Before I joined St. Anthony Messenger Press in July, I truly had no concept of the Franciscan charism. Yet last week during my trip to Lebanon, St. Francis was with me day after day.
Throughout the week, I noted to my fellow traveling journalists that our trip truly was inspired. God kept us in his protection and also gave us the grace to be enlightened, moved, educated and excited.
It was, for me, a rare time when I could feel God’s presence in my life every day. As I posted blogs and Facebook updates, I hope that feeling was abundantly apparent. (And I still have much more to write!)
What I didn’t expect was to find so many connections to St. Francis and Franciscanism.
Of course it was there in some obvious ways. One of the groups we visited was the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Jal El Dib. They embody their charism by serving the mentally and physically ill, the elderly and the abandoned with tireless devotion.
But then I would see Francis in smaller, unexpected ways.
One afternoon after lunch, as we headed back to our bus, walking along the sidewalk was a Franciscan nun, just going about her daily business. A small thing, yes, but in that place at that time, a reminder of my new and growing Franciscan ties.
On Thursday morning, our group met with Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan, who spoke in detail about the ordeal of Iraqi Christians.
We spent an hour with Patriarch Younan in a gorgeous, elegant reception room. Yet because I had been riveted to the patriarch’s interview, I had not paid much attention to some of my surroundings. As I grabbed my backpack and headed to leave, I noticed what had been behind me all morning: a huge, beautiful tapestry depicting St. Francis.
I scarcely could believe my eyes.
Imagine my amazement then Saturday morning when, as I waited at my gate at JFK airport, two seats down from me sat a Franciscan bishop, in full habit.
Ever think God is trying to tell you something?
If only Francis’ spirit were more alive in the Middle East.
Throughout the region, geopolitics and religion are so closely linked, it’s virtually impossible to see any distinction at all. The struggles are among Muslims; between Muslims and Christians; between Muslims and Jews; between Jews and Christians — and even, in some cases, among Christians of differing confessions.
Where this is such a glorious diversity of cultures and faith traditions, one finds fear, mistrust and cruelty instead of joy, appreciation and love.
Father Pat McCloskey, editor of St. Anthony Messenger magazine, eloquently described what it means to be Franciscan. Among his thoughts was that, “Franciscans find a thread that connects.” He explained that followers of Francis believe in “the uniqueness of each person precisely because he or she was created by God.”
Amen to those sentiments.
And may this blog post serve as a prayer for the Middle East, that the Franciscan spirit might prove to be a channel of peace among all nations and peoples.