Another weekend, another whirlwind tour of the province: three provincial presentations, four churches (including two weekend masses), three Smithsonian museums, and two workshop lectures. Ho hum… just another weekend as a Holy Name Province postulant!
The trip was centered around Holy Name College, the friary in Silver Spring, MD that houses all of our student friars and men with ministries in Washington, D.C. Like our trips to New York/New Jersey, it served as a central hub for sleeping and prayer while most of our time was spent in the greater D.C. area meeting friars, visiting ministries, and doing a little sightseeing when we could.
The first leg of the trip began Friday morning with a presentation by Russ Testa, the director of the provincial organization Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC). In about an hour, he covered the Franciscan roots of, the principles for, and the active ministries related to Justice and Peace in Holy Name Province. What I really liked about the presentation, and how I find it to be particularly Franciscan, is the rearrangement of the traditional themes of Catholic Social Teaching. Instead of starting with Life and Dignity of the Human Person and tacking on Care for God’s Creation at the end, JPIC begins with Care for Creation. Instead of viewing creation through the lens of Human Dignity, in a sense, asking “How can creation benefit humanity?” this arrangement sees all creation as a holy gift from God worth protecting and upholding, of which humanity is one part.
From there, we were off to the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, where we ate lunch with the Holy Land friars and took a tour of their beautiful campus. Since our very beginnings when Francis risked his life to speak with Sultan Malik al-Kamil during the heart of the crusades, Franciscans have been involved with ordering peace in the Holy Land. This house serves as a training and advocacy house for friars to travel overseas to continue this work, maintain churches, and provide charity for those in a very hostile area. The monastery itself is a jaw-dropping replica of the one found in the Holy Land.
With a little time to kill before dinner, we headed across the street and found ourselves at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. An obviously enormous church, I was in awe of the beauty and detail found on every square inch of the worship space (though, I have to admit that I find the Christ In Majesty mosaic found behind the altar. Just a bit much for me…)
The majority of Saturday was spent as tourists: we started with the National Museum of American History, then went to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, before finishing at the National Museum of Natural History. While all three were certainly worth visiting, the Holocaust Museum was particularly moving. I found myself on the verge of tears for the whole of two hours, completely overwhelmed with grief for our human family then, and especially now (the museum serves as a front to bring awareness and activism to stop genocide occurring in our world, even today.)
The day was concluded with Mass at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Triangle, VA, followed by a great evening of dinner and fellowship with the three friars in residence and the two student friars in temporary ministry assignment. Having just met or barely known everyone at the table, we found ourselves still sitting around the table more than two and half hours later laughing hysterically and getting along like old friends. That’s the Franciscan charism at it’s finest, and the true joy of joining this fraternity.
Sunday was no less packed, though it did start a bit later with a 10:30 mass at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, MD. Called a “multicultural church,” I believe that it is the most incredible expression of what it means to be “catholic” that I have ever seen. The mass (which was primarily in English) included French and Spanish songs, as well as songs from two other languages that I did not recognize, filled with people from more countries that I could count (later that day the pastor mentioned that the parish staff had 11 different countries represented, and that there were parishioners from roughly one hundred countries registered with the church). Talk about universal church! Add a professional sounding choir, a packed sanctuary of justice oriented people, and a strong Franciscan presence, and you’ll find the most powerful liturgical and church experience that I’ve ever encountered. An hour and a half liturgy? It felt like twenty minutes! Ministries like this make me wonder why everyone in the world isn’t signing up to be a friar!
After a quick lunch and meeting with the pastor of the church, we headed out for our last stop of the day, the Ecumenical Advocacy Days. Run in part by Russ Testa, this ten-year old organization brings together members of all Christian faiths throughout the country to work together for the sake of social justice. They held workshops, ran information tables, sold educational materials, and on the last day, collectively went to meet their senators to advocate policies of Christian importance. Being there for only one day, I was able to sit in on “Social Media for Change” and “Helping Persons who do Good Charity Add Advocacy to their Good Works,” and to network with members of our partner organizations (Franciscan Action Network and Franciscan Mission Service), gaining critical knowledge and inspiration for a future in this field.
As if that wasn’t enough for one day, we found ourselves back at Holy Name College pleasantly surprised with the presence of Br. Joseph Rozansky, OFM, the coordinator for the Justice and Peace office of the entire order. Though incredibly tired by this point in the night, the postulants were able to sit down with him for about an hour for a presentation of the state of the whole order as well as his life in Rome with the Curia. Talk about divine providence and the person to talk to on a weekend like this!
All in all, I have to say it was an excellent weekend with a lot of bright implications for my future. Besides the many network connections that I made and the wider scope of the justice opportunities in our province, it was also a great chance to get familiar with the place I’ll call home in less than two years and to hear from the students friars about the lives we have to look forward to. Until then, it’s back to life as a postulant, taking each day one at a time, and being open to the many possibilities that God has in store for me. On the feast of the Annunciation, all I can say is “Be it done according to thy word.”
I promise, I’ll post about the hermitage experience soon. I just need a little bit more decompressing and organizing before I’ll be ready to share with everyone!