(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Issue Spring/Summer 2021 #103)

Cherryle Fruge, OFS

St. Joan of Arc Regional Minister

There were so many good titles to choose for this article, but I felt compelled to choose this one. It came from Tom Ha, OFS, our Korean brother from Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Fraternity in Houston, Texas. This message has resonated with me so many times this past year. It is so true that Diversity is a Gift to us from God, and what we do with that Gift is especially important.

Our Region was inspired to start a Diversity Team in response to the many violent incidents that occurred in 2020. And so it began on Friday, July 24, 2020, with the purpose of getting to know each other and working on developing a vision/mission statement. Early on in our sessions, it was evident that our mission statement should be “Go and Rebuild My Church.” We agreed that the purpose of the team is based on Article 19 of the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order: “Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon.”

We came together not only to discuss racist violence, but all types of violence, and to ask the questions: “Why is there violence?” and “As a Secular Franciscan, what does God want me to do?”

As the Holy Spirit developed the Diversity Team, one word describes what we are called to do, and that word is dialogue. For our purpose, the role of dialogue cannot be overemphasized. It is crucial. The Team is learning how to conduct a dialogue to keep relationships alive and to build a community of love according to the teachings of the Rule and the Catholic Church.

We agreed that we could learn to dialogue by participating in dialogue. And so we did. We shared from our hearts and really tried to listen to each other. It was helpful to have the support of each other in our efforts, especially when strong feelings on difficult topics arose. We all understood that we were learning together, and we were determined to be a supportive community to each other. Now, when someone shares from their heart, the others listen. We do not judge, or jump to conclusions; we ask questions first and go from there.

We feel we have experienced much growth in our ability to dialogue. As Franciscans, we are now motivated to take the initiative and encourage dialogue in every situation. With a clear view of our identity as bridge builders, we are now making persistent efforts to build fraternal relationship with others in our communities, in our fraternities, in our parishes, in our nation, and in our world. We are called every day to rebuild our Church; we are doing this by reconciling with each other.

St. Joan of Arc Region’s Diversity team participants are from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi and from various ethnic backgrounds including Asian, African, Filipino, Cuban, and European. As we come together as representatives from throughout the Region, we reflect the diversity of our Order. We will continue to work toward ways of strengthening the call of our Franciscan vocation by “seeking out ways of unity and fraternal dialogue.”

Some of the resources we use include the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Church documents on Social Justice, the example of Servant of God, Julia Greeley, OFS, Fratelli Tutti, the Region’s Resource Kit, and What It Takes by Fr. Lester Bach, OFM.

Some of the thoughts shared by the Diversity Team members include:

✦ It is important to share our personal experiences of racism.

✦ We must have respect for the human person, recognizing our equality while appreciating our differences. Human solidarity should be acknowledged and understood.

✦ Actions for social justice should be taken according to the Rule.

Fratelli Tutti teaches us to understand the concept of fraternity, to build bridges, and to make eff o r t s for peacemaking and reconciliation.

✦ To build a community of love in the world, as well as in our fraternity, relationships need to be formed and kept alive.

Why is there violence? There is violence because I do not yet understand the other part of me – the other “self” of me.

✦ Bias happens among all social backgrounds and social status. We must recognize this.

✦ Being comfortable with our own identity is important. If we are not comfortable with our own identity, then it can cause problems when we deal with people around us.

✦ As Franciscans, we need patience as we try to establish relationships and connect with each other.

✦ It is okay for us to be ourselves. If people do not accept us as we are, we still respect them, but we do not take their judgment personally.

As I assessed this journey with the Diversity Team, I must share that it has been an eye-opening experience. We were challenged to get out of our comfort zone, but find we are now much more grounded in our relationships with each other. I see such beauty and the fruits of an authentic love. This process has also shown me how the building of relationships is a powerful way to discover and mentor new servant leaders.

We have learned so much, and we highly recommend that other regional fraternities give this a try. We would be happy to help you to start a Diversity Team in your Region. Feel free to contact me about this. You might consider the topic of diversity for a retreat with newly elected councils, or during an ongoing formation session. Exploring this topic will result in developing a rich and vibrant fraternity.

Through our diversity team efforts, we see how the Holy Spirit has led us to discover the value of our own identity while also valuing the identity of our neighbor. Our identity is tied to theirs. We see our neighbors as a part of ourselves – brothers and sisters “within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore ‘those who are a part of me’.” (Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43.) As we seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony let us contemplate our identity as well as our other self this other part of me that I don’t yet understand.

Truly, the diversity within the body of humanity is God’s gift to the world. What we do with it and how we treat others is our gift back to God. Please pray for us to continue to be open to the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. May Holy God Bless you abundantly and give you Peace.