Franciscans helping Jews in the England of Henry III July 21, 2013Posted by Ted Witham in : Franciscan, News, Reflection , add a comment
The Martyrdom of Little St HughFranciscans arrived in England five years before the death of St Francis in Italy. By 1224, there were Franciscans in Oxford and Cambridge, helping to establish those two places of theological learning. King Henry III, known by some as Henry the Pious, was impressed by the Franciscans and their friendly rivals, the Dominicans. In 1226, the King gave to the Franciscans in Cambridge half of a stone house which had belonged to Benjamin the Jew.
The Jews were tolerated in England, mainly as money-lenders to the aristocracy. Henry borrowed staggering sums, and was unable to repay them. He then devised heavy taxes on Jews as a way of getting out of debt. He had, for example, passed a law aimed at the wealthy Jews that gave him the right to huge taxes or fines from any man convicted of capital crimes.
The Franciscans were missionaries: they had a strong desire to convert the Jews, so they took a special interest in the Jewish community. Friars took the trouble to learn about their customs and literature, and follow the politics of the place of Jews in the English community. Franciscan Friar Roger Bacon, the famous intellectual, was given special responsibility for the converts from Judaism.
On 27th August 1225, the body of nine-year-old Hugh was found at the bottom of a well in Lincoln. A friar, sadly, was the first to accuse the Jews of kidnapping little Hugh and ritually executing him, using his blood to make matzos for Passover. Emotions flared all over England and Henry saw a chance. He thought he would ride public opinion and have ninety Jews convicted for the double crime of kidnap and murder. He arrested them, had them tortured and locked up in the Tower of London.
18 of the Jews hanged themselves rather than risk the anger of a Christian court-room.
Many Franciscans refused to be caught up in the angry outcry against the Jews. Risking their friendship with the volatile King, they pleaded in court for the release of the remaining Jews.
The crimes alleged, the Franciscans said, could not possibly have been committed by Jews. Eating blood in any form is comprehensively prohibited for Jews, and Passover takes place, not in August, but in March/April.
The pleas of the Franciscan friars did not succeed in gaining the Jews’ release. However, they were not hanged but kept imprisoned for many months while the Jewish community all over England gathered together a massive ransom payment for their freedom.
The Feast of the martyr Little St Hugh is July 27, a day on which we Franciscans can both repent the history of maltreatment and misunderstanding of Jews and recognise three Franciscan traits: firstly, the desire to understand people and respect every human being as made in God’s image. Secondly, as our Principles put it, the desire of Franciscans to ‘make our Lord known and loved everywhere’, and thirdly, even when faced with spectacular failure, the willingness to stand up for justice, particularly to take up the cause of those falsely accused.
If you’re interested in Little St Hugh and want to know more, read Robin R. Mundil, The King’s Jews: Money, Massacre and Exodus in Medieval England, London: Continuum Books, 2010, or, for Franciscan beginnings in England, relevant chapters in Maurice Carmody OFM, The Franciscan Story, London: Athena Press 2008.
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!
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
Brother Douglas – September 7 August 31, 2010Posted by Ted Witham in : News , add a comment
Brother Douglas Downes was one of the key founders of the Society of St Francis. He was an academic and a priest concerned about the homeless wayfarers in Depression-era England. Each summer, he would go on the road to minister to them. Eventually he set up the farm at Hilfield to provide work in the context of a Christian community. He was the first Minister of the Society.
Brother Douglas died on September 7, 1957.
Our Province has provided readings to celebrate his life. They are printed in the Manual, and are online here
Brother Francis’ memoir of the life of Brother Douglas is here on the Australian First Order Brothers’ site. .
Site migrated July 11, 2010Posted by dwhite in : News , add a comment
As of 10/07/2010, tssf.org.au has been migrated to a new server. Users should not see any significant changes. Please report any issues to webadmin.
Reprint of Franciscan Gold April 10, 2010Posted by dwhite in : News , add a comment
The first print run of Franciscan Gold sold out earlier this year, and so we have arranged for a reprint. Copies can be ordered online using the link on the resources page at the reduced price of $20 plus $5 postage anywhere in the world.
Franciscan Gold is the history of the 50 years since the first member was admitted in Papua New Guinea in 1959, written by Denis Woodbridge.
Alternative payment by cheque in Australian Dollars payable to TSSF (WA) may be sent to The Provincial Secretary, TSSF, 5 Mandora Way, Riverton, WA 6148.