REFLECTION: God is always with us, even in our most terrible suffering

Bishop Thomas Gumbletonby Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Every week, if we listen deeply enough, the Scripture lessons speak to us about things that are happening in our daily lives, in our world around us. But sometimes it seems even extraordinary how directly the Scriptures speak to us about what has been happening in our world and in our lives. I don’t know if Pope Francis planned this — I doubt it, but it’s so amazing that this week when he published that encyclical letter about the planet and what’s happening to it and all of creation, that now on this Sunday, we have a passage from the book of Job, which calls us, challenges us to think deeply about creation.

As I mentioned in the introduction, Job had been arguing with God: “Why did this happen to me — all this suffering?” He wants answers, and God, being God, has no need to give answers. It isn’t that God doesn’t love him, but God is trying to bring him through that suffering to some new reality of relationship with God. God speaks to Job about creation and makes it clear how Job had no idea in the deepest sense of [who] God is.

God answered Job out of the storm: “I will question you, and you must answer. Where were you when I founded the earth? Answer and show me your knowledge. Do you know who determined its size? Who stretched out its measuring line? Who shut the sea behind closed doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment, when I set its limits? Have you ever commanded the morning or shown the dawn its place that it might grasp the earth by its edges? Have you journeyed to where the sea begins or walked in its deepest recesses?”...

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REFLECTION: In Baghdad, organized destruction

by Cathy Breen
Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Two days ago an email came from an Iraqi doctor in Baghdad in response to a brief greeting I sent for the month of Ramadan.

“Thanks so much for remembering us…In fact we are the same if not worse.  Our hearts are broken at the organized ruining of our country.  We are targeted by those criminals and gangs coming from everywhere, even from the west who are all witnessing this drama and, if not supporting it, are keeping silent.  We wonder what sin we committed to face this gloomy black fate.  In fact, what is going on is beyond words. “

This courageous woman doctor never left the side of gravely ill children despite the great exodus of doctors due to kidnappings, assassinations and threats to their lives and families.  Sadly she reports that another of her siblings has cancer, and she needs to leave the medical students for some days.  This happens she says regretfully in “the critical time of final exams.”   She herself is a cancer survivor and both her mother and sister had cancer.   They have no choice, she says, but to go on and try to survive.

Another long-time friend is working in southern Iraq in a job that will soon end.  He is away from his family in Baghdad, and it is dangerous for him in the south, but he has no choice with a wife and seven children to support.  There was already an assassination attempt on his life in Baghdad and houses near their own have been bombed.  There are nightly explosions and gunfire, assassinations and kidnappings.   Approximately 200 people across Iraq have been killed each day in this month alone.

We have been frantically trying to find a safe place for him and his family to escape to.  If they could go to Kurdistan they would join the ranks of the already three million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) within Iraq.  If they could get to Turkey, they might eventually get refugee status.  But it is expensive there, they don’t speak the language, are not allowed to work and resettlement could take years.

Our friend emailed that his wife decided to send their second oldest son, 16 years, to her mother’s house due to kidnapping cases. “Two kids were kidnapped two days ago.”   Ali, I will call the son, has exams and his grandmother’s house is closer to the school.  When I stayed with this family for two weeks in 2013, one of Ali’s twelve year old friends was kidnapped and was never found.

The grandmother takes her grandson each day to school and sits against a wall under its shadow until Ali finishes his exam.   She is “old and weak,” Ali’s father writes, “and honestly it is meaningless to think she could protect Ali as she can’t really protect herself.  But I do appreciate her efforts.”    Ali told his dad that his grandmother was causing him “too much embarrassment as she doesn’t understand the rules of the exams.”  She always tries to enter the exam class to give Ali cold water because it is very hot.  The first day the director of the exam allowed her to do this, but another day during the exam she tried again.  This time it was not to give him water.  She had cooked a rooster and told the staff that he had to eat well to do good on the exam!  Ali was a little bit angry but his love for her “let him forget the embarrassing feeling!”  He is “crazy in love” with his grandmother as she is the only grandparent left.

Ali was complaining to his father about the insufferable heat and lack of air cooling system, as well as the terrible mosquitoes.  He uses a kerosene lamp for studying at night.    The father was trying to encourage him by phone to overcome the difficulties saying: No pain, no gain.  Ali responded “Dad, since we opened our eyes in this life, we have only known pain.”

Just yesterday two civilians were killed as Ali and his grandmother approached the school.  This happened right in front of their eyes.   His father emailed: “Ali couldn’t answer exam well as he saw the accident.  Let us pray for his safety.”

Our friend and his wife worry excessively about their oldest boy, 18 years, as militia come to the houses seeking young men to fight ISIS, and they “will take young guys by force to do battle.”  Although this son is needed to guard the house at night and help his mother, the mother felt compelled to send this son away too.

My friend concluded:  “Cathy, It’s hard to sleep. Don’t worry. The family is still fine.”

Cathy Breen has represented Voices for Creative Nonviolence in many visits to Iraq. She lived in Baghdad throughout the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing and the initial weeks of the U.S. invasion.  She lives and works at Maryhouse Catholic Worker in NYC.

REFLECTION: The witness of “Living Stones” in the Holy Land

Rosemarie Paceby Rosemarie Pace
Pax Christi Metro New York coordinator

Seventy years ago, at the end of World War II, a French woman, Madame Dortel-Claudot, and a French Bishop, Pierre-Marie Theas, began a movement to pray for peace and reconciliation between their country and Germany. It disturbed them terribly that two supposedly Catholic Christian countries could have been at war with each other, killing each other’s people. Seventy years later, Pax Christi, the international Catholic peace movement, the outgrowth of that simple beginning, spreads across six continents and continues the work of prayer, study, and action for peace, justice, and reconciliation.

To celebrate these 70 years of peacemaking, Pax Christi International invited its members to a conference in Bethlehem from May 13th to the 17th, 2015. What more appropriate place for a movement that was founded on reconciliation to gather than a place that cries out for reconciliation today!

And taking advantage of the moment, 29 members and friends of Pax Christi USA not only accepted the invitation, but also became pilgrims for two weeks exploring the Holy Land largely walking in the footsteps of its Living Stones. The Living Stones Pilgrimage was organized by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) and led by Bob Cooke of Pax Christi Metro DC/Baltimore. It focused not on the ancient remains of architecture and artifacts, but on the people who continue to breathe life into this region rich in history, religion, and culture. In particular, it enabled us to share in the joys and sorrows of Palestinians, mostly Christian but Muslim as well, who struggle to survive in a place that is occupied and severely oppressed. In this Kerux Live! I would like to introduce you to some of those remarkable, at times tragic, Living Stones with just a few highlights. To tell the full story would require a small book, which may yet come, but not now.

First there were the students of Bethlehem University who live within the confines of Israeli occupation but still insist there is no hatred. Hatred is useless, a waste of energy, they said. They believe that it is the will of the people on both sides (Israel and Palestine) to have peace, but not the will of those in power.

Then there was the Regional Director of the Bethlehem Museum of Culture and Heritage who told us about the struggle he and his wife are enduring to get their baby daughter a permanent Israeli ID like her mother, rather than a Palestinian ID like her father, because there are more advantages with an Israeli ID.

At the Aida Refugee Camp, the Living Stones were young boys probably between 10 and 12 years old. They were playing outside a community center when Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers decided to toss tear gas at them, we were told because they had wandered beyond the entrance to the Camp. No words, just an unprovoked assault that is part of the uncertainty of daily life in the Occupied Territories.

At Tent of Nations, a Palestinian family farm which Israel has been trying to confiscate for many years, we heard Daoud Nassar note that there are three ways to respond to the Israeli occupation: violence which only begets more violence, despair and inactivity, and evacuation. But he and his family reject all three, so they have adopted a fourth way—nonviolence—which they teach to visitors and volunteers.

In Hebron, again the Living Stones that stood out for me were children. At the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the mosque on the Muslim side, one adorable little girl shyly approached me with great curiosity and a huge smile. I reached out my hand and said Salam. She delightedly gave me her hand and then ran to get a littler girl, probably her sister, to do the same. As heart-warming a moment as that was, the other was heart-wrenching. A little boy was trying to sell a Palestine bracelet to a fellow pilgrim. As she went to purchase the bracelet, an IDF soldier charged down a flight of stairs to shove the boy away and yell at him. We can only imagine how such abusive treatment affects this Living Stone.

Back in Bethlehem is Wi’Am Conflict Resolution Center. The founder and director is a Living Stone overflowing with knowledge and wisdom. Among the many striking things he said were these: They do not actually want resolution but transformation. Their interest is in restorative justice to help everyone live freely. There must be collective responsibility; win-win, not zero-sum. Trust is greater than fear. We need to embrace the truth. Hope is a form of nonviolent struggle, and there is cause for hope. We need to bring people to their senses, not to their knees.

Combatants for Peace are Living Stones from both sides of the Israel/Palestine divide, people who are veterans of either the IDF or Palestinian resistance. We met with a young woman IDF vet and a young Palestinian man who spent over 10 years in prison for violent assault on Israeli soldiers at the age of 14. He told us how he learned about Gandhi, Mandela, and nonviolence in jail, which he called “Restorative U,” and then co-founded Combatants for Peace. She told us how she learned about the Palestinian plight from working with Palestinians in Jerusalem after her military service. Together they shared the three principles of Combatants for Peace: 1) bi-national decision-making and leadership to promote activism for change, 2) belief in nonviolence, and 3) the end to Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Palestinian man recenty released after 20 years in prison at the Nakba commemoration event.

Palestinian man recenty released after 20 years in prison at the Nakba commemoration event.

Two Living Stones we met were totally unplanned and unexpected. PCI held a Candlelight Vigil in Manger Square, Bethlehem to commemorate Nakba (Catastrophe) when Palestinians were expelled from their homes in the new state of Israel in 1948. Both men just happened by as we were praying, singing, and listening to testimonies. The first was teary-eyed as he thanked us for our presence and our support. The second man revealed that he was recently released from over 20 years in prison. He, too, thanked us and urgently appealed for peace and freedom.

Some of the most vibrant Living Stones live in Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam/Oasis of Peace, a village founded by a priest nearly 50 years ago in Israel. It is totally bi-lingual, bi-cultural, and bi- (or tri-) faith. Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam is a model of what the Holy Land could be where the children learn together, adults gather to learn from each other, and all people face the issues of the day with openness and a sincere desire to understand.

The Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions is another source of Living Stones. A vibrant young woman named Ruth reported on her work supporting Israeli Palestinians whose homes are subject to demolition for any of three reasons: punitive, administrative, or military. She also spoke of the challenge of Permanent Residency for Israeli Palestinians and the risk both Israeli Palestinians and Jews take should they protest.

Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann of Rabbis for Human Rights, “a zionist with a small z” as he described himself, offered his own solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict: a Federation similar to that of Belgium.

As delightful as the little girls were at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron were the members of the HCEF Senior Center at Birzeit, Palestine. As we shared lunch with them, chatted, and danced, we learned of their various families locally and in exile in the U.S. and other parts of the globe, the bittersweet emotions of separation, the longing for freedom, and the joy of community.

Even the shopkeepers proved to be Living Stones, offering hospitality each time we entered a store, offering us cool drinks and, sometimes, sweets.

Our last encounter with Living Stones on this pilgrimage was with three women from Musalaha, which means reconciliation, a very appropriate place to conclude a trip made possible by a peace movement founded on reconciliation. The women of Musalaha, mostly Jewish and Christian, work to address and de-escalate fear through listening to each other’s stories, exercising self-criticism, praying together, reaching out to others in need. As the Director said about their work: “If my theology doesn’t bless the other person, then there’s something wrong with my theology.”

Should you ever visit the Holy Land yourself, be sure to meet with the Living Stones there. If any of the Living Stones we met on this Pax Christi pilgrimage aroused further interest on your part, they can be found on the web. I encourage you to read more about them there.

Click here to see more information on the delegation, including photos, additional posts, background info, etc.

RACISM: ‘America’s original sin’ manifests itself again in Charleston shootings

by Mark Pattinson, Catholic News Service

1A_Charleston_vigilWASHINGTON (CNS) — Lisa Sharon Harper, director of organizing for the Sojourners community in Washington, defined “America’s original sin” as “racial hierarchy” at a June 15 conference on solidarity and faith issues in the nation’s capital.

Two days later, that sin reappeared in a shocking and conscience-troubling way, as nine members of a Bible study group at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, were murdered, allegedly by a 21-year-old white man, Dylann Roof, who had penned a race-baiting and race-hating manifesto not long before the shooting. In the manifesto, Roof said that, through the action he was contemplating taking, he hoped to start a race war in the country.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, expressed “grief and deep sadness” over the murders in a June 19 statement. “There have been far too many heartbreaking losses in the African-American community this year alone. Our prayers are with all those suffering from this heinous crime. We join our voices with civic and religious leaders in pledging to work for healing and reconciliation,” he said.

The archbishop was not a Johnny-come-lately on race issues. Just the week prior, on June 10, he told his fellow bishops, “We mourn those tragic events in which African-Americans and others have lost their lives in altercations with law enforcement officials. These deaths have led to peaceful demonstrations, as well as violent conflicts in the streets of our cities. In every instance, our prayer for every community is that of our Lord in St. John’s Gospel, ‘That they all may be one.'”

Archbishop Kurtz uttered those words as the bishops had gathered in St. Louis, not far from Ferguson, Missouri, where the shooting death last August of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown brought forth not only a wave of protests by African-Americans, but cast a critical eye on the use of deadly force by police on African-Americans in subsequent incidents throughout the country.

Bishop Joseph E. Guglielmone of Charleston, noting Archbishop Kurtz’s call to “commit to an ending of racism and the promotion of peace, justice and respect for all persons,” himself urged “everyone in the Catholic community in South Carolina to make this a personal commitment as well.”

“We forgive the perpetrator,” said a June 23 statement from Pax Christi USA.

“Yet the killer is still among us,” it added.

“Overt and covert racism is the killer, planted in the earth of these United States long ago with the arrival of the first African slaves. These men and women were brought unwillingly and in chains to the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. Why? We all know this story, don’t we? Yet, in 2015, most white Americans, as in 1619, continue to marginalize, devalue, and dehumanize African-Americans in particular. There are messages white America needs to hear from people of color. Engage in the dialogue.”

Pax Christi is practicing what it preaches. It has conducted a series of dialogues over the past year in five major U.S. cities, and will add a sixth in September in the Washington-Baltimore area.

A similar lack of recognition of minorities cropped up even within U.S. Catholic peace activist circles, according to Sister Patricia Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who is Pax Christi USA’s president, and herself an African-American.

“The reality is that, traditionally, Pax Christi USA has not really done any major outreach to Catholic communities of color,” she told Catholic News Service, adding that a second series of workshops will be conducted in the original cities, and a manual produced, as a way of forging a common future within the peace movement.

Alveda King Tookes, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King who often drops her married name when doing her pro-life work for Priests for Life, said she was stunned when Fox News Channel called her at 4 a.m. the morning after the shootings to gain comment from her.

“My first reaction: Oh no, not again. My grandmother, Alfreda Williams King, was shot at Ebenezer (Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Rev. King had been pastor). Of course, that (assailant) was an African-American; of course, this time it was a Caucasian,” she told CNS from Atlanta.

Tookes added, “The nation has to repent for racism. We do have racism in America. For those who say ‘we have no racism in America,’ that’s not true.”

It’s not that U.S. whites don’t get it, she said. “Many people in the Caucasian community I work with do get it. They’re abolitionists, they understand a person is a person. I don’t say white people don’t get it. People who don’t connect the dots don’t get it. Caucasians may not get (the concept of) white privilege. But African-Americans may not get that white people are not all evil.”

After the outpouring of grief for the victims of the Charleston shootings comes the harder work of public policy changes.

The initial reaction, lauded by many but scorned by others, was the effort by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to take down the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Capitol building. But removing it permanently will require action by the state Legislature. The Rev. Clementia Pinckney, one of the nine murdered, was a South Carolina state senator. Many major national retailers have said they will discontinue sales of Confederate-emblem merchandise, while others are stocking up. And other Southern states’ flags have Confederate elements to them.

The mass murders also brought about an effort to revive a bipartisan gun control bill by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, initially offered in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders in December 2012. Fierce lobbying by the National Rifle Association and the now-typical Senate polarization scuttled the bill two years ago.

While racial justice advocates have lauded these moves, they have also acknowledged that they only treat a symptom of the underlying sickness of racism. And that is a symptom that has eluded a cure in this country for nearly four centuries. As Tookes put it, “Gun control is not going to work. It’s going to take heart control.”

REFLECTION: Images of division and hope in Palestine, Israel

by Judith Kelly
Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore

My first taste of going to Palestine? A rebuke by an Israeli citizen who I encountered at the Istanbul airport — a British woman married to a Jewish Holocaust survivor. “You’re not going to Palestine,” she insisted. “It’s Israel.  I live there!” A warning that I dare not be flip. She critiqued the current government, and to convince me of her true leanings, revealed that her Jewish grandchildren attend a bicultural school with Arab children. Neve Shalom.

DSC09467Our flight did land in Israel. The promise land of milk and honey. Where has that promise gone? It’s truly two countries, highly separated. Two prisons that keep people from knowing each other.

Early on, at the entry of Aida Refugee Camp, we experienced the remnants of tear gas. Bored young Palestinian boys ran from Israeli soldiers who play by different rules. This brought up an ironic memory from an SOA Watch delegation to Santiago, Chile: my first ever whiff of tear gas from security personnel repressing a crowd of demonstrators. On later visits I heard accounts from student protesters who have suffered the full effects of a type of tear gas that clings to and burns the skin. It came from Israel.

A more positive connection to Chile: 300,000 people with Palestinian heritage live in Chile due to a long history of migration. One Palestinian shopkeeper told us this dates back to 1930.

0516151326aI also found a number of Polish connections along the tourist route, including the Sklep Polski (Polish Shop) near our conference hotel, owned by a hospitable Palestyński. We shared our beginner’s Polish over coffee. In the next days I hovered near several tour groups with Polish guides. We joined groups from around the world—a number from Spanish-speaking countries—as we walked where Jesus walked.

I reconnected with the spirit of John the Baptist in a cave at the end of a long hike through some impressive Roman ruins in Sebastia (near Nablus). A few at a time, we descended into a barren cell that may have been where his body was buried. A painting of his head on a platter, with an icon and some flickering beeswax candles honored his fearless witness and inspiration. John the Baptist, Presente! My kind of guy.

A timelessness about the setting, and a timeliness for solidarity with peace-minded Israelis and Palestinians. The Pax Christi International 70th anniversary conference – a global citizen assembly – could not have been in a better place than Bethlehem. A birthing place. The people of these beautiful and historic lands once lived together. It is our turn to lend a hand in the peace process. And despite everything, to remain hopeful that good will overcome evil.

Click here to see more information on the Pilgrims on the Path to Peace delegation, including photos, additional posts, etc.