The August 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Psychiatric Drugs: Assault on the Human Condition

Review of Mad In America

An Interview with Author of Mad In America

Homelessness and Psychiatric Abuse

Electroshock Must Be Banned

Zyprexa: A Prescription for Disease & Death

The Dangers of Antidepressants

Mental Health Policy: Humane or Reactionary?

Ghosts of the Albany Landfill

Berkeley Haven for Homeless Families

Franciscans for Peace and Justice

Ten Flaws of Social Security Privatization

CAFTA and Colonization

Spirit of St. Mary's Center

Life Stories of Homeless Seniors

Disabled Bus Rider's Hardships

Union Debates Sleeping Ban in Santa Cruz


July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Franciscans Work for Social Justice and Peace

St. Francis is present in spirit at this San Francisco rally for justice for the poor organized by Religious Witness with Homeless People. At right, a larger-than-life likeness of St. Francis symbolizes compassion for homeless people.

Contemporary Franciscans in the Bay Area carry on St. Francis' legacy of peace and justice by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless poor, and protesting war and nuclear weapons.

by Maureen Hartmann

The Franciscans have sustained a longstanding devotion to working for social justice and peace, and have often proved extremely effective in this work, going back to their very origins as a religious order. In his own lifetime, Francis of Assisi was extremely influential politically, although this was not his main goal in founding his religious and secular order.

Franciscans today are deeply involved in the issues of social justice and peace, and are following, in a contemporary way, the example of St. Francis. They influence the progress of peace among nations, and relieve the pain of marginalized people.

It is surprising how, many centuries ago in the medieval era, Francis of Assisi contributed to causes that in our time are known as "social justice and peace." Francis, popularly known as a gentle lover of birds and animals, did have these qualities; but also, as a preacher of the Christian Gospel and founder of a religious order of brothers and a lay order of penitents, he had broad political influence in his social world.

The religious rule that he set for his brothers demanded by its nature concern for those persons who were socially marginalized. According to Catholic tradition, a milestone in Francis' life was when, as a rich young man, he was moved to get off his horse and embrace and kiss a leper-beggar instead of just tossing him coins.

According to William Short, OFM, a noted scholar on Francis, former president of the Franciscan School of Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and currently pastor of San Miguel Mission, Francis required those interested in following him to "provide humane, basic medical care to those who were ostracized because of their illness," namely Hansen's disease, or leprosy. According to Short, there were houses for friars who had caught the disease in caring for lepers; so the friars and lay brothers and sisters of penance risked their own health in taking care of lepers.

According to Short, another way that Francis expressed concern for those on the fringes of society was to call his religious brothers "minores," or "minors." By this he opposed his father and his social environment. His father wanted him to be a knight because knighthood carried with it the title of "maiore" or "major." Francis' brothers were to identify with Jesus and his disciples who were homeless, stated Short.

According to Ramona Miller, OSF, Director of Spiritual Formation at the Franciscan School of Theology, the making of peace between the majors and the minors was also seen in the close relationship between Francis and Clare, who with Francis founded a religious order for women. Clare's family belonged to the class of landed nobility, the majors; while Francis' family of origin belonged to the merchant class and were considered minor.

Short commented, "I think it is a great example of a person and relationship transcending class boundaries. The social fact is that both Francis and Clare abandoned their assigned social position by giving up all property and thus establishing a new form of social relationship, that of becoming brothers and sisters through personal decision, by free choice, not because of assigned social status."

One interesting aside about this class distinction is that coins were not widely used after the fall of the Roman Empire. The landed nobility did not use them, but instead, barter took place. This method of trade led to more personal interdependence. Short points out that Francis taught that "the important measure of value was caring for necessities, food, clothing, and shelter. Coins can provide neither nourishment, warmth, nor shelter by themselves. They are simply pieces of metal.... Coins are impersonal by nature."

Along with raising consciousness about the marginalized in his time, St. Francis also brought about peace by his life and teaching, said Short. "He and his friars worked on truces within city states, as well as possibly truces between city states. Another way that he promoted peace was by going to the crusades without bearing any weapons and crossing the line between the Christian and the Moslem army, thus promoting dialogue rather then combat. The third way is through his rule for the brothers and sisters of penance that prohibited his members from bearing arms, thus taking away a source of manpower for wars throughout Europe. This did not stop all conflicts, but it did reduce the number of people engaged in conflict."

Francis provides a lesson for our time about relations between Christians and Moslems. Against the advice of Cardinal Pelagio, commander of the Crusades, Francis, according to Short, "met personally with the Sultan Malik al-Kamil. The friendly reception and hospitality he received from Moslems influenced him deeply. This example of personal relationship across religious and cultural divisions is a challenge for us today. We have to resist the temptation to depersonalize others who are called the enemy.... We have to condemn the acts of violence. We must still have love for the people who are doing them. Until we get to those causes we can't create peace."

Contemporary Franciscans in the Bay Area also contribute toward what is commonly known in our day as social justice and peace. Louis Vitale, OFM, former Provincial of St. Barbara Province of the Order of Friars Minor, now just finishing as Pastor of St. Boniface Church in San Francisco, said that the St. Anthony's Foundation serves about 2400 meals a day to homeless and low-income people.

Also, St. Anthony's Foundation has a farm in Petaluma on which 50 people, both men and women with chemical addictions, live and work while they are being rehabilitated. Originally, meat and milk from the farm was shipped gratis from the farm to the dining room. Now, since they produce organic foods, it is easier to sell to an organic dairy and buy from the dairy or other dairies, or to get the produce for St. Anthony's Dining Room from in-kind donations.

St. Anthony's Foundation has a large house for homeless men, named after Fr. Alfred Boeddeker on 10th Street in San Francisco. The men work in St. Anthony's Dining Room. St. Anthony's also operates a number of halfway houses. Recovering addicts can go to a halfway house while they cultivate social skills, including successful employment, and remaining sober.

There are several other programs for the poor right in the neighborhood of the St. Anthony's Foundation, next to St. Boniface. There is a free medical clinic for people who have no other resources. There are counseling and senior outreach programs, and an employment center with listings of mostly construction jobs. On Golden Gate Avenue, there is a home with 35 very nice apartments for elderly, retired woman, who have nothing more than their Social Security. The women get full meals, and chapel services if they want them. There is a daytime drop-in center for those who wish to come by, watch TV and have lunch.

The Madonna House, a shelter for women with no income other than Social Security, is on Mission Street. The Marian Residence for women who are homeless, not just seniors, is on 10th and Mission. It starts with a basic shelter with cots on the first floor, and then moves up to longer-term transitional housing with bedrooms.

The First Order Franciscans also attempt to create peace with their programs and actions. The OFM Franciscans and some Franciscan sisters originally organized the Lenten Desert Experience, a nonviolent witness against nuclear weapons testing in the Nevada desert. The Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) now includes the Lenten Desert Experience (LDE) under its umbrella; the NDE has its own board on which Louis Vitale serves, and is a separate nonprofit entity.

The NDE creates a presence of people in the desert north of Las Vegas every year around August 6 and 9, the anniversaries of the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The LDE includes two Holy Week programs in the desert, liturgies on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Anne Symens-Bucher is the co-chairperson of the board of the Nevada Desert Experience; and she also works out of the OFM Provincial office and is co-chairperson of the OFM office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC). She also works for the farm workers as a board member of the National Farm Worker Ministry, which connects the churches to the cause of the farm workers. And she is heavily involved with the Garden of Learning, an organic demonstration garden across the street from her office.

The NDE and LDE have an interesting and meaningful origin. In 1982, when the Franciscans first started the Lenten Desert Experience, the public did not know much about nuclear testing. Due to the actions in the desert, the consciousness "spread throughout the country," said Vitale. The first Lenten Desert Experience was in 1982, the 800th anniversary of the birth of Francis of Assisi. Vitale and his fellow Franciscans wanted to do something significant to commemorate and carry on Francis' efforts for peace in the world. Out of that desire came the Lenten and Nevada Desert Experience.

Symens-Bucher explained that many people who come to the desert with the NDE have their consciousness raised. She said, "A couple named Al and Dorothy Sawyer came to our event, and then Alan became a board member. Every year he would go on our peace walk. Eventually his daughter Leslie joined him. Now she is on our board and is becoming more and more involved with the NDE. There's an example how her father's witness brought her on, and now she's active."

Vitale increases awareness by encouraging his fellow Franciscans to come to the test site where their awareness of the situation is increased, and they see at first hand that destructive atomic power is being employed in a place which was and is sacred to the Shoshone Indians. Vitale tries to get his fellow Franciscans to also write letters to or visit their legislators.

Vitale said, "They're talking about taking up testing again." But he added that the LDE has an effect on federal government officials "because everybody knows what's going on out there. I think it has a lot of impact on people. They see that and believe that it expresses our corporate commitment to be against nuclear weapons."

Symens-Bucher described the future of the NDE, saying: "In 2006 is going to be our twenty-fifth Lenten Desert Experience. That's the good news and the bad news. We really want to work ourselves out of a job. We'd like there to not be a need to have a Lenten Desert Experience."

Other interesting plans are in store for the future. "We're in the process of shifting so that there can be more immersion experiences," Symens-Bucher said. "It's really a cool program that links justice, peace, and environmental sustainability, seen through the lens of the nuclear issue. For about five days, people would come and work at the Catholic Worker, do nonviolence training, meet with the Shoshone, go out to the test site, go to the Strip. So we hope to do more of these, bring smaller groups of people out for more in-depth experiences, more outreach among colleges, among young people."

Another Franciscan, Mary Munden, the Peace and Justice Commissioner for the Secular Franciscan Region, said that the main emphasis in her position is not peace, but justice. There are two reasons for this, she explained. It is a necessity to focus on social justice issues first since, as Pope Paul VI emphasized, those who desire peace must work for justice first. Second, since the region is local (mostly in California), it is more appropriate to concentrate on regional, not national issues.

The main issues the region concentrates on in California is opposition to human trafficking, literal slavery in the contemporary world, and opposition to the legalization of assisted suicide. Munden participated in a California Lobby Day a couple months ago which dealt with the two issues above, as well as raising the minimum wage.

As commissioner, she disseminates information about national and international issues, including the G-8, the group of eight nations, including the United States, that meet yearly on world economic issues. The G-8 meeting this year was concerned with relieving the debt to richer nations of the poor nations in Africa.

Other issues which concern Franciscans are the national budget, which must take the needs of the poor into account, and legislation which complicates the lives of immigrants coming into the country by requiring more licenses.

Munden tries to get people in individual communities of Secular Franciscans to concentrate on wider affairs than their own community projects, which are in themselves good. One example is the Franciscan Center in the San Mateo area, which collects and distributes food and clothing to needy people.

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