Hello. My name is Brother Finnian and I recently participated in two Extinction Rebellion protests in London. I got involved because I am increasingly concerned about the climate crisis and its impact on the poorest people in the world. I don’t consider myself to be a very political person, but the climate emergency connected with my underlying motivation to serve the rejected and marginalized, which I now understand to include creation.
I am an Anglican Franciscan brother living in Plaistow, in east London. (Why did I become a Brother?) I live in a community of five brothers and nine homeless adults. We give out food at our front door to at least 50 people each weekday. Four years ago we gave out food to two or three people a week, revealing how quickly food poverty has increased in the area. My community also runs drop-ins from 9am-5pm each weekday, primarily for people who are socially isolated or experiencing difficulties securing accommodation. My life revolves around a daily cycle of Christian prayer, and offering hospitality to the stranger.
I first became aware of a specifically ‘Christian’ concern for Creation when I was a volunteer at Hilfield Friary, for nine months in 2012-13. While living there I learnt St Francis of Assisi had composed a prayer called ‘The Canticle of the Creatures‘, in which he presented creation as praising God. I hadn’t really thought a lot about this until a year ago when I attended a week long Formation on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudate Si, at the Roman Catholic Poor Clare convent in Arkley.
It immediately struck me that this encyclical was directed to “all people of good will”, rather than to only Roman Catholics, or even to other Christians. Pope Francis was addressing everyone who had a concern about the climate catastrophe we are now facing. Pope Francis begins Laudate Si with a short reflection on St Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures. During the Formation we were told St Francis and the Franciscan Movement was made distinct by emphasising the filial relationships between all created things. Franciscans have always grasped the LORD granted humanity “stewardship” for creation rather than “dominion” over it (Gen 1:28). We see this in the Canticle of the Creatures where Francis uses the titles, “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon”. Franciscans have consistently seen themselves, and humanity as a whole, as being located within creation rather than standing over it.
Today the Principles of SSF were read after our Morning Prayer. We were told brothers and sisters, “will rejoice in God’s world and all its beauty and living creatures”. I suddenly realized my underlying motivation and desire for being part of the environmental movement is to reveal the beauty of God to people. I think it is only when we know God, and God’s Creation, as being ‘beautiful’ that we will really address the climate emergency.
Franciscan pastoral work has often emphasized the inherent ‘beauty’ and value of the person we seek to minister to, whoever it may be. We see this in St Francis’ work with the lepers, and it continues to inform how Franciscans engage in a variety of issues ranging from chaplaincy in prisons and hospitals to giving out food and clothes to people experiencing homelessness. And just as we house our homeless brothers and sisters in my friary, and feed our hungry brothers and sisters at our front door, we also seek to serve our brothers and sisters within Creation who are suffering at this time.
I attended the Extinction Rebellion protests with Charlie and Alex, members of The Young Franciscan Community, a new lay Franciscan community in West London. This new community has three adults in employment who share life together, and pray several times a day together using the SSF Office book. There are also 13 live-out members who attend regular prayer meetings, and evenings of Formation in Franciscan spirituality and practice. While there we also met members of the SSF Third Order, a Franciscan group with around 1,800 UK members.
I’ve loved meeting other Franciscans getting involved with Extinction Rebellion who are also feeling called to non-violent activism. If you are within the Franciscan family, or are someone who looks to St Francis (and Clare!?) for inspiration, I would encourage you to think about joining us too. Speaking out about injustice is part of our charism and these peaceful events are a good witness to non-violent forms of political activism.
Pax et bonum!