Last Christmas in an interview broadcast on PBS, President Bush was asked about the future of Iraq. "The future of Iraq is Colombia," he answered with a wily grin. Much of the world recoils as the United States occupies and destroys Iraq. But not so Colombia. There the United States shoves aside the indigenous people, seizes their land, grants it to multinational corporations, and maintains a façade of democracy. And the world is none the wiser. Most think a noble cause lies behind the war -- a fight for freedom. Thus the president finds his war on Columbia much more to his preference.
On the Road to Peace
Each year around Nov. 16, nearly 20,000 people gather at Fort Benning, Ga., outside the gates of the notorious "School of Americas." The school has trained some 64,000 Central and South Americans, many of whom have gone on to commit murder and torture as members of Latin American death squads -- a sinister distinction that has earned the place the more infamous title, the "School of Assassins." The yearly protests are by now as rooted as the Georgia pines and have the Pentagon on the defensive. The Pentagon's first official response was a PR move. A name change came down. They now call the place "The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation."
"Come back, Woodie Guthrie, Come back, Mahatma Gandhi," sang Joan Baez in her beatific soprano. "Come back to us Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. We're marching into Selma as the bells of freedom ring."
For years now I've been crisscrossing the country like a new-fangled, post-modern, itinerant preacher, speaking to tens of thousands annually about the gospel of peace.
Sept. 21 marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Henri Nouwen, one of our most popular writers on the spiritual life. A man of prodigious output, he produced a sweeping catalog of books, including such titles as Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World; and The Return of the Prodigal Son. One might surmise that here was a strict ponderer of the inner life. Or a guide to navigating one's private relationship with God. But Henri's thinking surged beyond such narrow channels. Few realize the full spectrum of his spirituality.
Every year, on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis, memories of my first visit to Assisi come to mind. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of Pax Christi International. Some 800 Catholic activists converged on the town and a lavish conference got underway. I attended a presentation or two and heard some eloquent speakers from around the world pleading for justice and disarmament. But I found myself beckoned by the beautiful and irenic landscape, so I left the talks behind and headed for the quaint streets and the fertile hills and the town's glorious churches -- the Church of San Damiano and the Portiuncula, the little chapel Francis erected by hand.
"We're here to collect Sen. Pete Domenici's signature on our Declaration of Peace," we said to the security official in the lobby of the Santa Fe Federal Building. "We're here to collect his promise that from now on, he will work to end the U.S. war on Iraq and bring the troops home, and pursue reparations and nonviolent solutions for the Middle East. Until we get his signature, were not leaving."
The guards stared in disbelief. They knew that New Mexico's senator is one of the Bush Administration's biggest supporters, one of the greatest defenders of nuclear weapons in history. We knew it, too. When some of our group wrote asking him to oppose the Iraq war, he wrote a letter in return -- a letter brimming with braggadocio and punctuated by boasts of his support for the war. We responded in turn by deciding to take a stand for peace, or more specifically, a sit in for peace.
"We will never win a war against terror as long as the conditions for poverty and injustice remain," Archbishop Desmond Tutu said. "Poverty breeds terrorism. So we should stop spending billions of dollars on weapons of destruction and instead feed the hungry people of the world. Then, we'll stop terrorism. If we want to live in peace, we have to realize we are all members of the same family."
This past spring, I received an invitation to meet the organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast, an evangelical Christian organization that brings together the president, members of Congress and the Supreme Court, and virtually every putative Christian in the government.
For the last five days, some 50 of us walked more than 50 miles; we went from Thomas Merton's hermitage at the Abbey of Gethsemani to downtown Louisville, Ky. There on Sept. 11 we held a rally at the corner of Fourth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, where nearly 50 years ago, Merton realized he loved everyone and decided to spend the rest of his life engaging the woes and tumult of the world.