Franciscan

What would Francis do?

Positive steps to support our Muslim neighbors

BY TONI CASHNELLI

There’s a place in America where Muslims are not "foreign" or "them". They’re the people next door. Dearborn, Mich., the birthplace of Henry Ford, has the second-largest Arab population outside the Middle East. Almost a third of its 98,000 citizens are Arab-Americans or of Arab descent.

"My mother’s neighbor is an immigrant from Syria," says Br. Al Mascia, OFM, whose Song and Spirit Institute for Peace is based in nearby Berkley, Mich. "They’re good friends. She belongs to the same church as Mom. We drive there together. We go shopping at Kroger together."

But in all-American Dearborn, people are frightened for themselves and their families. And in the wake of the recent anti-immigrant Executive Orders, they came together to voice their concerns. Br. Al was one of a thousand residents, religious and community leaders from Greater Detroit who gathered for an Emergency Town Hall Meeting at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.

Song and Spirit’s ministry builds upon our shared humanity. In response to the immigration actions, "We had a meeting Monday morning about what we should do besides draw from the familiar lexicon of observations, such as, ‘Our hearts go out to the families’" affected by the ban, Br. Al says. As a primary response, "We are going to try to advance the ‘Franciscan Model of Civil Discourse’ promoted by the Franciscan Action Network."

The "Francis Pledge", a commitment to civility in discourse, is an acronym spelling out seven positive steps:
* Facilitate a forum for difficult discourse and acknowledge that dialogue can lead to new insight and mutual understanding
* Respect the dignity of all people, especially the dignity of those who hold an opposing view
* Audit myself and utilize terms or a vocabulary of faith to unite or reconcile rather than divide conflicting positions
* Neutralize inflamed conversations by presuming that those with whom we differ are acting in good faith
* Collaborate with others and recognize that all human engagement is an opportunity to promote peace
* Identify common ground such as similar values or concerns and utilize this as a foundation to build upon
* Support efforts to clean up provocative language by calling policy makers to their sense of personal integrity

"We’re going to try that out," Br. Al says. "We’ll be collaborating in a civil manner – thinking critically but not spending our energy criticizing."

Above all, "We have to be attentive."

Read Br. Al's take on the evening here.

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