   The saying has many variations and I am not sure whether it is true or not.  What I do know is that today, more than ever before, we are discovering the mystery of our interrelatedness with all humanity, our earth and the whole of the cosmos.  Our horizons are forced wider and wider, as is the embrace of our compassion, and the scope of our vision.

Today we are more aware of the way our actions affect other persons, other species and the fragile environment.  We are more aware of the shadows that encircle our world.  Millions of men, women and children walk the rough and twisted pathways of deprivation, exploitation, suffering, powerlessness, and violence.  Placed on a road and stretched single file their number would surely wrap around our globe many times.  Today we recognize that the problems of the world, like its peoples, are interrelated.  We understand that where there is extreme poverty, or chronic conflict, the rights of the most vulnerable are most often violated, and their suffering further amplified.

Extreme poverty [having less than $US 1.00  a day for all ones needs]  is the primary catalyst for conflict,  the spread of diseases like TB and HIVAIDS, and the forced migration of tens of millions in search of a better life.  It is the driving force behind the trafficking of 3 million women and children annually.  It is poverty that propels the majority of these victims into the commercial sex trade.  Poverty is the seed that produces the bad fruit of contemporary slavery.

Extreme poverty holds an estimated 1 billion people captive in hunger, exploitation, sickness, fear and violence. One prediction adds an additional 89 million people to this number by 2010.  One third of deaths, nearly 18 million a year,  are due to poverty-related causes.  Every year more than 10 million children die of hunger and preventable diseases: over 30,000 per day.  Since 1990, 270 million people have died, mostly women and children, roughly equal to the population of the US. (Bread for the World / UNICEF].

Caught on a Highway to Hell

Joalo is seven.  He was born in Cambodia.  After his parents were killed in political conflict he was sold by his uncle for just three hundred US dollars. The money was needed to buy food.  He was handed over to a young woman and smuggled over the border into Thailand where he was forced into the sex tourism industry.  Young boys are popular.

Since there is no monitoring of his working conditions, his “employers” are able to leave him locked in a windowless room for most of the day, with water but little food.  It is very likely that he will not reach his tenth birthday as the HIVAIDS virus is a constant risk.

Thousands of boys like Joalo work in the sex trade in cities throughout the Asia Pacific, including Australia.   Women and girls too are trafficked globally for the sole purpose of sexual exploitation.  They are usually from impoverished and therefore vulnerable situations.  One of the fastest growing sex trade ‘hubs’ is in the Asia Pacific region embracing all the countries surrounding the Mekong River, including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and southern China.  The many marginalised people of the region are at risk because of lack of access to education, poverty, lack of appropriate information in indigenous languages, cultural and social degeneration within traditional communities, non-traditional drug use, and increasing involvement in the sex trade which leads to high rates of HIV/AIDS infection and transmission,  and  increased vulnerability to this disease.

Many of the trafficked persons are physically abducted, or lured with half truths or hopes of employment, marriage and the promise of a better life.  Once enslaved,  sex-trafficked victims are subjected to sexual, physical, and psychological abuse from traffickers, pimps and customers.  Many discover that they have incurred a debt which they are bonded to pay off in sexual labour. These debts can last a lifetime, enduring even after a person is repatriated.

The trafficking of persons is a hidden crime, and therefore hard to quantify.  Frighteningly, one United Nations Agency suggests that 2.44 million persons are trafficked annually:  43% for sexual exploitation, 32% for labour exploitation; and 25% a mixture of both.  It is believed that 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children, and that the majority of these victims are forced into the commercial sex trade.  It is known that the trade is growing.  There is no doubt that sex trafficking is a lucrative, and therefore booming business. Because the sex trade is normally secretive, locating sex traffickers and sex tourists to justice is immensely difficult.

Franciscans across the Asia Pacific and beyond reach out and rescue the most vulnerable.

They provide programs of immediate aid and empowerment, providing pathways to a better life.  The numbers  of the afflicted are great and their needs many.   Something more is needed to bring about lasting change.  Franciscans International participates actively in United Nations efforts to eradicate the conditions of extreme poverty that leave children and women open to sexual exploitation and enslavement.

Can you help us to smooth the pathways of those who walk the rocky roads? Your gift to Franciscans International will help us to do this. Please add a donation to your subscription form or send your donation direct to Australian Treasurer Geoff Jordan tssf.

Post Navigation