Fidelity to the Gospel message compels us to not only to recognize the face of Christ in the poor and the excluded, but also to engage in a social analysis to identify the processes of impoverishment and exclusion e.g. root causes, agents, victims, mechanisms and consequences. In such labor of love and service, equally important is the commitment to propose, advocate in support of, and help implement solutions to make social, political and economic structures more just and fraternal.
Franciscan advocacy also flows from a deeply held conviction by St. Francis and his followers that a conversion is not merely a private affair. Rather, in the traditional, Franciscan sense, the conversion had profoundly prophetic and social dimensions. In his biography of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bonaventure describes about how the intervention of Br. Sylvester in the city of Arezzo torn by conflict and violence had the demons fleeing when he helped the warring factions revise the statutes and regulations of that city and bring peace and tranquility.
This and other stories in the Franciscan tradition challenge us to dare venture into our cities bedeviled by the demons of insatiable greed, radical individualism, disrespect for human life and wanton disregard for the future livability of our common home. Like Br. Sylvester and other Franciscans throughout centuries, we are called not to dodge a conflict but to bring a prophetic message. Our advocacy could and should help groups of people who in conflict with one another to shift their attitudes, change public policies and help usher a law based on justice, equity, sustainability and respect for the rights of all members of earth’s community, regardless of their race, nationality or immigration status.
For the Franciscan-hearted people, following the path of Jesus and embracing the poor involves placing ourselves totally on the side of the excluded and sharing in their process of liberation. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reminds us that Christian “love is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world. Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of charity which affect not only relationships between individuals but also ‘macro-relationships, social, economic, and political ones.”
In his statement, Pope Francis echoes the Roman Synod of Catholic Bishops in 1971: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”
Therefore, faithfulness to the Franciscan tradition in the contemporary world is inextricably connected to the moral imperative to engage in advocacy as an expression of our Eucharist-center worldview and the Gospel mission.