This week Pax Christi New Mexico friends and I will mark the anniversary of the United States’ obscene bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And to commemorate the victims, as we’ve done for years now, hundreds of us, plus two Nobel Peace prize winners, will converge on Los Alamos, where the atomic bomb was made. There we’ll sit in sackcloth and ashes and pray to see nuclear weapons banished from the earth.
On the Road to Peace
On the Road to Peace is a column on nonviolence from Jesuit Fr. John Dear, a peace activist and the author of more than 20 books.
Several hundred people gathered in a Chicago hotel this weekend for the annual Pax Christi assembly. There we met other activists, renewed old friendships, and took energy from inspiring speakers. Mostly, we pondered the theme laid out in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final sermon, “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution.” He preached it at Washington’s National Cathedral, four days before an assassin’s bullet struck him down.
King’s sermon evoked the image of Rip Van Winkle’s 20-year sleep. “One of the great liabilities of life is that too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution!”
The past few weeks, hundreds of thousands have marched nonviolently in Iran protesting an election purloined by fraud. Battalions of police attacked, but the campaign continues. In Honduras the military staged a coup, and the streets brimmed with those who refuse, nonviolently, to cooperate with the unelected regime.
Last week, between the two poles of my swinging pendulum from desert life to hectic travel, I spent a few days alone hiking the lush Redwood National Forest in northern California. I went with a purpose in mind -- to prepare my mind for trial. It was looming and bearing down. I faced the possibility of six months for my protest on Holy Thursday at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, home to our unmanned drones. But just before I left, word came down. The prosecutor had dropped all charges. I headed for the stately forest just the same.
Little on the planet prepares you for such a sight. The coastal redwoods are the largest trees on the globe. Some reach 35 stories tall, some are 1,500 years old. I ambled into vast groves of them, my neck craning upward, the sky nearly hidden. Seldom does a sunbeam find its way to the ground.
It’s official. As of last week, according to the United Nations, over one billion people are now starving to death. That’s one in six people across the globe. That’s an 11 percent jump from last year.
You might not have heard the announcement. The Associated Press gave it but a moment’s notice. And yet here lies one of the most monstrous scandals of the world. And the scandal indicts us, especially us First World Christians.
News of this epidemic of hunger should blare from every front page. Every politician should be inveighing against it from behind a dais; every commentator should be discussing it before a camera. It should be on the hearts of people of faith. And together we should come to a firm resolve -- to bail out the starving, not bankers; to reallocate the billions in war funds to those on the verge of dying. Demilitarize the nations and feed the starving -- then will life be doubly served.
A few weeks ago, Orbis Books published Franz Jagerstatter: Letters and Writings from Prison, the first complete collection of his writings in English. Through his intimate letters and powerful reflections on faith, church and death, we enter the mind of a contemporary saint and martyr. And we learn a thing or two about growing in sanctity and how we might resist war and practice Christ’s peace.
On August 9, 1943, for refusing to take “the military oath of unconditional obedience to Hitler,” Franz Jagerstatter was beheaded. A year and a half ago, he was beatified during a Mass in Linz, Austria, with his children present along with his dear widow Franziska, now 96.
Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, 62, of Haiti -- one of the finest priests I have known and one of the world’s great prophets of peace and justice -- passed away May 27. Sick with cancer already, he suffered a stroke and died in Miami. The death of a saint is always an occasion of sorrow, joy and reflection. For years this saint has been a presence of steadfast hope in that forlorn island of poverty and despair. His death invites us carry on his work of hope, struggle, justice and healing.
Last week, one dedicated Christian killed another during church services in Wichita, Kansas. Both men thought they were doing God’s will. One -- the zealous anti-abortion activist, Scott Roeder, believed in “justifiable homicide” to bring to a halt the activities of the other -- the abortion doctor, George Tiller. I grieve for both of them, for everyone in that scene, for all of us. Both were far from the nonviolent Jesus, but so are we all. This sad event confirms what many of us have been saying for years. We all need to repent of our violence and discover Jesus’ way of nonviolence.
We’ve been at the task earnestly for the last six years. Each August to mark Hiroshima Day, Pax Christi New Mexico and friends gather at Los Alamos, birthplace of the bomb and every succeeding generation of nuclear weapons, to pray, vigil and repent as best we can for the mortal sin of war and nuclear weapons.
In recent years, we have adopted the method of the people of Nineveh and donned the accoutrements of sorrow and regret: sackcloth and ashes. And like the Ninevites, we beg God for the gift of peace, for nuclear disarmament. Save us, O God, from ourselves!
He was 74 years old, legendary in the peace movement for his anti-war actions, and for his decades of service to the poor of Latin America. And last week, in Guatamela, during a gangland-style robbery, Fr. Larry Rosebaugh was shot and killed.
His death shocks us into recognizing once again the world’s unacceptable, rampant violence and rank poverty. But his life instructs us on how to serve Christ embodied in the poor and persecuted. Larry lived a most Christ-like life, which calls for gratitude and honor, as well as emulation. His life and death invites us beyond our liberal Catholicism, mainstream Christianity, and all-American normalcy to radical Gospel-based discipleship.