Francis and al-Kamil show the way to peace May 17, 2013Posted by Ted Witham in : Resources , 1 comment so far
Kathleen A. Warren OSF, and others, In the Footprints of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking, Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media 2013.
DVD-ROM ($US 19.99 + postage from Franciscan Media; from other suppliers > $15) plus free on-line resource material.
The encounter at Damietta between St Francis and Malek Al-Kamil the sophisticated Muslim ruler of Egypt has been told and illustrated many times over the centuries. Nearly all of these accounts have been written by Europeans including Thomas of Celano, Bonaventure, the bishop Jacques de Vitry. Most Western artists have depicted Francis above the Sultan, preaching, winning debates and contests by fire. Only very recently, possibly since September 11, 2001, have writers and artists shown an encounter of equals. Brother Robert Lentz OFM has written the icon of which a portion is the cover photo for this DVD. He indicates clearly that the two holy men are on the same level. The Christian halo and the Islamic fire (both signifying saintliness) both honour both men.
Sister Kathleen Wallace has been researching and exploring this meeting for some years. The DVD is one fruit of this research. Her other main product is a book completed in 2003 and republished in 2012 by Wipf and Stock called Daring to Cross the Threshold: Francis of Assisi Encounters Sultan Malek al-Kamil. The book appears to be the academic and ecclesial support for the DVD.
The DVD, produced with film-maker Jaysri (Joyce) Hart, is a fascinating resource based on the meeting between Francis and the Sultan. It consists of two segments of 22 minutes each, 50 pages of online materials, plus recommendations for other resources. These are free and can be found at www.FranciscanMedia.org/francissultan.
The first part of the DVD shows the differing versions of the story. The second segment encourages the viewers to use the story as a basis for making peace, particularly in interfaith dialogue. The shots in Brother Robert Lentz’s workshop, as he creates a triptych of modern icons, are visually stunning.
The online resources suggest ways of using the DVD in groups, ranging from a one-hour session through to a whole day of reflection. These would be particularly useful for groups of Tertiaries, both in guiding groups through discussion and in preparing people for action ‘in the field’: not just talking among ourselves but also how to initiate interfaith dialogue. Sister Kathleen urges her fellow-American Christians not to assume that there are no Muslims in their community. Muslims are likely to be there, and a first step is meeting them and engaging them in general conversation. This observation is true of Australia, too. We moved to the regional town of Busselton six years ago. I assumed, lazily, that if there were any Muslims in town, they certainly wouldn’t be practising. But I have made friends with my barber from Morocco, who prays five times daily (in the tiny space behind the barber’s shop), and who, along with his wife and brother and the owners of the Halal fast-food stall, travels every Friday he can to prayers in the mosque in Bunbury.
A variety of guidelines for dialogue, including specifically Franciscan considerations, are given and explained.
Neither the DVD nor the online resources lived up to the claim that the meeting between the Sultan and saint was ‘a model for peacemaking’. The emphasis is much more on interfaith explorations, and the occasional reference to making peace with the Other was generalised. Those seeking instructions on non-violent peace-making for Franciscans would do much better to use the resources of Pace E Bene (www.paceebene.org and www.paceeebene.org.au).
Apart from this reservation, I have no hesitation in recommending this DVD for Tertiaries to watch, reflect on, discuss in groups, and act on.
Are Animals Christians? May 2, 2013Posted by Ted Witham in : Resources , add a comment
Laura Hobgood-Oster, The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s compassion for animals, London: Darton Longman Todd, 2010.
Paperback 228 pages, $AUD 18.32 (online) Kindle E-book $USD18.95
Reviewed by Ted Witham
Saint Francis would be saddened to see the crises affecting the world’s animals, and even sadder to realise that humans are a main cause of habitat loss for wild animals, cruelty to food animals and neglect to companion animals. The Friends We Keep is a thorough examination of what Christian theology has to say about animals. Professor Hobgood-Oster wonders whether we have made of Christianity a faith that concerns only humans.
She notes that, while there is not a huge literature on animals and Christianity in any period, from the time of the Reformation on, animals seem to disappear altogether from Christian thought. She attributes this disappearance partly to Luther. Luther emphasised the Word, and so elevated human beings to a high point – Jesus the Word was a human being, so human beings must be distinct from and of more concern to God than other animals. In emphasising salvation, other Reformers followed the humanists of the Renaissance in also giving pride of place to the salvation of humans.
Before the Reformation, animals played different roles in the lives of the saints: St Anthony the Abbot was often depicted with a pig. Jerome kept a pet lion in his monastery. A bird nested in St Kevin’s outstretched arm. St Francis tamed the wolf from Gubbio. The great Saint Hilda kept snakes at Whitby. Animals were both companions and helpers for humans. Some of the legends are based in fact. Others are charming and have little historical value except to illustrate that animals were more visible to pre-Reformation Christians.
Going even earlier in the tradition, the Bible has a positive role for animals. The giants Behemoth and Leviathan are God’s playmates in Job. In Genesis 29, Jacob waters Rachel’s mother’s flock, putting their needs above his and Rachel’s. In the New Testament, Jesus is happy to agree that dogs should get crumbs from the table (even if only metaphorically)! Hobgood-Oster tells a delightful anecdote from an apocryphal Gospel in which Jesus expresses compassion for a mule whose owner beats him until it bleeds.
Hobgood-Oster catalogues human cruelty to animals both in anecdotes and in statistics: the effect is almost overwhelming.
In today’s world, animals suffer in many of the places where humans interact with them. We breed horses with ankles the size of human ankles and wonder why race-horses “break down”. We crush pigs into tiny pens so that the sows can move only enough to feed the piglets. At puppy farms we keep bitches in elevated cages and continue to fertilise them until they stop having pups. Even the pets we choose we neglect.
How should we respond as Christians? Is Christianity good news only for humans? Laura Hobgood- Oster is Professor of Religion and Environmental Studies at Southwestern University. She argues we should show hospitality to animals in every way possible. She is personally involved in the rescue of dogs, but she notes many ways in which Christians might unleash their compassion for animals. In her University ethics committee she argues for fewer animals to be “sacrificed” for research, and for the most humane use of animals when they are necessary.
She suggests we eat compassionately, and one practical way of doing this is to eat less meat. Christians might return to the Friday fast and have a weekly meat-free day – at the least. They should be aware of the conditions their food animals lived and died, and where possible source their meat from local farmers whose animals are free-range.
If we bless animals, we should do it seriously. We should consider blessing food animals and wild creatures. The Friends We Keep includes liturgical resources, including a prayer from the Australian Uniting in Worship. Many organisations are listed, nearly all in the US, that promote better treatment of animals.
One of these organisations is The Episcopal Network for Animal Welfare (www.franciscan-anglican.com/enaw) which acknowledges a Franciscan influence. I read The Friends We Keep as a Franciscan, conscious of St Francis’s teaching that every creature is a little Word of God, revealing something of God’s nature to us as we encounter each one in love.
It is encouraging to read a Christian address these issues. While I admire much of the Australian ethicist Peter Singer’s radical understanding of animal rights, we Christians do have a distinctive viewpoint which should be heard.
The Friends We Keep is a book both to alert Christians to the theological dimension of God’s hospitality to all creatures, and an activists’ manual to help us engage lovingly and compassionately with the animals whose lives we humans affect. A book for Franciscans – and the animals we may bless.
Easter Newsletter March 8, 2013Posted by dwhite in : News , add a comment
The Easter newsletter is now available to download at
Remembering St Francis of Assisi September 30, 2011Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan, News , add a comment
On the night of October 3, 1226, Francis of Assisi was dying. He asked to be laid naked on the bare earth near the little chapel of Portiuncula, down the hill from Assisi, the place he had made his base for his peripatetic ministry.
He was only 44 but nearly blind, in constant pain from an illness in his stomach, worn out from the lack of care he had given his body. It is true that he once apologised to Brother Ass, as he called his body, for the abuse he had inflicted on It, but there is no evidence that he heeded his own health message!
He died singing, and the legend says that at the moment of his death, larks flew singing into the sky.
Why do I find such a man such an attractive model of the Christian faith?
In a nutshell because he was passionate about God. He could be spectacularly wrong, as he was with the treatment of Brother Ass, but even that is a result of his never-ending enthusiasm to spread the message of Christ.
And in St Francis’ life, and on St Francis’ lips, what a message that was.
God, he said, is love. Well, we all know that. But for St Francis, God is love that never comes to an end. You’ve heard of Médecins sans Frontières, Doctors without Borders, well, St Francis proclaimed that God was Amour sans Frontières, love without boundaries. God loves every creature infinitely and equally.
Francis’ energy was spent in going about telling everyone this transforming message. If you really let God’s love take hold of you, you will never experience the end of it: it will always be there, always supporting, holding, delighting in you. Knowing that love, you can then pass it on. And because it is amour sans frontières, as you give love away, the supply never runs out.
That’s the whole message of the Cross, the whole meaning of the life of Jesus, the whole purpose of God. And I thank God for sending Francis of Assisi to refresh that message in me.
Immerse yourself in the infinity of Divine Love – love without boundaries!
Happy Feast Day August 11, 2011Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan, Provincial Chapter, Resources , add a comment
Dear sisters and brothers,
Today, the Feast of St Clare, is a joyful day in our calendar. I invite you to rejoice in this humble and enduring saint of Assisi, who took the vision of St Francis and made it concrete in her situation.
St Clare inspires to live more generously, to love more unconstrainedly, to sing God’s praises more warmly, and to walk bravely with Christ.
To mark today’s feast, I offer this hymn for you to use as you wish in celebrating St Clare. The hymn is here: http://wp.me/pI7Dl-1L
Peace, joy and love,
When I was a child, I remember fads for French knitting, sometimes started in the Witham household and sometimes from Tambellup School. If you don’t know this craft, you take a wooden cotton reel, hammer four thumb tacks around the central hole, then loop woollen thread around the tacks and feed the leading threads through the long hole. If you have threaded correctly, a woven woollen rope appears at the bottom hole and grows and grows. This rope is then used to make pot holders and dressing gown girdles, and pot holders and … well; actually the dressing gown girdles are not much good, because they stretch out of shape quickly.
But French knitting is the sort of craft that keeps you occupied for hours. It whiled away the long 90 minute school bus ride. You could pick it up after tea and keep going for hours. I was always fascinated with the process, watching these four thin threads go in the top and re-appear as a beautiful woven lanyard.
Let me liken this process of French knitting to the way in which we reach out for new members. At the top are enquirers, each of them a single life, usually seeking something more in the Christian journey. At the bottom are the newly-professed, beautiful woven as new Franciscans and ready to be put to work in an appropriate ministry.
For the moment we don’t see the important work that happens between the top and the bottom, but I will come back to that. At the time of your Reports, most Regions in Australia report regularly that they have four or five enquirers. Let’s take the upper figure, because you may not be reporting the enquirers earlier in the year. There are seven Regions, so 35 Enquirers a year. I have been fielding about one Internet enquirer a month, so each year nearly 50 enquirers come to us.
Flooded by grace January 27, 2011Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan, News , add a comment
There’s a dark conversation going around Australia at the moment. People are imaginatively measuring their homes for flood. In Busselton, for example, we live on the ‘delta’ of the Vasse River, so despite the drained, reclaimed land and the channels taking excess water out to sea, we are still vulnerable to flood. And, speaking of the sea, because we are only centimetres above the sea level, a tsunami would crash its way kilometres ashore.
We keep these conversations dark because our focus shouldn’t really be on ourselves but on the plight of those whose homes, livelihoods and lives have been affected by the real floods – not the ones in our imaginations.
As concerned Christians and Franciscans, we should be looking for ways to be better informed, generous in praying and giving money and offering practical help where possible (all expressions of love). (The best appeal I can find is the Premier’s Appeal at www.qld.gov.au/floods. If you specifically want to help Anglican parishes get back onto their feet, give to the Australian Anglican Primate’s Appeal. You can give electronically to: Archbishop’s Emergency Relief Fund; A/C BSB: 704-901; A/C No.: 00014858.)
Provincial Newsletter Updates December 11, 2010Posted by dwhite in : News , add a comment
The Newsletter button at the top now takes you to the updated page with links to all available Newsletters.
The Advent 2010 Newsletter has just been published.
Franciscans International and the Society of Saint Francis December 5, 2010Posted by Ted Witham in : News , add a comment
Report from the Board Meeting of FI in New York. November 2010
by Averil Swanton tssf (representing the three Orders of SSF)
As on previous occasions the three-day meeting was grounded in the worship and faith-sharing at the start of each day. In addition to this, a Eucharist was celebrated on the Friday evening to honour the work of two volunteers, Mary Theresa Plante FMM and Bernadette Sullivan SFP, who have been working from the New York office of FI for many years, tracking events at the UN and working with other NGO’s.
One of the achievements of the past months for FI has been the appointment of all three Regional Directors in Geneva, New York and Bangkok. As well as being responsible for their own regions, Europe and Africa, the Americas and Asia/Pacific each of these will take the lead in advocacy. This means that the Executive Director will be able to fulfil the task of taking global responsibility and co-ordinating all three offices, which will have some degree of autonomy. All three, Markus Heinze OFM, Mike Lasky OFM Conv and Mateus Tuniewcs recently net up with Denise Boyle fmdm, the Executive Director, and she reported a high level of energy and co-operation between them all.
Work continues with great attention being paid to the UPR, The Universal Periodic Review, whereby every nation in turn is scrutinised on the issue of human rights. FI sees its role as helping with presentations and following up with proposed action from the UN. Member of the New York office had recently gone to Brazil to meet with JPIC reps and Provincials and also grass roots to help with their presentation for the Review of Brazil in 2012.
Other ongoing work consists of training sessions and as we met, Mateus and a team from the Bangkok office were working in the Solomon Islands with Clark and other Anglicans. From early reports of this venture, I gather it was a great success, with several notable firsts, namely not just the first co-operation with Anglicans, but also the first time FI had trained in the Pacific and the first time that all the Anglican communities had got together to train. I understand that a common declaration was made and a press conference held.
This kind of training work is a core part of the service that FI can offer. Foundations are keen to give funds, including set-up costs, so this very valuable work can be funded. Elsewhere within the organization there is great concern about funds. As with so many at the current time, donations have dropped considerably and the excellent scheme of urging people to give 5$ or £5 a month has not taken off as much as was hoped. Various cost-cutting exercises were proposed, but there is real concern that core work should not be threatened. One of the main issues is spreading costs globally. There is strong feeling in some quarters that money raised in one are should be spent in that area. (A feeling that I encountered when I wrote to other Third Order Provinces.) This however ignores the fact of administrative and other support from Geneva or New York to other offices. Attention has been paid to establishing the offices according to local laws with at least semi-autonomy, but funds will continue to be an issue. Denise Boyle herself feels that the Franciscan way is to share and support those in need as and when they need it. Geneva has already halved its office space to cut costs.
A new initiative set up by a new member of the New York office, Heather Metcalf, is ‘Hear it from the Experts’. Each month an evening meeting is held at St Francis’ Church on relevant themes. The evening before the Board Meeting we all went to a talk, Islam in the 21st century ,given by Fr Elias Mallon SA, who also works from the New York FI office . It was extremely good and based on his years of study and experience and the evening was well attended. Fr Elias is coming to the UK next year and will speak at Hilfield and Canterbury. He is well worth hearing. I much admired his sense of humour and his way of dealing with questions from those who still hold 9/11 close in mind and sympathise with those who object to the building of a so-called mosque near the site.
We went to the UN for a briefing on the various women’s groups at the UN and the recent amalgamation of them into one body under a high profile leader. Two of the sisters from St Anthony’s Convent where I stayed also came to this briefing and I became aware of how much work at the UN is done by individuals tracking and following up evidence of human rights abuse on the ground. I particularly like the definition of FI as having one foot in the UN and one foot in the grass roots.
Active advocacy work by FI in the US as it faced its own UPR included issues on homelessness and the right to adequate housing; the rights of migrant workers who have been illegally detained; human trafficking and the impact of mining on indigenous peoples’ rights to clean water and food.
We were reminded of the valuable role of the Clares who pray and support FI and I was wondering how I could engage with the Sisters at Freeland. Can I approach them direct or should I make a point of going to see them and ask for their help? Would Sr Helen Julian be able to act as an intermediary?
We covered a lot of ground and worked hard, but there was time for some marvellous American hospitality and as always time for much laughter.
I am more than happy to give talks to publicise the work of FI and am due to go to a Third Order Cluster meeting next May in Norfolk. Any requests would be appreciated.
I did intimate to the Board that, having discussed the matter with Dorothy it was very likely that I would not expect to serve a second term of 3 years on the Board of FI. If the process follows the same course as it did for me ,I would expect any nomination, together with a CV, would need to go to the Franciscan Family, ie the four Heads of the Franciscan Orders, when they meet in October of next year for appointment the following year. The date of the following FI Board meeting would be 19,20,21 April 2012.
December 3 2010
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and W.A. November 17, 2010Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan, Spirituality , add a comment
Here in Western Australia, we hold St Elizabeth of Hungary in special love and esteem, because of the presence here from 1928-1957 of the Anglican Sisters of St Elizabeth who worked in the south-west of this State.
Tertiary George Harvey grew up near their mother house in Bunbury and recalls the huge influence the Sisters had on him: as a server, he was particularly conscious of their devotion to worship. We would probably now regard their style of worship as old-fashioned Anglo-Catholic, but for George and the Sisters then, this worship was rich and redolent of God’s presence. That atmosphere still permeates the little chapel dedicated to St Elizabeth and pictured below.
Alongside their rich life of devotion, the Sisters devoted themselves to the care of the Group Settlers, English people who were brought to Western Australia to open up dairy farms and populate the forest country south of Bunbury. The Sisters lived in the same struggling pioneer communities in Busselton, Margaret River and elsewhere.
Those of us who live in this region know that behind the picturesque vineyards and glorious beaches lies a history of hardship, as newcomers came without farming skills to an environment that can be quite harsh and unforgiving. Huge karri and jarrah trees had to be cut down, or killed by ring-barking, thus delaying any income that the pioneers might derive from the land. And even when the land was ready for cattle, prosperity was still not to be found. It is only in recent years that better ways of living in this country are being found, as the harvesting of old-growth forests has been slowed, and tourism established as the main industry.
Back in the 1930s, the group settlement farms were isolated from one another and their communities. Families lived first in primitive shacks, and then in basic cottages, so everyday living was a struggle. The Sisters gave themselves to ministering in this poverty and remoteness and in the process wore themselves out.
Their story is told eloquently in Merle Bignells’ 1992 The Little Grey Sparrows.
The contrast between the poverty of the Sisters’ external lives and the wealth of their internal lives strikes me as one authentic way to be Franciscans: being poor, we discover ourselves, like St Francis, to have inherited the enormous wealth of creation.
In St Elizabeth’s life this contrast also shone forth: she who was a princess became poor to help the poor. But, like St Francis and her other mentor St Clare, Elizabeth did not give up the wealth she had inherited – not the wealth of her husband’s dominions (which she did forego), but the wealth of worship, the wealth of intelligent ministry to the poor, the wealth of creation and people.
For the Tertiaries of Western Australia, the plucky “little grey sparrows” have become part of the richness of our life, and we give thanks for their sacrificial service in this place. We gladly share this story with the wider Franciscan family.
Feast of St Elizabeth AD 2010