The Franciscan fraternity in which I lived in October 1987, was maybe the smallest of all. We were just 3 friars and we rented an appartment on the top floor of a building in a residential area. The other two friars were professors at the University of Montreal. The elder one, Fr. lucien La Belle had specialized in pedagogy and he was now well retired. The other friar was Fr. Richard Bergeron and he was still teaching, at that time he taught in the faculty of Theology of the University of Montreal and his subject was Christology.
These friars had been observing me at work all during the months which led up to the event of that first Inter-Faith Peace gathering and that day after the prayer I came home to their encouragements and good words.
The next morning Fr. Lucien took up the newspaper from the doorstep and he exclaimed “Wow, hey brother, you made it on the second page of the Devoir!”
In those years, Le Devoir was the newspaper of the intellectuals, the folks who frequented the Universities and the business and political clients. It was not the newspaper of the blue collar man of the street.
That this newspaper should have an article with photo on their second page about some Franciscan initiative, something religious, was quite rare, but anyway, there it was, a picture of a Buddhist monk, the Venerable from a Vietnamese temple and myself during a moment of the prayer.
The phone was quite busy that day and among the calls and letters which came afterwards, there was one letter from our General In Rome, one from the Bishop’s Office in Montreal expressing a desire that the event be done every year and and also one from the Council of Churches and the Ecumenical Center also expressing their desire that we continue to do this event each year.
I never expected all this and it gave me added conviction that our intuitions were right but all through these results, I never once felt that it was ‘my initiative’ or that it was something that we the Franciscans should ‘possess’.
I remember again what Shakespeare had said about this world being a stage and we were the actors. I was put on stage to act my part and now I was off stage and life in its reality was resumed.
There was, some months later, an Ecumenical prayer gathering for unity, a prayer in which representatives of various Christian Churches got together to pray for Unity, and it was held at the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral and I was invited.
At the end of the service, father Denis Livernois, who was the President of the Montreal Council of Churches at the time, came over to me and asked me not to leave as he wanted to introduce some people.
So I waited and he came and introduced me to the other members of the Council and he said “meet br. Rolph, he is the Franciscan I was telling you about” and then he explained that they wanted me to come to the next meeting of the Council as they had a proposition to make.
I did not have a clue of what it was all about but i attended and there that morning at the meeting they spoke of the initiative they were encouraging.
Montreal was creating its first Inter Faith Council and they wanted me to be their representative at this Inter-Faith Council. I was briefed as to what it was all about and I asked them for three days before I could give my full consent and accept. Of course I spoke with our Provincial, Fr. Gilles Bourdeau and he insisted that I accept.
I served on that Council for six years and then I resigned because I thought it was time they had new blood. The thing is, some people join such like organizations and stay on it and use up the chair until they die! I feel we owe it to the young people to give up such seats and allow them to get involved!
My life at this Franciscan friary with the other two friars did not last long as on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) of that same year 1987, a fire broke out in the attic and the place burnt down. Actually, I wrote about it already in a previous page. The fire was due to faulty wiring. The temperature was some 20 degrees Celsius that evening when the fire started.
Some of the material, photos etc,. concerning the Prayer of that year were destroyed yet we were able to recuperate some photos, due to the generosity of friends. I will scan them and post at another moment.
Those were very important years in my life as I was put on a series of Inter-Faith activities for the Franciscans and attended Conferences in Europe and I even went to Trinidad to do some research in that field and later on in Rome I met the Pope John Paul, this man of such great intuition and intelligence.
He was so full of dynamism in those early years of his pontificate and in later years I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw how terribly afflicted his body was by his illness. I do believe that had he not been shot and been through such an ordeal, his body may have aged and suffered less severely, but who knows?
I would like to now quote an article from Catholic Culture.org
“Pope Benedict XVI has asked the world’s religious leaders to join him in Assisi in October 2011, in a joint prayer for peace.
During his Angelus audience on Sunday, January 1, the Pope announced plans for an inter-faith gathering to mark the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace organized at Assisi by Pope John Paul II.
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger had expressed serious reservations about the 1986 gathering at Assisi, and chose not to take part in the inter-faith event.
But with religious violence flaring around the world, the Pope said that it is time for honest religious leaders “solemnly to renew the commitment of believers of all religions to live their religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.”
Pope Benedict announced his plans for the Assisi pilgrimage during an Angelus address in which he strongly emphasized the need for a positive appreciation of religious freedom. The recognition of religious freedom is a precondition for peace, he said, explaining:
Today we are witnessing two opposing tendencies, two equally negative extremes: on the one hand laicism which deviously seeks to marginalize religion and confine it to the private sphere and, on the other, fundamentalism which seeks to impose it on everyone by use of force.
Wherever religious freedom is effectively recognized the dignity of the human being is respected at its roots and, through a sincere search for truth and goodness, moral conscience is fortified and the institutions of civil coexistence strengthened. For this reason religious freedom is the highway to follow to build peace.
Earlier in the day, the Holy Father had presided at Mass in St. Peter’s basilica for the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. In his homily during that Mass, the Pontiff underlined the main theme of his message for the World Day of Peace, celebrated on the same day. Religious freedom, he said, must be honored if the world is to know true peace. When religious freedom is denied, he added, other fundamental human rights suffer as well, and peace is jeopardized.
The Pope observed that “in the face of the logic of war which unfortunately has not yet been completely overcome, only God can profoundly touch the human soul and ensure hope and peace for humankind.” Referring to his World Day of Peace message, he said:
The world needs God. It needs universal, shared ethical and spiritual values, and religion can offer a precious contribution to their pursuit, for the building of a just and peaceful social order at the national and international levels.”