A common sight in Italy is the tour guide’s umbrella, leading folks in and out of churches, museums, gift shops, and any door that says gelato or espresso. This coming June, eight young friars will join me for a pilgrimage in Italy, but there will be no umbrella for them to follow. Instead, they will be given an olive branch to lead them into the way of peace, a more difficult journey, where we encounter Jesus.
The abiding image of peace is the olive tree because it takes years of cultivation to bear fruit. In the same way, preaching and working for peace requires time and careful attention in order to be fully realized. Today, we can look at the war in Ukraine as an example. A cease-fire, an immediate end to the violence, will not bring peace. Rather, peace needs time to be nourished by justice and reparation. It must struggle through healing and eventually find forgiveness.
Using this image, Pope Francis preaches peace today by reminding us that the roots of the olive tree are the Apostles. As the Apostle Paul tells us in his Letter to the Ephesians:
“Jesus came and preached peace…so that we would no longer be foreigners or strangers, but God’s people built on the foundation of the Apostles.”
These friends of Jesus, the Apostles, followed in His example and preached peace, bringing reconciliation and mercy to the hearts of many. Pope Francis invites all Christians to find nourishment in our common roots of the Apostles, overcoming what divides us by doing the hard work of cultivating peace, as children of God.
In an attempt to foster global friendships during the International Year of Peace, St. John Paul II would refer to Francis of Assisi as the Apostle of the Gospel of Peace. St. Francis, who suffered imprisonment during war, found the path to inner peace through the hard work of a prayerful conversion process in which he heard Jesus ask him to go and preach peace. His newfound relationship with his friend Jesus, in turn, led him to see everyone else he encountered as a sister or brother. This reconciliation was the good news of both inner and social peace that Francis preached in his time.
Franciscans are still hearing the call of Jesus, who is sending us to do the hard work of prayerfully preaching peace in our world today. Nourished by the apostolic roots of Brother Olive Tree, we strive to cultivate new ways of sharing the Gospel of Peace, with only an olive branch to guide our feet along the more difficult path of peace and friendship.