Br Benedict SSF

As a Franciscan, I have lived in some tough areas, unchurched areas and Franciscan brothers are called to put a human face to God – to show God’s love to the poor and rejected and to find God speaking to us through the poor and rejected.

Br Benedict SSF

Who are the Society of St Francis (SSF)?

Br Benedict is the Minister Provincial of the Society of Saint Francis European Province. He currently lives with two other SSF brothers and up to 5 homeless asylum seeker men. The Society of St Francis is an community of men seeking to follow Jesus Christ in the way of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi.

What's it like living in Leeds?

We moved to the north east part of Leeds about 9 years ago, into a heavily populated area of the city which still has many streets of back-to back houses with few trees or greenery to break up the sea of bricks and concrete. Some residents make an effort to cultivate the very tiny space of garden in the front of the properties or to put pot plants in the tiny back yard – or you can take a 10 minute walk to a local park or the more leafier tree lined road which mark a more expensive residential area beyond the boundary of our location.  In the last 4 years we acquired a second small terraced house in the street backing on to ours in order to accommodate more asylum seekers, a ministry which soon developed after our arrival in Leeds.

Leeds is one of the northern cities to which men and women claiming asylum are distributed by the Home Office often whilst awaiting the outcome of their asylum application.  We work with an agency, Grace Hosting, who seek to find accommodation, a room in someone’s home, to house an asylum seeker who is destitute i.e. they have no legal right to be in the UK, nor any legal right to work, nor entitlement to government accommodation or state benefits. Often they have been rejected at an interview with the Home Office or in an Immigration Court appearance – and by receiving such an asylum seeker into our home we provide food and accommodation at our own expense and importantly we try and give them a family existence for the time they are with us, their own families, friends and all that is familiar having been left behind when they fled from political, religious or other oppression back in their country of origin.  We can take an asylum seeker for overnight accommodation or for the weekend but mostly we take men for a longer period of time, even for a couple of years, whilst they get their paperwork together to apply again to Home Office or Court for permission to remain legally. It does not matter to us if they are not Christian – they are human beings, we are brothers (or often substitute uncles/older brothers – in need and in our two houses we can provide accommodation for 5 men with emergency accommodation if necessary.

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How does Saint Francis's example shape your life?

Saint Francis of Assisi met the leper – and was converted; in this society – reject, he discovered Jesus Christ.  Today, we who are called to follow Jesus in the manner of S. Francis will also discover Jesus in the face of those who are overlooked in our society and those who are very much the bottom of society’s  ladder.  We discover our dignity and sonship of God when we treat others with respect and fraternity and treat others with the kind of love which God reveals to us.

Are you an ordained brother?

Yes, as a priest I help out at a local Church and in the congregation one third would be asylum seekers and I help out with the formation class after the main Sunday Service, teaching them more about the Christian faith and how the Gospel is put into everyday practice.  All have converted to Christianity mainly whilst they have been in the UK and I often attend the Immigration Court with them as a witness that they are genuine converts – but I only do this if I have got to know the person over a good period of time, over a year, and have spoken to them at depth about their Christian faith and I am convinced myself that they are genuine converts. 

I think that this is an important ministry because Franciscans are called to live in poor areas and to serve the poor and marginalised.  Asylum seekers are very much the lepers of the day, having fled from native homelands and arriving in the UK where the government has an avowed policy of hostility towards them and often they are met with racial, verbal  and physical abuse by residents in the UK.  Often they have been traumatised by the experience in their home country and cannot always be in touch with family and friends back home and just need a friendly acceptance here. 

I have made some wonderful friends among our asylum seeker guests and they add a special dimension to our life, coming as they do from a cultural background and experience very often so different from our own.

Why is prayer an important part of your life?

I believe that Prayer underpins everything else that a Religious does.  Without prayer (which is really building a friendship with God) active ministry can be more projecting oneself rather than promoting the Gospel!  In our tiny house here in Leeds, we have converted one of the rooms into an oratory and recite the daily round of Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer (Compline) as well as having two half hours of silent prayer, and we celebrate a daily Eucharist.  Being a praying presence in a locality is important, we believe, and is an essential ministry or work for any Religious. We pray for all whom we meet in a particular day, especially those who live in our street, or at our church; this may not seem important but if we were not praying for them the likelihood is that no one else is!   As a Franciscan I have lived in some tough areas, unchurched areas, and Franciscan brothers are called to put a human face to God – to show God’s love to the poor and rejected and to find God speaking to us through  the poor and rejected.

What would you say to someone feeling 'called'?

Many Anglicans do not know and it comes as a surprise to know, that Religious Communities exist in their own Church! There are a number of communities with a different ethos.  Franciscans are inspired to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ particularly with a ministry to the poor, as I have mentioned.  We friars are itinerant, aim to live in the poorer parts of cities (though we do have retreat and guest houses in three lovely locations in the UK!).
Society of St Francis
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