Franciscan vigils raise awareness of non-violence
by luke eggleston
sun staff writer
For the past few years, the Franciscan friars and sisters have been witnessing to peace in Syracuse.
According to Sister Dolores Bush, OSF, the campaign is simply an effort to remind people in the community that there is an alternative to violence. Sister Dolores [Dolly] has been one of the vigil’s main organizers.
“As Franciscans, part of the whole thing is peace and reconciliation,” she said. “And this is a way to create awareness about violence in our city.”
Franciscan Collaborative Ministries (FCM) and its partners on the north side hold a retreat twice a year in order to coordinate the various elements of their efforts in Syracuse. The peace vigil was suggested at a meeting in 2003 but was put on hold until two years later when Sister Laurine McDonald, OSF, made it a priority.
“She brought it up again and wouldn’t let anyone wiggle out of it,” Sister Dolores said.
Most recently, a peace vigil was held in front of a property on Merriman Avenue in Syracuse where 17-year-old Anthony Williams was found shot on Saturday, May 17.
Any time there is a murder in Syracuse, the friars send out a mass e-mail to subscribers who request them. Participants in the peace vigil meet at the friary and then car pool to the scene of the murder. According to Sister Dolores, a vigil might have as many as 25 to 30 participants or as few as five or six.
Sister James Peter Ridgeo, OSF, recalled one particularly poignant vigil in which the group was praying in front of Kennedy Square Apartments. Some apartment complex residents were connected to the victim and they emerged to pray along with the friars and sisters.
“They were very touched that we had come to pray for their loved one,” Sister James Peter said.
In addition to the vigils, the Franciscans have stationed a memorial in front of their friary. The memorial is a lamp that bears the name of the city’s most recent murder victim.
Co-director of FCM Brother Ed Falsey, OFM Conv., noted that the peace vigils are simply an aspect of the Franciscans’ mission to witness the Gospel.
“The peace vigil comes out of the witness to non-violence in the Gospel. We go to the place where it happens with the family or without the family and just offer that as a witness to the Gospel and non-violence, and the need for not resolving problems by killing each other,” Brother Ed said.
Brother Ed was recently appointed co-director of FCM along with Sister Grace Ann Dillenschneider, OSF. When Brother Ed took over as co-director of FCM, Father John Ruffo, OFM Conv., took over as rector of Assumption Church. Brother Ed returned to Syracuse last year as the associate director of pastoral planning. Previously, he had coordinated the merger of three parishes in the Southern Region.
Initially, taking on the new role was a challenge according to Brother Ed.
“It’s been a difficult transition because Franciscan Collaborative Ministries is so big and has many different parts and facets to it so it was hard to even know what I was getting into in the beginning,” Brother Ed said.
He added, however, that he has gradually grown into the position, which includes maintaining communication among the various ministries, fund raising for FCM, networking in the community and providing leadership.
“As I’ve gone along with it and the rest of the leadership team has gone along with it, we’ve gotten a handle on the different parts of it and who’s doing what and who’s responsible for what and what things are working and what things are not working very well and trying to move everybody forward,” Brother Ed said.
Although he described returning to Central New York as a homecoming of sorts, the Auburn native has also needed to familiarize himself with a new role even as the mission of the Franciscans in Syracuse has changed.
“In some ways it’s just like coming home. I taught here from 1979 to 1981 and I grew up in Auburn. Syracuse is sort of like coming home,” Brother Ed said, noting that the peace vigil is part of the evolving role of the Franciscans. “Our community has changed its presence here and we’re trying to witness to God and the Gospel and that’s part of where the whole peace vigil comes out of.”
Brother Joseph Freitag, OFM Conv., coordinates the vigils alongside Sister Dolores. He echoed Brother Ed’s sentiments.
“We wanted to be a witness in the neighborhood where the people live,” Brother Joseph Freitag, OFM Conv., said.
In the long term, Brother Ed sees prayer as integral to the Franciscans’ mission in the community beyond the peace vigils.
“At this point, as a service community we need to witness more in terms of our prayer and our spirituality,” he said.