Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Franciscan and Jesuit Witness Against US-Sanctioned Torture

As followers of Jesus Christ, the Gospels impel us to speak and act on behalf of truth. Some of these are as simple as writing emails, letters to the editor or other outreaches protesting a breach of justice or promoting what is good and true. Sometimes the actions are more prophetic, such as we see among the holy prophets of the Old Testament who boldly spoke on behalf of God's truth and against falsehood and injustice (e.g. Jeremiah and Amos).

Our country has embarked upon a dangerous practice, call it what you will, of sanctioned torture, since 11 September 2001. In the name of security and anti-terror, we have seen its fallout in such hideous images from the Abu Graib prison outside of Baghdad, the complaints arising from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other issues of "rendition" of prisoners ostensibly captured regarding terror. While we do not deny the reality of terror and those who commit those awful anti-human and anti-life actions, we also stand against the denial of human dignity of prisoners as well. Hence, the need to actively do something!

One such example is the article below -- Fr. Louis Vitale, OFM, is a Franciscan friar and former provincial minister of St. Barbara Province, headquartered in Oakland, CA. His compatriot is a Jesuit priest, Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ. They protested together at the military compound at Fr. Huachuca, AZ, outside of Tucson, last November 2006.

We Franciscans of the Assumption BVM Province support them as they suffer the predictable consequences of imprisonment for their prophetic action on behalf of justice and peace, their action of protest considered a crime against the US government.


On October 17, 2007, the first anniversary of the signing of the Military Commissions Act, Fr. Steve Kelly and Fr. Louie Vitale were sentenced to 5 months in prison for their nonviolent witness against torture at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona in November of 2006. They were taken into custody immediately. (More information at http://tortureontrial.org/)

Please support them - Write a note of support to: (Make sure you include the #)

Stephen Kelly #00816111CCA
P. O. Box 6300
Florence, AZ 85232

Louis Vitale #25803048CCA
P. O. Box 6300
Florence, AZ 85232

They were taken to a privately run detention center in Florence, Arizona the day of their sentencing. It is not known if, when or where they may be transferred. If the priests are moved, your letters addressed to Florence will be returned to you. You may then send letters to them c/o The Nuclear Resister, PO Box 43383, Tucson, AZ 85733 and their mail will be forwarded to them.

If you are mailing something to them at this prison, please know:- All books and magazines must be sent by the publisher or directly from a book store.- Non-copyrighted documents in manila envelopes are fine, but to expedite it, print on the manila envelope "paperwork enclosed."*

Fr. Kelly and Fr. Vitale ask that every woman and man of conscience do all that they can to protest the injustice of torture and to end U.S. policy that sanctions torture.

They encourage people to participate in the protests at Ft. Benning, Georgia and Ft. Huachuca, Arizona on November 17 and 18, or consider having a protest in your community. visit http://www.soaw.org/ (protest at Ft. Benning) and http://southwestwitness.org/ (protest at Ft. Huachuca)- Visit http://torturelaw.org/ and sign the petition to repeal the Military Commissions Act and use the handy form to customize a letter that will be emailed to your Senators.* Their commissary needs are taken care of but contributions for prison support expenses are welcome.

Checks can be made payable to the Nuclear Resister (please put Torture on Trial on the memo line) and mailed to the Nuclear Resister, PO Box 43383, Tucson, AZ 85733. Donations can also be made securely online at the Torture On Trial website at http://tortureontrial.org/donate.html*

Prison visits are being coordinated by Br. David Buer. Visiting hours at the detention center in Florence are limited, and occur very early in the morning. It is very important to contact David if you are interested in visiting either of the men, so he can make sure that no one travels all that way only to be turned away because there is already a visitor there. You can contact David at <buer@intermind.net> or call (314)803-6735.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Statement of the Franciscan Friars, Province of Saint Barbara regarding the sentencing of Father Louis Vitale OFM:

On November 19, 2006, Father Louie was among others protesting military "interrogation training" at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. It is our understanding that Father Louie was arrested at Fort Huachuca when he attempted to speak with enlisted personnel and deliver a letter to the commander denouncing the immoral teaching of torture there, and that he has now been sentenced for a total term of five months.

Father Louie's religious superior, Father Melvin Jurisich OFM, Provincial Minister of the Province of Saint Barbara, commented on the sentencing:

"Father Louie's Franciscan brothers fully support his actions at Fort Huachuca because we know they are consistent with his life-long dedication to work for good and oppose evil. He does so in the spirit of prayer and nonviolence. He is doing what he believes Saint Francis of Assisi would do if he were at Fort Huachuca. We stand by Father Louie during his time of incarceration, and we know that even in jail he will continue to work and pray for peace."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Visiting the Friars at a "Live-In Retreat" Weekend

Last weekend, 12-14 October, four men from various parts of the country gathered at St. Joseph Friary in Chicago, IL to visit the Franciscan friars of the Assumption BVM Province and learn who we are and what we do.

From Dallas, TX, Grand Rapids, MI, Milwaukee, WI and even Chicago, IL, they traveled to the Inter-provincial Post-novitiate Formation house located in the heart of the Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. It is located just a few blocks from both Catholic Theological Union (CTU) and the University of Chicago.

Fr. Joachim (Kim) Studwell, OFM with Greg Hendricks of Michigan and Andrew Gill of Texas at "The Port Ministries", Chicago, IL

Fr. Bernard Kennedy, OFM, Bro. David Kelly, OFM and Bro. Tommy Mandello, OFM offered their guests superb hospitality and refreshment. The friars began on Friday night by sharing their respective vocation stories -- how God called them in rather ordinary lives to become friars minor. The community's postulant from Milwaukee, Galen Osby, also joined the men on their "Live-In Retreat" weekend. Fr. Joachim (Kim) Studwell, OFM, Vocation Director for the province, led the weekend retreat.

Early the next morning they headed to the novitiate, San Damiano Friary, in Cedar Lake, IN for morning prayer, Mass and breakfast. Fr. Ed Tlucek, OFM, the Novice Director, gave them a rather thorough introduction to the year-long living experience of the novitiate. Then they visited another friary very close by, Lourdes Friary, and were treated to a delicious lunch.

Once they returned to Chicago, the group visited "The Port" ministries in another neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, Back of the Yards, among the very poor. David Krug, SFO (Secular Franciscan Order) guided us on a tour of the facilities and discussion about the various ministries.

Matthew Brophy of Wisconsin, Fr. Kim Studwell, OFM and Andrew Gill of Texas at "The Port Ministries", Chicago, IL

After a bit of a rest, we went to the famous "Connie's Pizza" for supper and met up with Bro. Craig Wilking, OFM, who later on shared his unique vocation story and current ministry as a nurse among the indigent and homeless poor on Chicago's North Side.

Later that night, Fr. Kim met with the retreatants individually to review their experiences and their perspective of the retreat and particular vocation discernment.

Finally, on Sunday, we traveled to Whiting, IN, to St. Mary Assumption Byzantine Catholic Church for Divine Liturgy (Ruthenian), since the province is bi-ritual (Roman and Byzantine Rites). After brunch, we returned to St. Joseph Friary for wrap-up, evaluations and concluding prayer in the chapel.

It was a good experience retreat. This is not a "theory" retreat, but an opportunity to go and visit the friars, meet them, and if possible see where the serve God's People. We welcome others who would like to investigate our community and "Live-In" with the friars for a weekend.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Poison of Violence and Its Antidote

We all know we live in a violent world. We can just watch "Animal Planet" and see how animals can be violent to one another, whether hunting or among their own kind (contrary to popular opinion, by the way) battling for mates, hierarchy or food.

(Photos from Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10 October 07)

And then we see how we human beings can treat one another. And not just in warfare, but people commit violent acts even in our cities, our places of business and our homes.

Just today we learned of another school shooting -- this time in the inner city of Cleveland,
Ohio. The alleged assailant attacked several people with his gun and then apparently turned the weapon on himself commiting suicide. How terrible for the students, the faculty, the staff, the young man himself -- and his family. It is a poison which infects our speech, our behavior and our attitudes to one another.

What can we possibly do about this? I don't presume to have any easy answer. As Christians we claim that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. We read God's promises in the Bible, such as, ". . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares . . . one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." (Isa. 2:4b,c).

We see in St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), the founder of our Franciscan Order, a model of peacemaking based on the Gospels, especially the Beatitudes of Matthew, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." (Mt. 5:9).

There was an episode, for example, toward the end of St. Francis' life, when the bishop and the mayor were at odds in a bitter feud. Francis had recently composed the Canticle of the Creatures, and added a verse specifically for this occasion, which he had a couple friars sing in the public square, "Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love and bear infirmity and tribulation." This simple gesture from the Poverllo apparently quelled the violent hearts of the leaders of both parties so that, in tears, they reconciled on the spot!

It seems that the antidote to the poison of violence begins when we recognize that we are capable of doing violent acts. Anyone can hurt another (we probably are all guilty of that!), and in so doing, whether in cold silence in our hearts or in inflammatory speech, we have committed violence.

The next step is to realize we have choices -- we can retaliate when a wrong is done to us, or respond as Jesus teaches in the Gospels (e.g. "Love your enemy!"). In prayer, we ask the Lord to change our hearts. This doesn't mean our anger or indignation will magically evaporate; rather, we learn to work with the anger.

We have an opportunity to forgive! We pray it in the Lord's Prayer, ". . . forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

So, simply put, I cannot deal with the violence out there if I don't deal with the violence in my own heart! St. Francis himself advised his brothers who preached God's Word, "Be sure you have peace in your own heart before you preach it to others." Peacemaking is our Christian vocation, and as Franciscan friars, it is at the heart of our vocation to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Poverello of Assisi: St. Francis and his feastday, 4 October 2007

Most High, glorious God,

bring light to the darkness of my heart

and give me true faith, certain hope and perfect charity,

sense and knowledge, Lord,

that I might carry out your holy and true command.


St. Francis composed this simple prayer apparently early on in conversion experience. He would pray this before the Crucifix of San Damiano on the hill outside of the city of Assisi. San Damiano was a hostel for pilgrims en route to Rome, but had fallen into disrepair from neglect. It was before this Crucifix that Francis heard the Lord Jesus speak to him and say, "Francis, go repair my Church which you see is falling into ruins!"

Francis initiated his church-rebuilding campaign shortly afterward, thinking originally that it was to this chapel and a couple others that he was called to physically renew and repair. However, it wasn't till later on, as he reviewed his life, that he realized that the Lord had called him to a renewal of the People of God, not just stone and mortar!

Above I used the word "conversion" -- what was that all about? Francis (Giovanni Baptista Bernardone) was reared in a Catholic household, the elder son of the Bernardone family. He was known to be generous to the poor; he was also known to be lavishly generous to his friends for parties! So, you can imagine that he was popular.

But after his excursion into warfare (Assisi v. Perugia -- Perugia won), he became a prisoner of war in the dungeons of Perugia, where he apparently contracted a form of tuberculosis and nearly died. After being ransomed from the prison by his father, Pietro, Francis returned to Assisi a changed man. He tried another venture in warfare, but turned back after a disturbing dream. He began to reconsider the direction of his life. That is when we began going to San Damiano to pray before the Crucifix, alone in a lonely place -- to confront his inner self and to meet the Lord. Such is the stuff of discernment.

It was out of this interior struggle and encounter that eventually led Francis to renounce the world and to become the poor man, the poverello of Assisi, a "fool for Christ", who wanted to live for Jesus alone. And so he embarked on the greatest adventure a human being can do -- to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Crucifix of San Damiano

"Francis, go repair my Church which you see is falling into ruins."