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Bridge Building Project with American Muslims

Franciscans and Muslims in partnership can show the world that we can accomplish more together.

Photo of Janine Walsh
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In recent months, the U.S. is seeing increased instances all over the country of de-humanizing "the other" by both words and actions. Last Fall, the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University released a national poll of Catholics and their attitudes towards Muslims and Islam. The report found that most American Catholics do not personally know a Muslim and most do not have a good understanding of Islam as a religion. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that many Catholic publishers, media outlets, and some prominent Catholics perpetuate fear of Muslims and promote Islamophobia.

At the same time, both the Christian Bible and the Qur’an have mandates for caring for creation. Franciscans have as a large piece of their charism to care for all of God’s creation. The planet right now is deeply troubled by consumerism and disregard. Many people of faith are needed to show the moral responsibility all people have towards caring for the environment. Pope Francis has named “Care for our Common Home” as an 8th work of mercy for Catholics. In partnership with Muslim sisters and brothers, we can show the world that we can accomplish more together.

Explain your idea

Advance Peace: FAN intends to promote screenings of the UPF docudrama, The Sultan and the Saint with our membership all over the country and confirm at least 500 gatherings to watch the film when it premieres on PBS in December of this year. We will encourage people to come together in homes, churches, mosques, and other venues to watch the film and begin to build relationships with each other. We will then follow up with attendees, using the film as a tool to begin dialogue among these communities. Through outreach, listening sessions to address fears, and coming together as persons of faith, we will identify and establish groups of faith leaders who can speak to the greater community with credibility and draw on personal experience of peaceful non violence and building relationships as sisters and brothers. Preserve our Planet: Once the initial relationships have been built, we will cultivate their growth and sustainability by requiring that a joint service project be done in each community. Ideas for these projects can come from the group itself, however some examples are planting a garden, recycling, organizing care for creation prayer vigils with both faiths represented and involved, and working on helping both houses of worship to be more energy efficient. The initial focus issue will be promoting climate justice and the integrity of Creation through a lens of the Muslim and Franciscan teachings on care for creation using both Pope Francis’ Laudato Si and the Qur’an as guides. Franciscans and Muslims across the country are found across the political spectrum. Peace building through relational encounter will bring people together from multiple sides of a given issue, while opening up various possibilities of addressing climate, which is a multifaceted issue in and of itself.

Who Benefits?

Beginning with the attendees of the film screening, each person is individually benefited by the encounter and images on the screen. Each Franciscan and Muslim community is benefited by extension of those attendees bringing their experiences back to the greater group. Ideally, society as a whole receives the benefit of their continued peaceful encounter with these communities.

How is your idea unique?

In response to Pope Francis’ call for building bridges of dialogue and solidarity around social justice issues, the Franciscan Action Network looks to bring together Muslims and Franciscans and Franciscan-hearted people to build a movement of activists affecting policy change locally and nationally. The Franciscan Action Network has as part of its mission to care for all God’s creation. We will establish these groups to begin to build peace and also to accomplish specific project goals within each local community. Leveraging the successful screenings of the Sultan and the Saint, which has been premiering all over the country, FAN will bring representatives of these two faith groups together to forge positive new relationships and collaborate for good. The initiative is unique in its' use of the film, The Sultan and the Saint to open a space for dialogue. In our pilot screenings, the most common feedback we get is the desire for more time to dialogue with others in attendance.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

The Franciscan Action Network (FAN) is a nonprofit social justice organization which represents Franciscan and Franciscan-hearted people all over the country. Since it’s inception in 2007, FAN has grown into a well-established organization represented in each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. and is recognized as a lead organization on several issues, including care for creation. By partnering with other organizations, we have become a dependable Franciscan voice for justice both in D.C. and beyond. Our mission is “Inspired by the Gospel of Jesus, and the example of Saints Francis and Clare, the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) is a collective Franciscan voice seeking to transform United States public policy related to peace making, care for creation, poverty and human rights.” It is through our devotion to peace making that we began a partnership with Unity Productions Foundation (UPF). FAN's collaboration with UPF has been ongoing since October, 2015 when we learned of their intent to produce a docudrama of a well-know Franciscan story of the visit of St. Francis of Assisi to the Sultan of Egypt during the violence of the 5th Crusade. The Sultan and the Saint message of peace through encounter relates to our mission and comes at a time when violence against Muslims has increased. Franciscans and all Christians, are challenged to reach out in friendship to our Muslim brothers and sister. FAN agreed to help raise funds and to promote the film and subsequent screenings all over the country. Screenings have many times been sold out, many of the FAN staff and the President of the Board have personally attended the screenings and participated in the listening and dialogue sessions, experiencing first-hand, the changing of minds and hearts, calming of fears, and creation of bonds of mutual respect which lead to peace. Together, FAN and UPF have been promoting large scale screenings of the film since its' premiere last year. We hope to raise enough funds this year to hire a full-time organizer to coordinate the proposed project going forward. FAN will take the lead in organizing the established groups, calling on UPF for contacts in the Muslim community when a screening has been scheduled. FAN has been a leading faith voice on care for creation in Washington, DC and around the country. In 2014, FAN organized Catholics around the People’s Climate March in New York City, which saw 400,000 activists take to the streets to bring our concerns for the climate to the forefront. As a result, at the Paris COP21, ours was one of 192 countries which ratified a global agreement on climate. With the new U.S. administration doing everything they can to dismantle all the good work done, we are energized to continue the fight. By establishing groups of grassroots advocates across several faiths, we uphold the moral voice which has been missing in the political realm. FAN is currently organizing Catholics for the People’s Climate March in Washington DC, April 29.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

2 comments

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Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Janine!

Thank you for sharing the great work you are doing. Do you have a trailer for this film?
What would your project look like over 1-3 years?

Photo of Janine Walsh
Team

Hi Kate - Thank you for reaching out and for your patience while we got this response together. Yes we do have a trailer for the film at the bottom of this webpage: https://franciscanaction.org/article/sultan-and-saint-has-been-blessing

Ideally, what we hope to establish is a set of groups we would refer to as Solidarity Tables. Inspired by the Damietta Peace Project which has been successful in Africa, we aim to establish an adaptation for U.S. participants. The Damietta Peace Initiative is a Franciscan, inter-faith driven peace enterprise for the continent of Africa. It was started in 2004 and built around the core values of nonviolence, reconciliation and respect for creation. It is a pro-active response to a hunger that is widely felt among people today, that the sectarian divisions in our society must yield to the big shared human questions, namely, that we humans are locked inside another story. The evolving universe story. And part of this evolutionary story is that humans must learn to live as friendly beings towards each other and towards nature. These Solidarity Tables are local groups of Franciscans working with people of all faiths and the people we serve, networking in a given region thereby pooling talent and resources in the areas of peace-building and care for creation. Inherent in each Table is the listening of the call of the Holy Spirit to be in solidarity with the poor and oppressed (locally, nationally, and globally) through building bridges of dialogue and cooperation. Within one year, we hope to have 25 regional gatherings in at least 20 states. After the initial gathering at the film screening, these Tables would meet regularly to continue to build the relationships necessary to combat racial injustice, Islamophobia and other dehumanizing attitudes. They would be a place for non-judgemental listening in order to overcome fears from misinformation. Interfaith dialogue through Muslim/Franciscan perspective can inform and give us a lens through which we look at society.

By the second year, both the number of groups across the country as well as membership within each group would grow. They will start to work together on projects centered around both community service and social justice. For example, based on the local community desires, gun safety regulations, programs such as food security issues, clean air and water safety, immigration and sex and labor human trafficking issues. These Solidarity Tables would also serve as a rapid response team within their communities when instances of Islamophobia, fear, hatred or violence against other groups erupt. FAN will facilitate, through webinars and social media, national discussions where people can share their stories and best practices about how participating in these Tables has helped changed their attitudes toward each other. They will start to build support within their local community (mosques, churches, local government, etc).

By the third year, the goal would be well-established, self-sustaining Solidarity Tables, coming together to create consistently engaged communities and developing the credibility and safe spaces to help alleviate the fear of "the other." Established Tables will not only work locally, but will begin to network nationally with one another and FAN to promote peace and understanding. At the same time we will begin to target regions in states where we are yet to be represented. We will work to increase the number of regional gatherings by five in each year thereafter. Using the established groups in network with the new groups, we would hopefully expand to have Solidarity Tables in all 50 states. Professional training regionally and nationally will be offered through webinar courses developed on nonviolence, peace keeping and social justice. These courses will transcend our national political divide (creating peacemaking within the tables) while reaching out to other groups and Franciscan Hearted People to better coordinate our voices and actions on behalf of the poor, marginalized and all creation (creating peace in our world).

Please let me know if we can answer any more questions for you. Peace and all good.