Interfaith walk celebrates St. Francis’ legacy of peace


Photo by Anna Selles.

Calvin students and staff joined other Grand Rapidians in an interfaith peace walk and service hosted by the Dominican Center of Marywood this Sunday. At the Center’s St. Francis of Assisi Sculpture Garden, the saint’s peacemaking tradition continued to the present day.   

“It’s remarkable to see how St. Francis’ life and teachings have inspired peace walks in Assisi and as far away as Grand Rapids,” said senior Anna Selles, an interfaith intern for Calvin’s Service-Learning Center.

Selles had visited Assisi’s Basilica of St. Francis in high school, so she was already familiar with the saint’s story. But those less familiar had the opportunity to experience his life through the center’s garden, an 11-acre pathway dotted with 16 vignettes. The series displays each statue as a chapter of the story.

Each statue also has an accompanying plaque explaining the scene in greater detail. “Francis and the Leper,” for example, describes the saint’s trepidation before ministering to social outcasts. Not far away, another plaque reminds viewers that, though the church canonized Francis as the patron saint of animals, natural and environmental concerns comprise “only a small part of his teachings.”

“I enjoyed following Francis’ story through the garden to learn about how he found peace and the presence of God through nature,” said Selles.  

Artist Mic Carlson, the force behind the sculptures, introduced the walk on Sunday standing by his life-sized Francis in a patchwork “coat of many colors” leaping over the earth. As he recalled the series’ 2004 exhibition in Assisi, he used the piece’s globe to illustrate the connection between there and Grand Rapids, thousands of miles away.

As Carlson spoke, attendees could just barely hear the nine female voices of the Threshold Choir carrying through the trees. Standing in front of “Francis Preaching in the Temple of Minerva,” the choir performed the simple, reflective songs they typically offer as comfort to the dying. Lyrics like “we are all just walking each other home”  and “may peace be with you” emphasized the event’s theme, and many walkers chose to sit beside the pathway and listen.

“The music was really beautiful,” said senior Chloe Selles. She appreciated the opportunity to “meet people that are very intentional about pausing,” noting the contrast to the busy college lifestyle.

The event continued in the Dominican Center’s chapel with an interfaith peace service opened by Joseph D. Jones, Grand Rapids City Commissioner. Representatives of eight different faiths Baha’i, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, the Religious Society of Friends and the Spiritualist First Church of Truth spoke about peace and its relation to each of their traditions. Sunday’s peace walk and service fell at the beginning of the Week of Peace Education in Grand Rapids Public Schools, honoring the United Nations International Day of Peace 2017 (Sept. 23).

The Marywood campus is the motherhouse of the Grand Rapids Dominican congregation, who vow to Dominic of Caleruega’s “800-year mission to praise, to bless and to preach.” The sisters invited attendees to enjoy refreshments downstairs after the service, and Selles and others enjoyed conversing with the sisters about prayer and vocation.

“The service was a little dry, but it was good talking to the sisters afterwards,” Chloe Selles commented. “The whole [event] was unexpected. Coming here was unexpected, and it was a discovery.”