For Friar Mike Lasky, OFM Conv, seeking social justice goes beyond platitudes or social media posts. It means getting to work, at times with unlikely allies, with one foot firmly planted alongside the poor and another addressing systemic issues that cause poverty and injustice.
Working for justice “is part of the Franciscan DNA,” says Friar Mike. “Catholic social teaching for us is not a list of rules or a way to make the world better. Catholic social teaching is a way for us to live in the world, proclaiming that Jesus is Lord.” Friar Mike, 49, is president of the Washington, DC-based Franciscan Action Network (FAN), described on its website as “a collective Franciscan voice seeking to transform US public policy relating to peacemaking, care for creation, poverty, and human rights.”
He runs the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation ministry (JPIC) of the Franciscan Friars Conventual in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia. He also directs Little Portion Farm in Ellicott City, Maryland, dedicated to serving the poor and caring for creation through sustainable farming methods.
In these capacities, Friar Mike works alongside friars and “Franciscan-minded” people to serve the poor and effect change. “Francis seems to be one of those unique figures in history who breaks down barriers to embrace all people. People can buy into him from all faiths and all walks of life in the secular world.”
One example is Shamokin, Pennsylvania, a coal town where Franciscans have joined church, business, and government leaders to revitalize the region. He likens the effort to the oft-quoted San Damiano experience, when Francis heard God say, “Rebuild my house, which has fallen into ruin.”
Many people interpret “my house” to mean “the people of God,” says Friar Mike. “I say, ‘No, he meant that church. He meant real stones and mortar.’ What I find is that in manual labor, shared manual labor, you form a common mission, then we can look to rebuilding in larger ways, together.”
The friars’ ministry in Shamokin “is an example of what it truly means to be Franciscan,” says Friar Mike. “We’re able to look around us, and everybody is an ally and a friend and is invited to that table.”
Indeed, the table is what drew Friar Mike to the Conventual Franciscans, whom he had first encountered at
Archbishop Curley High School in his hometown of Baltimore. “Hands down, without batting an eyelash: It was the food,” he says with a smile. “The friars ate together at table, and they lingered. There was something that just felt right about that. It was family.”
Today, as president of FAN and director of a Franciscan JPIC ministry, he helps young friars prepare for ministry by interacting with those they will serve. “For us Franciscans, it’s not ‘the homeless.’ It’s that homeless person. It’s not ‘the poor.’ It’s this poor, marginalized person with a name and a story,” says Friar Mike. “And we want to get to know the names and their stories, and we want them to get to know us.
Because we’re stronger together, in relationship.
“And where is relationship built?” asks Friar Mike, reflecting on the food that continues to sustain him 25 years after becoming a Franciscan. “It’s built at table.”