May the Lord give you peace!
This year I would like to share with all of you a message inthe context of the celebrations of 800 years of the encounter between Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt al-Malik al-Kamil. This commemoration has offered the Church and the Order an extraordinary opportunity to reflect on and study the topic of open and respectful dialogue with Islam and, of course, with other religious faiths.
I want to invite you to experience the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord considering this event based on what I wrote last 7th January in a letter to the entire Order about this important anniversary. It urges us to abandon fear and literally open the doors of our mind, allowing God to operate in an unprecedented way in the hearts of men and women of good will who fight without distinction to promote social justice, moral good, peace and freedom to the benefit of all (cf. Nostra Aetate 3)….
Let us listen to our Holy Father Francis.
Probably many think that a reflection of this nature, or the significant approaches that the Church and Pope Francis have made, do not correspond to the harsh reality that still exists today in countries where Christians and Muslims live together. There are those who think that talking about dialogue or demonstrating openness to an eventual encounter is a sign of weakness and a lack of reaffirming our identity. Pope Francis has been harshly criticised in certain parts of the Church for his gestures of openness towards other faiths, saying that this weakens the image and reputation of the Church and Christians in general.
Regarding such opinions, I would merely like to affirm that a simple gesture of union and openness turns out to be more powerful, eloquent, effective and prophetic than the desire for self-promotion often based on self-centeredness.
Speaking recently about his trip to Morocco, the Holy Father affirmed that there is no need to be frightened by the differences between the different religions but what should scare us is the lack of fraternity between the different faiths (General Audience, 3 April, St Peter’s Square). As you all know, the Holy Father wanted to join actively in the celebration of the eighth centenary of the encounter between Francis and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, and this trip, as well as that to the United Arab Emirates, is a clear example of this. The powerful call for dialogue and the building of an open, plural and supportive society, as well as the response we must give to the severe migration crisis were issues that he placed at the heart of his message. The Pope made an energetic call to walk a path together to help us overcome tensions and misunderstandings by opening ourselves to a spirit of fruitful and respectful collaboration. (Cf. Address of the Holy Father: meeting with the Moroccan people, the authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps, 30 March 2019)
I would like, therefore, my beloved brothers, to invite you to experience Easter this year in the light of this notable event. It is true that an option such as that proposed by the Pope may represent a certain risk and may generate fear and uncertainty; something like what the apostles experienced in the upper room behind closed doors. However, the Pontiff encourages us in his encyclical: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (EG 49). I dare to make this invitation to all my brothers of the Order, to my beloved Poor Clare and Conceptionist sisters and to all men and women of good will who are close to the spirituality of the Saint of Assisi. Let us go forth, let us go to meet what is different, let us open the doors so that new air may enter, the breath of the Spirit (cf. Jn 20:22) who wants to open our eyes to a reality that is new and also fascinating. Do not think that this is a sign of weakness or rejection of our convictions; instead, believe that a world as plural as ours has urgent need of eloquent and prophetic signs that invite people to a healthy and civilised coexistence.
The poor man of Assisi was a sign for his time and remains so after eight centuries. I think we cannot be content with the idea of commemorating an event like this if our heart does not open to the experience of the other. Living the Passover this year will mean following the proposed itinerary of John’s Gospel. Without ignoring the trepidation and the desire to lock doors out of fear, it tells us how the event of the resurrection of Christ can transform our sadness into joy (cf. Jn 16:16) and our fear into courage to profess in word and with our lives, that Jesus has risen and that he is our Lord and our God (cf. Jn 20:28).
I wish you all a blessed and Happy Easter!
Rome, 14 April 2019
Br. Michael Anthony Perry, OFM
Minister General and Servant