When you see the job title of animator, do you first think of creating characters for a Pixar movie? For Franciscans, animation has to do with generating spiritual movement and growth, as well as deepening social consciousness in their respective religious communities and beyond. Brother Mark Schroeder, OFM, is the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) animator for both St. Barbara and Our Lady of Guadalupe Franciscan Provinces.Brother Mark was born and raised in San Jose, California, and joined the Franciscans in 1977. The draw to Franciscan life and spirituality was both simple and powerful for him. “To live in community and work with the poor,” he answers when asked what attracted him to the Franciscans.
His workplace may be on the small side (“My bedroom desk is my office!”), but the energy and commitment Brother Mark brings to justice concerns are huge. From his “bedroom desk” at the St. Francis Friary in Sacramento, California, Brother Mark administers FranciscansforJustice.org, a website dedicated to raising awareness of issues such as immigration, gun control, the death penalty, and the environment.
“I picked the name for the joint province project,” Brother Mark recalls. “I hoped that this title [Franciscans for Justice] would be catchier than something with ‘JPIC’ in it, since most people beyond the Franciscan family don’t readily understand that acronym.”
Under the broad categories of immigration, justice, peace, and care for creation, FranciscansforJustice.org provides news on major developments in those areas, notable upcoming events, and reflections on how these social-justice concerns intertwine with Franciscan spirituality.
The immigration section, for example, presents many educational resources in both English and Spanish, along with links to organizations such as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.
“While the media have helped us all to see the plight of unaccompanied minors in the United States, there remain continued injustices to farmworkers and other immigrant laborers,” Brother Mark explains. The deaths of hundreds of immigrants attempting to enter Europe from Africa and the Middle East is a stark reminder of the desperation with which immigrants seek a better life, he says.
Though the injustices Brother Mark addresses on FranciscansforJustice.org are current, the approach to healing them is firmly rooted in the 800-year-old spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.
In a reflection titled “Franciscans on Peace,” he writes, “In everything he did and said, Francis sought to create peace within human hearts, families, cities, and nations. Francis was a practical agent of reconciliation.”
There’s another Francis—this one from the 21st century—who motivates and inspires Brother Mark to work on justice issues: Pope Francis. “We’ve got a prophetic pope right now. He’s asking friars, sisters, Secular Franciscans, and actually all Christians to get off our duffs and to get involved,” Brother Mark says.
“My opinions might be strong, but I believe that being a ‘practicing Catholic’ has nothing to do with simply receiving sacraments or just attending Mass,” Brother Mark explains. “It’s all about the actions that flow out of active participation in sacraments.”
My mother always credited St. Anthony with finding lost items for her, and now I have my own story.
Recently, my granddaughter and I spent an entire morning organizing the small house she just moved into, marking the first time she’s lived out on her own. After that, I went along with her as she cashed her paycheck, paid the first month’s rent, filled out a change-of-address card at the post office, and so on.
By the end of the afternoon, she couldn’t find her wallet. We retraced our steps, checked every drawer and cabinet in her house, and even checked garbage bags—all to no avail. I started praying to St. Anthony when I got home.
As I was praying, I received a text message: “Grandma! My wallet is in the glove box in your car!” And sure enough, it was! Thank you, St. Anthony, for jogging her memory!
—Marcia O’Neal, Streator, Illinois
In Francis’ day, the Catholic Church’s most severe critics claimed to be living a more Spirit-led life, avoiding the corruption they claimed arises out of physical creation. “Only things of the spirit count,” they said. The sacraments were too physical,
in their opinion.
Francis saw this attitude as a rejection of the Incarnation, as a refusal of the graces that God generously offers through Baptism, the Eucharist, and the other sacraments. At its best, Franciscan preaching has always moved listeners to confess their sins and receive the Eucharist.