Franciscan benefit in US addresses faith, doubt and mission

(Photo: Reuters / Max Rossi)Sister Pat Farrell (R), president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), and Sister Janet Mock, the executive-director, walk in Saint Peter's Square following a meeting with Cardinal William Levada at the Vatican June 12, 2012. The Vatican on Tuesday sternly told the leaders of American nuns who were accused of being too feminist and politicised that their group "remains under the supreme direction of the Holy See". The nuns, who requested the meeting to face Roman Catholic doctrinal officials over the accusations, said they would go back to the United States to decide their next move

The Franciscan Mission Service has at its annual World Care Benefit honored Sister Pat Farrell, past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious who advocates for women having a great say in the Roman Catholic Church.

Friday's meeting discussed the theme "Keeping the Door of Faith Open: Remaining in the Catholic Church Today."

Sister Farrell, who presided over the LCWR during the 2012 Vatican investigation controversy, will receive the Franciscan Mission Service's Anslem Moon Award, named after the organization's founder.

Keynoted speaker was Melinda Henneberger, a political writer for the Washington Post whom Kim Smolik, executive director of the Franciscan Mission Service, describes as "an openly pro-life Catholic in the mainstream media."

"Both [women] have had to ask themselves the question about why they remain in the Catholic Church today," Smolik said.

This year, the Catholic Church is celebrating the Year of Faith, which Smolik said, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, makes the experiences of those who have struggled to remain faithful to the Church so apt right now.

"As Vatican II opened the doors of the Church to a deeper, wider and more collaborative involvement of the laity, the Year of Faith with its theme, 'Open Wide the Door of Faith,' is about calling current Catholics to deepen and renew their faith," she said.

"This comes at a time when we know that more young people and more women are leaving the church than ever before. With our keynote and award recipient, we want to encourage people to look at and embrace the reasons they stay."

In a sense, this is an internal manifestation of the Franciscan Mission Service's larger purpose, which is evangelism and missions.

Since its inception in 1209, the nature of Saint Francis of Assisi's religious order was fundamentally on mission.

In addition to famously sharing the Gospel with a Muslim sultan during the Third Crusade, Francis was known to have sent his disciples out in pairs to evangelize the neighboring towns.

So it was fitting when, in 1985, a group of Franciscan friars in North America, felt called to help and encourage lay people to also serve as international missionaries.

The friars formed the Franciscan Mission Service that year and in 1990, they sent their first missionaries overseas. Since then, they have supported more than 100 missionaries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

The World Care Benefit is the organization's most important fundraiser and the proceeds go toward its ten programs, including its newest program,

Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness Trips. This program will allow people to serve for 10- to 14-day stints rather than the usual 2- to 6-year long-term mission stays.

"St. Francis strived to be relevant and be among the people, and I think that this is a desire also held by young adults today," said Smolik.

"The mission opportunities we offer lay Catholics - especially young lay Catholics - allows them to grow in their Catholic faith through service and cross-cultural experiences with the Church abroad."

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