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Members of the Franciscan family gathered for a meeting in Bangkok, pose for a photo.

SINGAPORE - It was an historic event for the Franciscan family when over 50 members (religious and lay, Catholics and Anglicans) from 35 entities from Asia and the Pacific assembled in Bangkok in early July. Over four days, the assembly deliberated on the future direction of the Franciscan commitment to human rights recognition in the Asia Pacific region where two-thirds of the world population lives.

At the end of the meeting, the assembly unanimously agreed to strengthen the work of their Non Governmental Organization (NGO) - Franciscans International (FI) - by establishing an office for FI in Bangkok, regional headquarters of the United Nations in Asia and the Pacific.

FI enjoys "General Consultative" status with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission. As an international NGO, it acts to influence decision makers on behalf of the most vulnerable.

As St. Francis of Assisi once addressed the social leaders of his time with the challenge of peace, today Franciscans are called to engage policy makers and world leaders for the work of justice, peace, the care of creation, and the promotion of human rights.

Father John Quigley, the Executive Director of Franciscans International in Geneva reminded the Assembly "to protect (our) vested interest - the poor!"

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According to him, "The decision to open the Asia-Pacific office reflects a major development in the history of Franciscans International, the only common ministry of the Franciscan Family, and an important, new inter- Franciscan endeavour at the international level."

Father John-Paul Tan, on behalf of the Singapore Franciscan Family, said that "in FI and hopefully Franciscans International in Asia Pacific (FIAP), a new model of being Franciscan is presented to us that offers us a new language to live out our charism and ministry, especially with the poor and suffering".

Janet Lim, a candidate of the Secular Franciscans Order said: "The new language for me is the language of human rights - that they are not words to be feared nor hushed up but words of Jesus who always made the choice for the 'losers' - the adulterous woman, the Samaritan woman, the blind man. Where I once thought human rights meant up in arms and street protest, I learnt that there are peaceful ways to achieve recognition of human rights."

An Interim Committee made up of members from the Asia Pacific has been set up to steer FI into the Asia-Pacific. It aims to open a fully functioning human rights training office in Bangkok within two years.

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