Priestfield: A retreat for Listening, Awakening, and Mission

Priestfield Pastoral Center in Kearneysville, WV

Priestfield Pastoral Center in Kearneysville, WV

I attended the annual retreat of the St. Margaret of Cortona region of the Secular Franciscan Order at the beautiful Priestfield Pastoral Center in Kearneysville, West Virginia this past weekend.  Our retreat was led by Fr. Gene Pistacchio, OFM, who is Director of Franciscan Spiritual Companionship Ministry at the St. Anthony Shrine in Boston.

Fr. Gene Pistacchio, OFM

Fr. Gene Pistacchio, OFM

Fr. Gene is a wonderful speaker and storyteller and spoke on the Journey of Faith:  A Franciscan Spirituality of Encounter.  Fr. Gene  said there are three components of the Franciscan faith journey and they are:  listening, embrace awakening, and mission.  It is important to be aware of the need around you through listening and dialog, as well as quiet-time to listen to God.  We need to embrace awakening and follow the call to the Gospel life, and Fr. Gene shared that his path was difficult at times, but by embracing awakening he has been led to a wonderful life as a friar working in The Bronx and other areas of New England.  We are all called to mission Fr. Gene reminds us, and in doing so find Jesus in unexpected places.

The Elephant Whisperer

Fr. Gene shared many stories with us but one of the most touching stories was about Lawrence Anthony – The Elephant Whisperer.  Lawrence was moved to help save the elephants after seeing so much killing and destruction of their habitat.  But Lawrence died last year and amazing thing happened.

For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late author Lawrence Anthony, the conservationist who saved their lives.

The formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot a few years ago as pests, were rescued and rehabilitated by Anthony, who had grown up in the bush and was known as the “Elephant Whisperer.”

For two days the herds loitered at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve in the South African KwaZulu – to say good-bye to the man they loved. But how did they know he had died March 7?

Known for his unique ability to calm traumatized elephants, Anthony had become a legend. He is the author of three books, Baghdad Ark,detailing his efforts to rescue the animals at Baghdad Zoo during the Iraqi war, the forthcoming The Last Rhinos, and his bestselling The Elephant Whisperer.  (BeliefNet)

In a way this was a perfect story illustrating:  listening, embracing awakening, and mission.  Through these elephants, it shows we are all interconnected in this world and hopefully guides us to mission for a more peaceful and holy world.  Below is a video about The Elephant Whisperer.

Francis & The Sultan

Fr. Gene spoke of the work that the St. Anthony Shrine has accomplished in Boston.  Just before the Boston Marathon Bombings on April 15, 2013, members from the both the Catholic and Muslim communities began to meet for fellowship and peace-building.  After the bombings, the Friars reached out to the Muslims in peace for dialog and understanding, and it helped bring healing to the community.

Fr. Gene spoke of the example of St. Francis who in his own time had worked to build peace by meeting with the Sultan Malek al-Kamil.  Through example we have much to learn from both faith communities, and there are some wonderful resources being used to help facilitate peace in your community.  Fr. Gene has begun to use a program from JustFaith/JustMatters called “In the Spirit of St. Francis and the Sultan: Muslims & Christians Working Together for the Common Good” and offers guides and materials to have a group discussion to help bring peace and understanding.  There is also another great program from Franciscan Media called “In the Footprints of Francis and the Sultan” which has a two-part DVD with interviews from Franciscan Friars and Muslim leaders and relates to the story of St. Francis and The Sultan meeting.   It also offers many materials for learning and discussion in facilitating a group on the website.  Below is a preview of the DVD from Franciscan Media which we hope to host a show and share in Charlottesville with our Muslim & Christian brothers and sisters.


Priestfield Pastoral Center

St. Anthony Shrine in Boston

Story of Elephant Whisperer on BeliefNet

St. Margaret of Cortona Region of Secular Franciscan Order

In the Spirit of St. Francis and the Sultan: Muslims & Christians Working Together for the Common Good (JustFaith/JustMatters)

In the Footsteps of Francis and the Sultan (Franciscan Media)

Previous Blog about Priestfield Retreat in 2012

Brother Kip Ledger sharing his musical gifts

Brother Kip Ledger sharing his musical gifts

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