Photo by flikr user Conrad Kuiper – Creative Commons

Bridge building is important. It creates avenues for mutual understanding, opens the lines for communication, paves the way for peacemaking, fosters community,  and more.

Bridge building is so important, in fact, that it’s the 2013 theme for the National Secular Franciscan Order USA. And this theme shone through the programing and discussion at the Seculars’ first ever Summer Confabulation – a joint gathering for the national Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Commission and the national Franciscan Youth and Young Adult Commission.

The Confab – held on July 25-28 in Belleville, Il., – allowed the two national commissions to integrate how they address justice, peace and care for creation with the mobilization and engagement of the next generation. Those present shared their past experiences, their wisdom, their dreams and vision for ushering forth the Gospel and Franciscan charism into the world.

Franciscan Mission Service’s executive director Kim Smolik was honored to co-design and co-facilitate the JPIC portion of the conference with Kent Ferris, the director of JPIC at the national level of secular order; Carolyn Townes, OSF; and Rhett Engelking of Franciscan Action Network’s Earth Corps.

Kim Smolik leading a session at the confab. Photo by Bob Stronach.

To help build community and deepen — and expand — the skills of those seculars present at the Confab, Kim led a session that focused on bridge-building skills.

Participants spent extended time in learning circles for the purpose of building relationship with other JPIC directors so that there could have a support network. According to many leaders in the secular order, JPIC is an area ready for growth. The directors are looking for new ways for their efforts to be embraced, and a strong network would help.

By sharing stories of past experiences of bridge building in personal life and fraternity life, participants realized what skills they all ready had.

Bridge building is a familiar and favorite theme for Kim because mission is about bridge building; FMS missioners are bridge builders. The mere act of leaving one’s home to live in an unknown city or land, inspired by a deep calling, is an act of bridge building.

Kim Smolik leading a session at the confab. Photo by Bob Stronach.

In addition to bridge building, Kim and FMS also share the secular fraternity’s goal to grow the JPIC movement and engage younger people. During his presentation, Minister General Deacon Tom Bello, OFS, talked about the graying of the national fraternity (56 percent are over 66). What attracts younger members? Tom cited the testimony of one YOUFRA member who said “1) a faith-based community 2)with good people 3)trying to improve the world.”

Kim highlighted similar points in her address to the Conference of the Major Superiors of Men last summer: young people want community and young people want to be active in service. Through our long-term international and long-term domestic service programs, FMS provides opportunities for community and service while instilling in young people the values of justice, peace and care for creation.

At this summer’s Confab, Kim was grateful to be able to highlight these efforts of FMS and to suggest future partnerships with the seculars, including us potentially facilitating a Short-Term  Mission and Global Awareness trip for the leadership of the seculars in the next year.

“I am always humbled and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Secular Franciscan gatherings,” Kim said. “We hope and believe FMS can be a true partner with you in our mutual goal of inviting young people to know the richness of life in the Franciscan tradition. Not to mention, I am blessed to call many of you friends on this journey. Thank you for welcoming me to be part of your family.”