Over the course of these past more than three months since the discovery of the new Coronavirus, we have witnessed its progressive proliferation from one specific region in China to more than 115 countries. Virtually the entire human community finds itself engaged in a major battle to try to contain its further spread, care for those who are infected (more than 126,000), and mourn loved ones who have died (more than 4,500). The economic impact on nations, families, individuals, and most especially on the poor will, undoubtedly, be catastrophic.
In the early stages of this pandemic we might have found ourselves feeling protected, immune, distant, and perhaps even a bit unconcerned with the virus and its impact. However, as the virus continues its seemingly unrelenting spread, we find ourselves at the epicenter of a crisis. There are still many scientific aspects of the virus that are not yet fully understood. It respects no borders or boundaries: physical, social, psychological, religious, or cultural. Its strategic capacity to jump from one host to another makes it particularly virulent. The responses that are being designed and implemented by governments to halt its proliferation are making demands on many of us that restrict the exercise of our personal freedoms the likes of which many of us have never experienced. And yet, these measures are necessary to prevent further advance of the virus. Special prayers go out to those who are serving on the front lines as medical personnel, those engaged in research to find a vaccine, and governments struggling to find effective responses to ensure the safety and well-being of their people.
My intention in writing to you at this time is to try to help allay fears and anxiety. For those of us living in countries that are to date disproportionately affected, I wish to encourage you to remain strong in your faith. For those living in countries experiencing fewer infections, remain vigilant in all things. During this special liturgical season of Lent, Christian believers are invited to accompany Jesus, recalling the great struggles and crises he faced, recalling also his death on the cross as a sacrifice of pure love. But neither suffering nor death had the final word over his life, nor should they have over our lives. The hope provided by the resurrection, and by daily acts of justice, mercy, and love should inspire us to look beyond all fear, all anxiety, and perceive the presence of Jesus who continues to speak the same words to us as he did to his beloved friends and disciples: “Have no fear! I am with you until the end of the age!”
In the midst of this global epidemic, let us not lose sight of the many millions of people around the globe who are suffering from other crises. Our hearts go out in a special way to the people of Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela, Mindanao, the Republics of Sudan and South Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon, and to brothers and sisters living in other parts of the world where human dignity, fundamental rights, and basic physical survival are under threat. Let us seize the invitation for us to move beyond all divisions, all fears, and seek the paths leading to authentic dialogue, cooperation, and the promotion of the well-being of all of humanity, most especially those who are poor and excluded. Let us also deepen our commitment to love and care for the natural environment, our common home.
May the Lord bless each of you, my dear brothers, and may we allow the strength of our convictions, our commitment to the Gospel way of life inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, to enable us to be faithful witnesses to the power of the love and hope that our faith offer to us, indeed, to all of life.
Rome, March 12, 2020
Fraternally yours in Christ and St. Francis,
Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM Minister General and Servant
Here is the Lenten letter of Br. Bahjat Elia Karakach, guardian of the convent of Bab Thouma in Damascus.
Dear friends, I am writing to you from prison.
Here comes the Lenten season which helps us to convert through penance. A time when we are called to be close to those who suffer, to the marginalized with whom the Lord Jesus has identified … The prisoners are expressly mentioned in the parable of the final judgment in Mt 25: 31-46: “I was in prison and you visited me.”
Here in prison I am not alone, but I share this captivity with all my compatriots. We Syrians, in fact, have been living in a large prison since 2011, imposed by Western policies, by countries that claim the role of defenders of civil rights, but embargo an entire nation … and do you know why we are in this prison? Because we want to defend our beautiful country from terrorists who once wanted to turn Syria into an obscurantist state.
Today, the mass media love to highlight the story of a girl who died of cold or a family forced to flee the bombings, but these same media do not tell you about the millions of Syrians who suffer from the cold due to a lack of diesel, which are not they can always enjoy a hot dish due to lack of cooking gas. They don’t tell you about the students who can’t study after dark due to a power cut, they don’t tell you about the elderly abandoned because their children had to emigrate … They don’t tell you about the expensive living prices because the Syrian lira has plummeted further, they don’t tell you about the young soldiers who fight terrorism in sub-zero temperatures and they don’t know if they can do it, they don’t tell you about the sick who cannot have dignified care because “moderate” terrorists have destroyed most of the hospitals and because the hospitals that they work they can’t repair the machines because of the embargo … and surely they won’t tell you about the bombings that killed a young university student two days ago [in Damascus ed.] and even about Erdogan’s openly hostile speeches that he decided to introduce in elementary schools the Ottoman nostalgia for regaining the neighboring lands including Syria.
But the mass media will not even tell you about the joy of the pepople in Aleppo when the national army managed to free the western suburbs of the city, from which mortars rained down on civilians. They will never tell you about the joy of all Syrians for the reopening of the Damascus-Aleppo highway and the restarting of the Aleppo international airport which gave hope for a possible economic recovery … they will not tell you about the announcement of the repair the railway route between the Syrian capital (Damascus) and the industrial capital (Aleppo) and the possibility of traveling by train after nine years of war …
So I tell you that we are in prison … and our news, the real news, is scarcely widespread.
Sometimes someone comes to visit us, makes us feel part of the world and gives us the hope of being able to return to being a “normal” nation, not cut off from the world.
From this prison we hear sad and worrying news of the coronavirus, which invades the world and our beloved Italy, we pray for you and sometimes, wanting to play down, we say that this time it is an advantage to be in “prison”, because at least this cursed virus cannot easily penetrate the walls of our nation.
From the “prison” we wish you all the best and a good Lenten journey … Do not be afraid, Jesus with his Cross has overcome suffering, sin and death.
Remember us in your Lenten charity.
The views expressed are the writer’s own. The OFM.org website publishes a variety of opinions.
The document on the Incorporation of the members of YouFra into OFS asks: Why has the need to establish a Franciscan Youth organized and incorporated to the OFS been felt? The answer is that, in recent decades, the demands and dynamics of the youth world have changed and the Franciscan Family, encouraged from its base and with the support of the Church, has prepared to respond appropriately to these changes to offer answers and places of discernment and action to young people. The YouFra, therefore, is the privileged place of the Franciscans to do all this. In addition, it must be added that OFS, within the Franciscan Family, is the Order that, living in the secular world, better lends itself to welcome this path, support it, assist it, and for this reason the Church has formally entrusted to it1.
In order to maintain this fruitful relationship and develop it, here are some aspects that can help us think together and continue working in fraternal communion.
Maintain in life the gift that is received
Face tensions with openness to dialogue
Take advantage of the way already traced
Encourage the fraternal animation and the formation
Continue to promote the double belonging
As we conclude this journey the intimate relationship of OFS and YouFra is obvious. Indeed, the YouFra is a gift from God for the Church and for the Franciscan family. The Franciscan family through OFS has responded to this call by welcoming the YouFra within it. Having young people with us is a source of blessing and hope. For this gift to continue to be fruitful, it is necessary, first of all, that the spiritual dimension motivates all our activities and projects. The reception of the Sacraments and time dedicated for Prayer are permanent sources of spirituality. Secondly, to recognize that, just as young people are a gift from God to the Church, they also represent a great challenge: the permanent challenge of accompaniment. The appointment of fraternal animators is essential for young people to learn the charism and later choose a secular or religious life within our spirituality; along with the designation comes the formation; the formation of the Fraternal Animators is necessary for the exigencies of the age of the youth which is always changing. Finally, take advantage of the wonderful gift of the paths already journeyed. Indeed, no tension or conflict can prevail if we dialogue and continue to work together in the Lord.
– Claudio Hernán Eguzquiza Rodríguez, TOR
Download and read the full text:
Koinonia 2019-4: “The Relationship between OFS and YouFra: Challenges and hopes”
To celebrate the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis invites Catholic communities to participate in Laudato Si’ Week, from 16 to 24 May 2020.
The weeklong program coincides with the fifth anniversary of the signature of Laudato Si’ and seeks to engage the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics in ambitious actions to protect our common home. With about one-sixth of the world’s population organized in more than 220,000 parishes around the globe, the Catholic Church plays a unique and vital role in addressing the environmental crisis.
In his video, Pope Francis reflects on environmental protection as a core theme of his papacy and encourages the faithful to participate in Laudato Si’ Week:
“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who will come after us, to children who are growing up? Motivated by this question, I would like to invite you to participate in Laudato Si’ Week from 16-24 May 2020. It is a global campaign on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the encyclical letter Laudato Si’ on the care of the common home. I renew my urgent call to respond to the ecological crisis, the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor cannot continue. Let’s take care of creation, a gift of our good Creator God. Let’s celebrate Laudato Si’ Week together. May God bless you and do not forget to pray for me.”
Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ encyclical sparked prayer and action to protect the environment in thousands of Catholic communities and gave new impetus to the Catholic movement to care for creation. However, scientific analysis reveals that the pace of climate change and of mass extinctions continues to rise. To meet this challenge, more ambitious commitments are urgently needed.
Against this backdrop, Pope Francis and the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development encourage Catholic communities to reflect on their actions to date and to then take the next step. Ambitious actions will vary from community to community; a suggested guide to the most impactful actions is available at the Laudato Si’ Week website.
The Laudato Si’ anniversary coincides with other significant environmental events to take place later this year. In November, at the 26th United Nations climate change conference, countries will announce their plans to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. The UN’s conference on biodiversity, during which the world will have the chance to set meaningful targets to protect creation, will take place in October.
As a leading partner in this initiative, JPIC-OFM is deeply committed to implementing the vision of Laudato Si’: “As individuals, fraternities, entities and as an international order, we feel strongly challenged to make a clear and radical option in the direction of the ways of living indicated by Laudato si’. We are called to a radical option to authentically live our charism and embark on a journey of ecological conversion to be a beacon of ecological hope” said Fr. Jaime Campos, OFM, director of the JPIC Office in the General Curia in reference to the last Plenary Council of the Order.
Laudato Si’ Week is sponsored by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. More information about partners can be found here.