Last week some five hundred of us gathered in Washington, D.C., to repent of the mortal sin of the U.S. war on Iraq. There we expressed our remorse and called for an end to our nation's warmaking. Then we streamed onto the streets to take our plea to President Obama, arriving at his gate as he concluded his TV appearance marking his first 100 days. Some criticize Notre Dame for welcoming the president onto Catholic ground to deliver its commencement address. As for us, we criticize the U.S. government, including the Obama administration, for its ongoing warmaking.
On the Road to Peace
This week, Orbis books published Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings, an anthology of the charismatic Brazilian archbishop’s speeches, poems and essays. It’s an essential collection for anyone struggling to live in the church in these times, because this little man with an accent thick as gravy paved the way for liberation theology, base communities and contemporary peacemaking, not only for Brazil and Latin America, but the whole church. His lessons and insights are needed more than ever.
Last week, on Easter Sunday morning, 60 of us gathered for Mass around a makeshift altar in the spectacular Nevada desert, about an hour and half northwest of Las Vegas. There in the natural cathedral of the wide open desert floor and the towering snow-capped mountains surrounding us, we celebrated the resurrection of the nonviolent Jesus.
After the benediction, 21 of us crossed the line and entered the grounds of the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site. We were trying to put the resurrection into practice, to non-cooperate with death, and to welcome the risen Jesus’ gift of peace here and now. It was a beautiful moment. Arrest followed swiftly.
On Holy Thursday, at 3 p.m., fourteen of us walked on to the Creech Air Force Base near Indian Springs, Nevada (about an hour northwest of Las Vegas) to pray and speak out against the U.S. unmanned drones which take off every two minutes in practice runs for bombing raids in Central Asia. After three hours, we were arrested, put in handcuffs and chains; then jailed for the night in Las Vegas.
When we were released on Good Friday morning, we did what any normal Christian would do: we went back to the scene of the crime and continued to pray and speak out for an end to U.S. war making.
Holy Week began for me this week in Denver, where I spoke to a crowd about Jesus’ campaign of nonviolent resistance culminating millennia ago in Jerusalem. There he sized up the temple, stepped into its precincts and interfered with the money exchange -- a form of nonviolent civil disobedience. We all know the story: arrest was swift, brutal execution followed shortly.
In Denver we opened the story again and discussed our own modern-day Jerusalems and our own campaigns of resistance and civil disobedience. Many this week will march against war and injustice in Washington, New York, and Los Angeles. As for me, I’m headed with friends to the remote Nevada desert -- to the Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs.
Last Friday night, I delivered the annual ethics lecture at St. Francis University, a modern campus near Altoona nestled among Pennsylvania's rolling hills. It's an idyllic landscape for a school of peace. There, before some hundreds of students and faculty members, I focused attention on the world's violence and then reflected on the Franciscan alternative of nonviolence and the stunning life of the nonviolent Jesus. His, I said, is our path for living in these times.
Last week, New Mexicans celebrated a great victory for justice and mercy: Governor Bill Richardson signed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty. This historic event came after years of campaigning and lobbying by many people -- politicians, church workers, activists around the state, even family members of murder victims. In the end, moral pressure from all sides backed by the sober analysis of the death penalty made the difference. This great turning point took me back nineteen years to another miraculous time, the campaign to stop the execution of Billy Neal Moore, which led to one of the great spiritual lessons of my life.
A delegation of 20 American peacemakers planned to visit the much maligned nation of Iran in late February. Only six received visas. Among these were David Hartsough and Franciscan Fr. Louie Vitale. They returned brimming with fondness, hope and heartening stories.
David, the delegation leader, is a long time Quaker peacemaker who worked with the American Friends Service Committee for 18 years and co-founded Nonviolent Peace Force, an international project that places trained nonviolence workers in conflict situations. He currently directs Peaceworkers, an organization that supports nonviolent movements around the world.
The saga of Jesus careens and rollicks as he faces off against sinister forces of his day. Not unlike the action thriller The Bourne Identity, but without sports cars going airborne in flames. The story begins in a small town on the outskirts of a brutal empire. He gets wise to religious and political corruption and marches through the countryside to gather the marginalized. Together they follow the dangerous trail of money, from Galilee to one of the world’s most powerful financial institutions, the Jerusalem Temple, a banking system of such imperial corruption that it fleeces the poor in the name of God.
Jesus arrives at the imposing gates to demand that justice be served. And the powers-that-be fight back, and predictable is the outcome: Jesus suffers arrest, abandonment, trial, imperial condemnation, and legal torture.
Last week, Peter DeMott, 62, a friend to peace and justice people everywhere, fell from a tree he was trimming. He was rushed to the hospital and died during surgery. A Vietnam vet and a man of few words, Peter worked full time since the 1970s for peace and disarmament. Some of those years he spent behind bars for civil disobedience. His death leaves those who knew him shocked and grieving. But we also recall his life with gratitude.
“My experience in the military convinced me of the futility of war and of the sad misallocation of resources which war-making requires,” Peter wrote. “My faith in God prompts me to work for a world which unifies us all by ties of love, solidarity and mutual cooperation.”