REGIONAL EVENT: Pax Christi Metro New York’s Fall Assembly is November 8

On Saturday, November 8th, Pax Christi Metro New York will be hosting its annual Fall Assembly. This year’s theme is “The Joy of the Gospel: The Peace Passages.” Author and editor Margaret O’Brien Steinfels will be leading us in a discussion of Pope Francis’s teachings on peace as found in his inspiring encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. To enhance our conversation, we encourage to read “The Common Good and Peace in Society,” Chapter 4, Sec. 3, 217-237, in The Joy of the Gospel available at the Vatican website, http://w2.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html. Search for Evangelii Gaudium.

In addition to this stimulating afternoon presentation, we’ll have the morning to reflect on PCMNY’s very identity as a peace community. We’ll pray together, share our stories, and lend each other support.

The Assembly takes place at the Convent of Mary the Queen, 35 Vark Street, Yonkers. The full day runs from 10 AM to 4 PM, including lunch, ($35 donation) or you can come for the afternoon only from 1 to 4 PM, excluding lunch ($20 donation). Student discounts are available. Contact PCMNY to register: 212-420-0250, info@nypaxchristi.org, or www.nycharities.org. Deadline is October 31st.

IRAQ-SYRIA: Stop the killing

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

On August 9, 1983, three people dressed as U.S. soldiers saluted their way onto a U.S. military base and climbed a pine tree. The base contained a school training elite Salvadoran and other foreign troops to serve dictatorships back home, with a record of nightmarish brutality following graduation. That night, once the base’s lights went out, the students of this school heard, coming down from on high, the voice of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

“I want to make a special appeal to soldiers, national guardsmen, and policemen: each of you is one of us. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God’s words, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you; in the name of God I command you to stop the repression.”

Oscar Romero muralThe three in the tree with the loudspeaker weren’t soldiers – two of them were priests. The recording they played was of Archbishop Romero’s final homily, delivered a day before his assassination, just three years previous, at the hands of paramilitary soldiers, two of whom had been trained at this school.

Fr. Larry Rosebaugh, (who was killed in Guatemala on May 18, 2009), Linda Ventimiglia, and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, (a former missioner expelled from Bolivia who was later excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church because of his support for women’s ordination) were sentenced to 15 -18 months in prison for the stirring drama they created on the base that night. Romero’s words were heard loud and clear, and even after military police arrived at the base of the tree and stopped the broadcast, Roy Bourgeois, who would later found a movement to close the school, continued shouting Romero’s appeal as loudly as he could until he was shoved to the ground, stripped, and arrested.

As we approach the nightmare of renewed, expanded U.S. war in Iraq, I think of Archbishop Romero’s words and example. Romero aligned himself, steadily, with the most impoverished people in El Salvador, learning about their plight by listening to them every weekend in the program he hosted on Salvadoran radio.  With ringing clarity, he spoke out on their behalf, and he jeopardized his life challenging the elites, the military and the paramilitaries in El Salvador.

I believe we should try very hard to hear the grievances of people in Iraq and the region, including those who have joined the Islamic State, regarding U.S. policies and wars that have radically affected their lives and well-being over the past three decades.  It could be that many of the Iraqis who are fighting with Islamic State forces lived through Saddam Hussein’s oppression when he received enthusiastic support from the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Many may be survivors of the U.S. Desert Storm bombing in 1991, which destroyed every electrical facility across Iraq.  When the U.S. insisted on imposing crushing and murderous economic sanctions on Iraq for the next 13 years, these sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of a half million children under age five.  The children who died should have been teenagers now; are some of the Islamic State fighters the brothers or cousins of the children who were punished to death by economic sanctions? Presumably many of these fighters lived through the U.S.-led 2003 Shock and Awe invasion and bombing of Iraq and the chaos the U.S. chose to create afterwards by using a war-shattered country as some sort of free market experiment; they’ve endured the repressive corruption of the regime the U.S. helped install in Saddam’s place.

The United Nations should take over the response to the Islamic State, and people should continue to pressure the U.S. and its allies to leave the response not merely to the U.N. but to its most democratic constituent body, the General Assembly.

But facing the bloody mess that has developed in Iraq and Syria, I think Archbishop Romero’s exhortation to the Salvadoran soldiers pertains directly to U.S. people.   Suppose these words were slightly rewritten:  I want to make a special appeal to the people of the United States. Each of you is one of us. The peoples you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a person telling you to kill, remember God’s words, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you …I command you to stop the repression.

The war on the Islamic State will distract us from what the U.S. has done and is doing to create further despair, in Iraq, and to enlist new recruits for the Islamic State.   The Islamic State is the echo of the last war the U.S. waged in Iraq, the so-called “Shock and Awe” bombing and invasion.   The emergency is not the Islamic State but war.

We in the U.S. must give up our notions of exceptionalism; recognize the economic and societal misery our country caused in Iraq; recognize that we are a perpetually war-crazed nation; seek to make reparations; and find dramatic, clear ways to insist that Romero’s words be heard: Stop the killing.

* This article first appeared on Telesur English.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence http://www.vcnv.org.

CHILDREN AT OUR BORDER: PCUSA signs onto letter calling for provisions to adjust root causes of forced migration

childrenattheborderbutton-smallPax Christi USA has signed onto a letter drafted by a number of human rights, faith-based and humanitarian groups addressed to Conferees on the State Foreign Ops portion of the Omnibus appropriations bill which will be negotiated for passage next month.  The letter seeks to encourage Conferees to include provisions that would address the root causes of forced migration from Central America of children and families, specifically endorsing certain funding lines.

The letter begins:

As faith-based, humanitarian, labor, and human rights organizations, we are greatly troubled by the humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle of Central America that has compelled the migration of families and children, often unaccompanied, to the United States.  This crisis deserves a response that is both compassionate and sustainable.  As you finalize your conference negotiations of the omnibus legislation, we urge you to retain provisions of the FY15 State and Foreign Operations bills that seek to address some of the factors driving children, families, women, and men to abandon their homes in the Central American region…

The letter will be delivered this week.

REFLECTION: There is a Ferguson near you

Tom Cordaroby Tom Cordaro
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

I had the privilege of participating in the “Weekend of Resistance” called by the Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) as part of their on-going two month public protest of the police killing of the unarmed African-American high school graduate, Michael Brown.  I joined with nearly a thousand other people from all over the Midwest on a march and rally in downtown St. Louis on Saturday, October 11th.

The Organization for Black Struggle (http://obs-onthemove.org/ ) was founded in 1980 by activists, students, union organizers and other community members in order to fill a vacuum left by the assaults on the Black Power Movement. THEIR VISION: To contribute to the creation of a society free of all forms of exploitation and oppression. THEIR MISSION: To build a movement that fights for political empowerment, economic justice and the cultural dignity of the African-American community, especially the Black working class. THEIR PROGRAM: is based upon the Black Freedom Agenda that was introduced at the founding of the Black Radical Congress in 1998 and ratified in 1999.

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Included in their freedom agenda is a commitment to fight for the human rights of Black people and all people; to fight against state terrorism, to abolish police brutality, unwarranted incarceration and the death penalty; to fight for political democracy, gender equality and to insure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are recognized and respected as full and equal members of society, and of our communities. They are committed to the struggle for a clean and healthy environment; to building multi-cultural solidarity and alliances among all people of color and to support the liberation struggles of all oppressed peoples.

Many participants expressed their distrust of the legal proceedings in the Michael Brown case because of the lack of transparency; the perceived bias of the prosecutor in this case; and the racial make-up of the grand jury deciding if charges should be brought against the police officer that shot Michael (9 whites and 3 blacks).

Beyond the particulars of this case the OBS and their supporters point to the institutional and systemic forces that have kept people of color in Ferguson and communities of color across the country in a constant state of siege by a criminal justice system that treats them all as criminals; in a perpetual state of disenfranchisement by a political establishment that treats them as second class citizens; and in a permanent state of poverty by an economic system that has designated them as an expendable underclass.

This gathering was one the most racially diverse events I have ever participated in. Two-thirds of the participants were people of color; Black, Latino, Asian, Arab and South Asian. One-third of the participants were white. This was also one of the most youthful demonstrations I have ever attended (I estimate that over 60% of participants were under 35). The march was led by young people and most of the speakers were young people – including teens.

There was a strong showing from labor organizations, student groups, community organizing groups and faith communities. (However, there was no organized Catholic presence at the march.) I did find a few Pax Christi members; John Powell, a member from Ferguson and Heather Brouillet Navarro, a Pax Christi National Council member from St. Louis. I also had the great pleasure of meeting with members of the Kabat House St. Louis Catholic Worker Community who were planning to take part in the direction action the following Monday.

There was an amazing energy during the event. People were determined, focused and committed. People were militant yet joyful; they were disciplined yet spontaneous. Everyone understood what was at stake. This was no extra-circular activity. The people gathered at this event were not there merely to support a cause or to draw attention to an “issue.” They were not interested in building their activist resume. The people at this gathering understood that their survival was at stake; as individuals and as a people.

The situation in Ferguson is not unique to St. Louis County. It is a predominant feature of our entire society. Black and brown skin have been criminalized in our culture, within our criminal justice system, our educational system, our political system, our economic system and in the hearts and minds most people across the country. Whether white people realize it or not, there is a “Ferguson” near us. It is an invisible and unaccountable system of racial control that is every bit as deadly and disenfranchising as Jim Crow.

As a young man familiar with the history of the civil rights movement I used to imagine that if I had been older I would have answered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to religious leaders to come to Selma in 1965 to join in the great struggle. Now at 60-years-old I see that 1965 invitation from Dr. King just as relevant today in the call to come to Ferguson. And more importantly I see the importance of joining in the struggle for human liberation in the “Ferguson” outside my door.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Call on Congress to support Gaza aid, end the blockade

from the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy

NOTE: Pax Christi USA is a member of the Faith Forum. This is their “Third Thursday for Israel-Palestine” action for October. 

israel-palestineviolencebutton-small

Seven weeks of war between Israel and Hamas has left Gaza in ruins. “The scale of damage…is unprecedented since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967,” according to a UN report, which continues, “All governorates in Gaza witnessed extensive aerial bombardment, naval shelling and artillery fire, resulting in the widespread loss of life and livelihoods. Damage to public infrastructure was also unprecedented, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without adequate services, including electricity, clean water and quality healthcare.”

Financial support for reconstruction is urgently needed. Adequate oversight will be important to ensure that materials are used for their intended purposes, but restrictions should not be so onerous that they tie the hands of those seeking to rebuild. In addition, to end the cycle of violence, underlying causes must be addressed, including the lifting of the Gaza blockade.

In January 2009 the UN Security Council called for “…arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable ceasefire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained re‑opening of the crossing points…” (UNSC Res. 1860).

For Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security, it is essential that this and other calls to address root causes be heeded. Hamas and other groups must stop firing rockets, and at the same time, the people of Gaza must be allowed to live normal, free lives. The best way to shut down illicit tunnel traffic is to open the monitored Gaza borders for aid, commerce, and movement of people.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated in July, “Going back to the status quo ante won’t solve the problem, it will only defer it for another day. It will not stop the bloodshed, it will make it even worse the next time the cycle rolls over the people of Gaza and plagues the people of Israel. Gaza is an open wound and Band Aids won’t help. There must be a plan after the aftermath that allows Gaza to breathe and heal.”

In the same vein, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, while acknowledging the importance of Israel’s security concerns, also reportedly said, “We need to permit the opening of the Strip to goods. In the end, there are 1.8 million people there, with Israel and Egypt surrounding them. These people need to live.”

Recently Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) wrote, “Now would be a good time, the right time, to end the blockade.” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) had earlier called for a lifting of the blockade in a 2010 letter to the president, and both have since reaffirmed that call – Lee in a written statement in August to a California radio station and Ellison in a July piece in the Washington Post.

As these members of Congress and many others recognize, the security and welfare of Israelis and Palestinians depends on addressing root causes.

Tell Congress: For the peace and security of all people in the region, Israelis and Palestinians alike, Gaza must be rebuilt and the blockade must be lifted. Use this link provided by our partners at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns to ask your members of Congress to support funding for Gaza needs. Insist that while security controls are necessary, they should not obstruct the urgent delivery of aid, and should allow for commerce and movement of people. And ask them to make public a statement calling for an end to the Gaza blockade now.

Use this link to send a message to your members of Congress now.

REFLECTION: Like Malala, we need to reach out and enter the kingdom of God

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

You are aware, I’m sure, of the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded this past Friday. It was a joint award, two people got it, but most extraordinary, part of it, is the teenage girl from Pakistan — 17 years old, the youngest Nobel laureate since the prize began to be given out in 1901. The paper wrote about her, and the article that I read, it started with, “Who is Malala [Yousafzai]?” And some of us may wonder that, but in this instance, it wasn’t just trying to find out, out of curiosity, who Malala is.

These were Taliban killers who came on the crowded bus in northwestern Pakistan two years ago, and when they found out who Malala was, which of the kids [were] being taken to school, they shot her, put a bullet into her head. Malala had been speaking out as an impassioned advocate for the education of girls. She was determined that she herself would get an education, and she found it evil, unjust, that in that country, there was this extremist group, the Taliban, who were trying to prevent girls from being educated.

Malala Yousafzai

As you may remember, she survived. She was taken to England to get out of danger and to get the best medical care, and the doctors were able to save her life. They placed a titanium plate in her head and now, two years later, she is back in school and has, over the time since that incident and since her recovery, continued her advocacy. She has met with President [Barack] Obama, with the queen of England, and even addressed the United Nations. Now she’s the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize….

To read this entire article, click here.

REGIONAL NEWS: Pax Christi Metro NY coordinator pleased with Nobel peace prize recipients

Currents correspondent Michelle Powers speaks with Rosemarie Pace, the Director of Pax Christi New York.