As we, the entire staff of Franciscans International, are confined but healthy in our respective homes in Switzerland, the USA, and France, we are made more aware every day of our privileged situation, despite the unusual and uneasy circumstances in which confinement is putting us.
In the first weeks of this crisis, we were carefully observing not only the development of the situation but also the reaction of the United Nations (UN), other human rights experts, and States. We continue to do so. However, as it has become clear that the epidemic has definitively turned into a pandemic with a terrible death toll and that extraordinary measures will last for months, our Franciscan Sisters and Brothers, colleagues, and friends from various parts of the world are reaching out to share with us the dire situations they are experiencing, confronted with, and witnessing. It is to relay some of these testimonies and stories and to put them in a more global picture that we issue this statement today. From a human rights perspective, the issues raised by the pandemic are manifold and the impacts numerous at various levels.
From the failure of States to take the necessary measures to prevent such situations…
The last months have shown how some States have failed to take timely and necessary measures to protect the health of their populations, thus failing to comply with their international human rights obligations to protect the right to health. According to the UN,1 this protection shall include prevention, treatment and control of diseases that requires, among others “the creation of a system of urgent medical care in cases of (…) epidemics and similar health hazards, and the provision of disaster relief and humanitarian assistance in emergency situations.” Moreover, under international human rights law, the right to life also imposes a duty on States to protect life by taking adequate measures to ensure timely access to essential goods and services such as food and water, and to provide effective emergency health services or shelters.
To our Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the world:
As-salaamu ‘alaykum! Peace be with you!
On behalf of the Special Commission for Dialogue with Islam of the Order of Friars Minor, it gives me great pleasure once again to extend our greetings to you as you celebrate of the holy month of Ramadan.
This year our letter comes to you at a time when together we are experiencing great sadness and struggle in the world as we remember the many people of all faiths who have succumbed to the COVID-19 virus over the past few months, and the many more who are suffering illness even now. We pray with you for those who have died – may Allah have mercy on them – for those who mourn their passing, and for the health and wellbeing of all people.
In addition to claiming the lives of so many and disrupting our daily lives of work and study, and caring for our families, it has also dramatically affected the way we pray and worship. Around the world, holy places are empty. In Jerusalem, the synagogues, churches and mosques – in which Allah’s name is so often invoked (al-Ḥajj 22.40) stand silent. At the Two Holy Sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina, the adhān calls only local residents to prayer instead of believers from around the world. In Rome, St. Peter’s Square and Basilica remain closed to Catholic pilgrims and the Christian faithful. In cities, towns and villages around the world, people of faith are unable to pray as a community in their houses of worship due to social distancing and lockdowns, enforced by governments and religious leaders to prevent the spread of the virus.
This situation is made even more difficult because holy days and this holy month must be observed behind closed doors, contrary to the spirit of these celebrations. The Christian community worldwide celebrated Holy Week and Easter without the richly symbolic liturgies to which so many look forward, without the communal observances that remind us how to walk in the way of the Messiah Jesus (upon him be peace!).
Now you are observing the month of Ramadan in a similarly simple and stark fashion. It is, in many ways, the antithesis of Ramadan which traditionally draws people together in great numbers to break the daily fast with iftar. I am again reminded of celebrating Ramadan in Cairo, Egypt many years ago when entire city blocks were set with tables to feed the faithful, and of visiting the homes of friends, one after the other, throughout the night. This year, such practices are impossible and forbidden out of concern for public health.
We in the Franciscan family, friars and sisters, who have celebrated such times with you and with Muslim communities throughout the world, will also feel the void this year. Sharing iftar with you in your homes and mosques has allowed us to come to know you, not only as neighbors and as partners in peace-building, but as brothers and sisters, as the children of Ibrahim (upon him be peace!). These experiences have enriched our lives of faith and prayer.
Even as we are physically separated from our respective religious communities and from one another, we must encourage one another to spend this time in frequent and deep prayer, remembering our God who calls each one of us into relationship with Him through prayer, for this is at the essence of our religious observances. I am reminded of the Christian tradition that Jesus (upon him be peace!) spent forty days alone in the desert before he began to publicly proclaim the Gospel. Likewise, we know that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him!), used to wander alone in the mountains and caves outside Mecca, and that he received his first revelation from God on one such occasion. Holy men and women, Christian and Muslim, have throughout the ages, withdrawn into solitude to be alone with God that they might hear the Word of God more clearly.
During these sacred times, Allah also calls us into relationship with one another. Both the Holy Bible and the Glorious Qur’an tell us that these relationships must be expressed with righteous deeds, particularly in care of the poor and hungry. Although physically distant from one another now, we can nevertheless remain united with one another in a spirit of peace, justice, and love, caring for one another in a world that often seems careless and even cruel. Even in the midst of this pandemic, we remain painfully aware of the hardships that Muslims and Christians suffer in many parts of the globe simply because they are Muslim or Christian. The pandemic has only exacerbated these woes in countries where Muslims and Christians are minorities suffering discrimination and persecution.
During this Easter season and the month of Ramadan, let us be united in our faith in God who does not abandon us to darkness and death, but who sends to us His holy prophets and reveals to us His Holy Scriptures to illumine our hearts and minds, and assure us that He will bring life from death. Our respective celebrations of Easter and Ramadan both use the symbol of light to express this faith. The fire and candle used at the Easter Vigil and the lantern of Ramadan (Arabic, fanous) remind us of the light of faith and hope in the midst of the darkness.
We wish you a most blessed Ramadan. Ramadan Mubarak!Ramadan Kareem!
Br. Michael D. Calabria, OFM, Special Assistant for Dialog with Islam
Members of the Commission for Dialog with Islam:
Br. Manuel Corullón, OFM Br. Ferdinand Mercado, OFM Br. Jamil Albert, OFM
Slowing the spread of COVID-19 requires that everyone be included in prevention and protection strategies, especially the most vulnerable, including migrants and refugees. This pandemic is a public health crisis that brings home how interconnected we are. It is our collective responsibility to act rapidly and in solidarity.
As grassroots and faith-based organizations and religious leaders from across Central America, Mexico and the United States working to address the root causes of poverty, violence and corruption that force people to leave their homes, we offer this framework for action to protect migrants and refugees and help all of our communities survive this crisis and rebuild with justice and equity.
We demand the rapid, safe and orderly release of as many migrants and asylum seekers from detention as possible
Identify and prioritize the immediate release of those at risk due to underlying medical conditions or age.
No migrant should be detained in a facility that is unable to follow required COVID-19 prevention steps.
Those managing detention centers must identify, protect and refer those suspected of being ill to specialized health care services…
Stefania Proietti, the mayor of Assisi (Italy) wrote the following Easter letter, a beautiful message of hope, to the residents of Assisi:
Today more than ever I feel the need to reach out to you as we share a time that we never expected to face. An invisible enemy has upset our lives, our thoughts of the future, our institutional, and our work activities. It has generated fear for us and our loved ones, and a general sense of total bewilderment. Even in concern, we must try to see this great test with a prophetic gaze: in these Easter days we would have had shrines, streets, squares, structures overflowing with people; instead we find ourselves in an empty Assisi that appears surreal to us in its great beauty almost empty of life.
We think first of all of our fellow citizens who are experiencing COVID-19 in their lives and dearest relatives, recognizing in them all those who, in Italy and in the world, are suffering directly from this pandemic. The good news, in this different Easter, is that today we have six people recovered from only 30 positive cases since the beginning of this emergency. Good news, which I hope will calm your hearts and instill hope in all of you.
Let’s start now, together, soberly, humbly, to think about the future. May we start from the love of St. Francis, who, stripping himself of everything, has become a giant of the Church and of universal spirituality, and has made our city great, over centuries, in history and in the collective imagination. Now more than ever Assisi, the city of the patron saint of Italy, will be an emblem of hope and rebirth for the world: in the authenticity of the Franciscan message we can find the strength of real life through solidarity and the preferential option for the poor and needy.
Let us place ourselves at the service of a city that must find the strength to be reborn as a “rising sun” for all of Italy. Because Assisi, as soon as possible, will start first and with the strength that comes from being the city of St. Francis, city-message for the entire human family, chosen by Pope Francis also to change the global economy, which now is showing all of its fragility. In the health, economic and social emergency, the whole administration and I as mayor, ask you to be protagonists of our future: only together, in solidarity. Only together, in solidarity and social cohesion, making ourselves a single family, as a united and supportive community, will we overcome this challenge and be reborn stronger than ever.
Buried from the ordinary reader for 600 years, and available only to scholars, this hugely important work is now available for the first time in a modern language!
Two decades ago, we saw the appearance of “Francis of Assisi: Early Documents,” a three-volume collection of Francis’s own writings and all the medieval hagiographical sources on him down to the mid-14th century. Now, this series will be continued with the publication of a massive work, “The Book of the Conformity of the Life of Saint Francis to the Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” written by Friar Bartholomew of Pisa between 1385-1390.
The Book of the Conformity (often called The Conformities) represents the highest point of medieval glorification of the figure of St. Francis. It contains a nearly complete record of the saint’s own writings, and a vast store of material from all the known hagiographical legends of the saint from the 13th through late 14th centuries. In addition, it has extensive lists of the places where Franciscan friars, Poor Clare nuns and Franciscan tertiaries lived and ministered, with personal details about many Franciscan personages, both famous and obscure.
The author, Bartholomew of Pisa, divided his large work into what he calls 3 “Books”. Part 1 concerns the Incarnation, the Nativity and the early life of Jesus, with corresponding similarities to be found in the early years of Francis’s life. Part 2 concerns the years of the public ministry of Jesus, his preaching and healing, calling of disciples, travels from one place to another, with similar events in the life of Francis. Part 3 concerns the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension/Glorification of Christ, and the events of Francis’s last days, his illnesses and suffering, his receiving of the stigmata, his death, canonization, and the miracles attributed to him as a heavenly intercessor.
For six centuries this text, so vital to the Christian communities that had been touched by the life of Saint Francis, has never been published into a modern language. This landmark translation brings The Book of Conformity to today’s reader.