Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
June 11, 2001
Franciscans in global dialogue
Alberta Franciscan heads international organization lobbying for human rights
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
COCHRANE — Alberta Franciscan friar Jean-Louis Brusett vividly remembers the astounded reaction of a friar from Togo after he attended a United Nations meeting in Geneva this spring with the help of Franciscans International (FI).
The Togo friar was among 125 Franciscans brought to Geneva by FI for the March session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Franciscans International is a faith-based, non-governmental organization recognized at the United Nations.
For years, the Togo friar had been trying unsuccessfully to talk with government officials in the West African country about escalating human rights abuses there.
Within days of his arrival in Geneva, however, he was quietly engaged in a series of hallway conversations with diplomats from his country.
They talked about the country's poor - about 80 per cent of Togo's 4.25 million people are engaged in subsistence agriculture - and the harsh human rights violations prevalent in his country in recent years.
To his surprise, the Togo friar found African officials were far more prepared to talk openly and candidly about the problems in their nation while travelling outside Togo.
"They told him to get in touch when he returned," Brusett, a Franciscans International staff member, said during an interview in late May while visiting the Cochrane area. "The Togo friar was so delighted to make these connections in Geneva with these people from his country."
Such is the work of Franciscans International, a little known NGO endeavouring to make a major impact on issues related to humans rights and the integrity of creation.
Brusett, born in the Crowsnest Pass area, is the administrator and guest master for the FI office and friary in Geneva. In addition, in May he was also named Franciscan liaison in Western Canada for the areas of justice and peace and integrity of creation.
It's a fitting role for Brussett who has worked internationally in Nigeria and Peru, as well as in Cochrane, Victoria, Edmonton and Lumsden, Sask.
The Franciscans traditionally have advocated for the poor and the oppressed in various regions of the world. Now, through FI, they influence major decisions at a global, inter-governmental level. "It completes the circle," he says.
"I think it's a great opportunity for us as friars to be on the cutting edge," said Brusett, 57, who joined the Geneva office a year ago.
It is the first time in its 800-year history that the entire Franciscan family is committed to working together through the ministry of Franciscans International.
Work began on the ministry in the early 1980s. In 1995, it acquired NGO status at the United Nations in New York, where it had an office, and in 1997, it joined with the Dominican Friars to open an office in Geneva promoting human rights.
The New York office works on issues related to women and disarmament while Geneva focuses on human rights, civil and political rights (torture, disappearances, murder, voting irregularities, freedom of speech) along with social, cultural and economic rights, such as the right to housing, health care and education.
Just as St. Francis of Assisi encouraged the rulers of his day, FI says, "With creativity and insistence, we remind government officials of their obligations before God to work for peace, to protect the human rights of the poor and to defend creation from destruction."
The Geneva office is currently devoting considerable energy to the debate on the right to development. "It is a hot topic," says Geneva director John Quigley, especially among countries in the north half of the hemisphere that regard housing, health care and education as "aspirations" rather than rights.
As well, it is monitoring issues in several countries, he said in an e-mail interview.
In looking at the international scene, Canada has a special role at the UN, says Quigley, an American. It's viewed as being more reasonable and compassionate than neighbouring U.S., he says.
Quigley worries that with the new presidential administration in Washington, Canada may, for business reasons, align itself with the U.S. on important human rights and environmental issues.
"Canadians need to continue to let their parliamentarians know that they are concerned about being identified too closely with this American administration," Quigley says.
Quigley encouraged Canadians and Catholics to develop an understanding of the work of FI, pray for its initiatives and, where possible, support it financially.
More information about Franciscans International is available at their Internet web site: www.franciscansinternational.org
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.