Jessica Trygstad reports on the Franciscan Brothers of Peace and their missionary work alongside torture survivors:
The Franciscan Brothers of Peace have housed male international victims of torture since the 1990s — about 70 to date, said Brother Conrad Richardson, who serves as the brothers’ community leader. Describing their apostolate as “doing whatever needs to be done,” Brother Richardson said the 12 brothers provide room and board and fulfill other tangible needs — climate-appropriate clothing, food, monthly mass transit passes and phone cards. Multicultural artwork hangs on the walls of their friary, and their kitchen is stocked with ethnic foods to help give their guests a sense of home.
“All are received as Christ,” Brother Richardson said. “Residents who live here, they know that they’re welcome to join us for any meals we have and even to join us in prayer as they like.”
The men come to the U.S. through various means. A former resident, Brother Richardson said, was a stowaway on a ship and found enough food and water to survive the journey. Another man from Iraq had served in a high-ranking military position under Saddam Hussein. He escaped through bribery. The information the brothers garner about their guests is confidential; through the men’s social workers and lawyers, the brothers only know pertinent information and what the men are willing to share, per the Center for Victims of Torture’s policies.
Knowing at least some English, most of the men were well educated and held good jobs in their home countries, giving them the wherewithal to help mobilize people, thus making them targets of their oppressive governments. …
He said a “beautiful aspect” of sharing their home with people of different faiths has been the unity they’ve found through common respect, pointing to their Muslim guests’ admiration of Mary and Jesus. The brothers try to reciprocate that respect. Brother Richardson recalled the time a Muslim guest asked one of the brothers about getting a prayer rug to use for his required prayer times throughout the day. When the brother supplied one, the man held it to his chest and tried to keep his composure.
“He said to us, ‘I have experienced peace here that I have hardly experienced even among my people,’” Brother Richardson recalled, “and that he would be buried with this rug, the gift that was given.”
Complementing the brothers’ ministry, Sarah’s Oasis, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul, serves female victims of torture.
Br. Conrad Richardson and the Franciscan Brothers of Peace are good and remarkable men. I know Br. Conrad as a friend and as a Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network board member, and we talked about this work when he was visiting Philadelphia last month. I can’t imagine bearing the emotional and spiritual weight of this work day to day, and so I admire Br. Conrad and his missionaries all the more.