News: Entering the Fire

Franciscans want goodness to be part of globalization

Matt Borgerding

The spread of globalization is an opportunity for mobilizing help for those who need it, according to the Rev. John Quigley (left). He and the Rev. Richard Rohr addressed local Franciscans Aug. 19 on the role of religion in a time of globalized culture.

The Rev. Richard Rohr has never been one to go along with the masses, especially when it comes to religion. He likes to say what he thinks. During his speech Aug. 19 at Xavier University, he made that clear.

"I believe the real role of religion is simply to change people's consciousness at a radical level," he said. "You thought it was business as usual, but now you're awakened and the whole meaning of life is reframed. It's got a different center and a different goal — a new foundation."

A Franciscan priest for 36 years, Rohr doesn't think religion is doing its job very well.

"Country after country that I go to, by and large the people reflect the biases, the prejudices, the idiocy and the silliness of the local culture," he says. "In fact, someone said recently that the main heresy of the church is silliness — the things we waste time on."

Religion's failure
Some in the audience moaned, but there was mostly laughter.

Rohr has a large following in the Cincinnati area, and most know he's outspoken.

In 1971 he founded the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati and in 1986 founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M. Rohr is a Franciscan of New Mexico Province and lives in a hermitage behind his Franciscan community. While best known for his numerous audio and video tapes on religion, he's also a best-selling author and preaches on all continents.

Rohr and the Rev. John Quigley, co-founder and executive director of Franciscans International, located in New York and Geneva, were talking about "A Franciscan Future in a Globalizing World," an event held by the Franciscan Network, with proceeds going to Franciscans International.

"It's one of the things happening to us whether we want it or not," Quigley said about globalization. "It's being formed constantly in new and deeper and wonderful ways. At the same time, we also have the bad news. We hear from different organizations we work with, including the Commission on Human Rights and the World Health Organization."

Quigley had sobering statistics to share with the sold-out audience.

"We know without exaggeration that 1,400 will die of starvation while I'm giving my talk tonight," Quigley said. "Six thousand will die today from preventable, waterborne diseases, and over the next few minutes 80 children under the age of 15 will become infected with the virus that causes AIDS. And as I speak, 70 will die from this dread disease.

"We also know that 33 will become fatal targets in ethnic and religious conflicts that are breaking out around the globe. This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Franciscans are men and women committed to the ideals of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. They include 5,400 missionaries and 800 missions throughout the world. They serve the poor on every continent and work with the United Nations and international organizations to influence decision-makers on behalf of the most vulnerable.

Rohr likes the vision.

"It's one of the ways to enter the fire," he said. "If there hasn't been that moment that has taken your head off, shaken it and put it back on so you're forced to say, 'By God, I get it,' then you're not in the fire yet. It's the fire that burns up all the paths and all the things you thought mattered before.

"Some of them don't matter at all after that. You wonder why you worried, wonder why you cared."

Mobilizing for the poor
Throughout his speech, Rohr continued to be candid about the problems he sees with the Franciscans and with religion in general.

"I look at most Western religion, and the starting place is not human suffering," he said. "The starting place is sin. It's become a giant sin-management system, and we priests are supposed to be the sin manager.

"If the starting place is suffering instead of sin, you come up with an entirely different definition of religion — the church, the gospel, your own reality and everybody else's reality, too. If you would just reflect on that and go back to your own life and the gospel, it would change your life. That sin-management system would lose."

Rohr says the gospel is neither liberal nor conservative.

"That whole division is tearing our church and country apart," he said. "The red states and the blue states have nothing to do with the gospel. It's two different disguises for the ego — two different ways for me to feel right, superior or sane."

Quigley said he isn't sure the suffering in poor countries is any worse than it was 50 years ago.

"It probably isn't," he said. "It's just that we know so much more. We see pictures, we hear people's voices and we see it graphically on television and in the newspapers. Things are changing so dramatically for us. At the same time as there is a globalization of suffering, our awareness of the suffering is greater. There is a mobilization — there is a globalization of relief, of attention, of concern."

Despite this, Quigley still argues not enough is being done to help the suffering in the world, but he is quietly optimistic.

"Even with the World Health Organization, who's gathering all those statistics, the suffering continues," he said. "The good news is that there are more and more people trying to do something about this. There's a simple globalization of goodness that is appearing." ©