More than 300 people from across the United States and beyond gathered Jan. 27-28 for the Re-Imagining the World: St. Francis and Pope Francis conference, held at the Franciscan School of Theology’s (FST) Joan B. Croc Institute for Peace & Justice in San Diego, California. The gathering explored how the vision of St. Francis and St. Clare offers a new way of examining contemporary struggles and how Franciscans use technology to spread the good news.
The inspirational lineup of speakers featured: Cardinal Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego; Daniel Horan, OFM, professor of religious studies and theology, Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind.; William Short, OFM, professor of spirituality at FST; Sr. Mary Elizabeth Ingham, CSJ, general superior, Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange; and Linh Ngoc Hoang, OFM, associate professor of religious students at Siena College, Loudonville, New York. The conference was sponsored by the Academy of American Franciscan History, Center for Spirituality-St. Mary’s College, St. Barbara Province and an anonymous donor.
During his talk, “The Vision of Pope Francis for the Church Today,” Cardinal McElroy noted that the pontiff has “called the whole of the Church to a profound process of renewal through a synodal process that seeks to touch and transform every element of our ecclesial life and our outreach to the world.”
Pope Francis’ vision of synodality involves the “whole of the people of God,” constant discernment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, humility and honesty, decentralization, authentic listening; participation and co-responsibility; and a “penetrating call to conversion and change.”
This call to conversion is essential, but “never easy,” Cardinal McElroy said. “We all tend to become set in our ways in a manner that limits our ability to authentically grow as disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Synodality calls us to overcome our complacency and remain actively engaged in the process of lifelong change that lies at the heart of discipleship for us as individuals and as participants in the life of the Church.”
Kelly McCracken, president of Franciscan Media (FM), who attended the conference along with other members of FM’s leadership team, described it as “food for the soul. It was so nourishing, rejuvenating and renewing,” she said. “We tend to get so mired in the business aspects of what we do. This helps us stay focused on our vision and mission.”
She was particularly moved by William Short’s presentation: “Re-Imagining the Image of God: From the Human to the Cosmos.” “It was really inspiring because he spoke of the woundedness in our world and all of the hurt people are dealing with and the healing that comes from the Catholic faith, Franciscan spirituality and the vision of Pope Francis,” Kelly said.
Philip Anderson, regional director of mission integration and ministry support, also participated and found the conference to be “uplifting” and “helpful in getting to know more of the friar community.”
He found that Linh Ngoc Hoang’s talk on “Global Cultures in Encounter” was especially meaningful in addressing ways of “cultivating the Franciscan legacy of relationship building.”
“I thought the whole conference was really well done and a way of staying connecting with what’s happening on the ground,” Philip said.
Conference participants also engaged in an immersion opportunity with a visit to local organizations serving migrants and refugees. The immersion began with visiting Casa de Misericordia, an intentional community in the Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego whose purpose is to respond to the needs of migrant persons at the U.S./Mexico border in Southern California. While there, the group heard testimonials from recent migrants about their experiences. They also visited San Ysidro Port of Entry to give witness to the militarization of the border and learn about the Zero Tolerance and Remain in Mexico policies.