REFLECTION: 30 years later, nuclear threat gives urgency to plea for peace

patrick-oneillby Patrick O’Neill

Thirty years ago this week, the mug shots of eight people were splashed across the front page of the Orlando Sentinel, mine among them. Calling ourselves the Pershing Plowshares, we had taken part in a spectacular Easter Sunday break-in of the then-Martin Marietta Corp. plant on Sand Lake Road as part of an anti-nuclear-weapons protest.

At the time, Martin — now Lockheed Martin — was manufacturing the Pershing II missile, a Cold War weapon system that many believed represented a dangerous escalation of the nuclear-arms race. The Pershings were deployed in Western Europe, a short flight to most Soviet cities. Since the Pershing II was a mobile system, it was also perceived as a first-strike weapon because detecting it would be difficult.


Participating in that event was a life-changing experience. I spent two years in federal prison after our felony conviction in July 1984. Today, I am the father of eight children, and I have raised my children to oppose violence and war. I am still committed to “beating swords into plowshares.” (Isaiah 2:4)

Pulling off the Orlando action was not easy since none of us was a seasoned criminal. My co-defendants were the late Sister Anne Montgomery, a Catholic nun; Jim Perkins, a practicing Buddhist; Todd Kaplan, a devout Jew, now a lawyer; Tim Lietzke, a Quaker minister; Christin Schmidt, an activist educated at Brown University; Per Hengren, a Swedish peace activist; and Paul Magno, a Washington, D.C. activist who holds a theology degree from Georgetown University.

In our preparation for that action, the eight of us and a group of unindicted collaborators spent numerous weekends together over three months praying and planning. Sister Anne, at the time 58 years old (my age now), was our calm and brilliant leader. The late Philip Berrigan, the former Roman Catholic priest who made the cover of Time magazine for his activism against the Vietnam War, was the person who inspired and organized our conspiracy.

When the early morning hours of Easter/Passover came in 1984, I was beside myself with fear as we made our way through the darkness and brush to a fence that surrounded a Martin Marietta work yard in which a Patriot missile launcher was visible. Once we clipped the links in the fence and crawled through, we pulled out our small hammers and began the symbolic, yet real, process of disarmament.

The eight of us spent a few minutes hammering on various components of Pershing and Patriot launchers. The damage was minimal, but enough to qualify us for felony charges.

Testifying in federal court, Sister Anne recounted details of the crime, which led to our conviction on conspiracy and destruction of government property charges. Sister Anne told jurors how she walked around a Patriot missile launcher in the pre-dawn hours of Easter morning. Seeing how well it was constructed, she said she realized her plan to “disarm” the launcher with a small carpenter’s hammer would not amount to much.

“I saw some softer metal,” Anne told jurors, “and I took my hammer, swung it and saw a dent reflect in the light, and I laid my hammer down.”

I was moved that our jury was faced with the task of having to find a small, soft-spoken, humble nun guilty of serious charges for making a single dent in a piece of metal.

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4).

This week, Paul Magno and I will return to the scene of our crime to continue our resistance to Lockheed Martin’s bomb-making. On our anniversary, we will plant Easter lilies at Lockheed Martin in honor of our deceased cohorts.

Sadly, the United States is engaged in an endless War on Terror, and things have never been better for the military-industrial complex. Despite the indiscriminate, destructive nature of modern warfare, we humans have not committed ourselves to finding nonviolent ways to resolve conflict. In our nuclear-armed world, it is essential that we work to abolish war before it abolishes us.

This article appeared last week in The Orlando Sentinel.


REFLECTION: Humanity deserves dark skies and starry nights

Joan Chittister, osbby Joan Chittister, osb
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Here’s one for you. Who said it?

“Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people were awakening.”

Copy-of-ED-w-Banner-lg-with-2014No, this was not said by some enthusiastic young activist on a foray into the world of contemporary ecology. On the contrary, it was said by Teddy Roosevelt, the great conservation president, in 1901.

The subject clearly is not a new one; however, we have ignored it over the years.

Roosevelt, a genuine outdoorsman himself, was in the process of setting aside over 2 million acres of land to preserve the forests and natural value of this country in an era easily as rapacious as ours…

Click here to read the entire article.

NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT: Pax Christi USA signs onto letter to the President asking for increase in non-proliferation programs


Pax Christi USA has signed onto a letter that was delivered to the White House last Friday asking for an increase of programs for non-proliferation. The letter was circulated by the Council for a Livable World. Here is the letter:

Dear President Obama,

We write to express our serious concern about the FY 2015 budget request for vital nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs. These cuts are difficult to understand since the danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists remains high.

In your closing remarks last month at that the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, you rightly stated that despite the progress made over the past four years, “it is important for us not to relax, but rather accelerate our efforts…[and] sustain momentum.” The FY 2015 budget request is out of sync with these objectives.

We urge you to work with Congress to significantly increase funding for core nuclear security activities during the FY 2015 authorization and appropriations process.

We applaud your leadership in spearheading an accelerated international effort to enhance the security of nuclear and radiological materials. Significant progress has been made safeguarding nuclear materials and through the nuclear security summit process. Thirteen countries eliminated all the highly enriched uranium (HEU) or separated plutonium on their soil. All of the locations in non-nuclear-weapon states where there was enough high-quality HEU for the simplest type of terrorist nuclear bomb were either eliminated or had significant security improvements.

Despite these noteworthy achievements, significant work remains to be done. There are still hundreds of sites spread across 30 countries that have weapons-usable nuclear material. Over 120 research and isotope production reactors around the world still use HEU for fuel or targets. Many of these locations have very modest or insufficient security measures.

The FY 2015 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reduces funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the International Nuclear Materials Protection Program (IMPC) by 25% and 27%, respectively. This is the third year in a row of budget cuts to these core nonproliferation programs. The fiscal 2015 request is nearly $1 billion less for GTRI and the IMPC programs than the funding level projected by your administration three years ago. In addition, the request for the Pentagon slashes funding for the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR) by 27%.

Reducing funding for these programs increases the amount of time it will take to secure or eliminate dangerous materials that could be used by terrorists in an improvised nuclear explosive device or a dirty bomb.

For example, the NNSA request delays the goal of converting or shutting down a total of 200 research reactors that still use HEU by an additional five years to 2035. The previous end date to secure 8,500 buildings with radioactive material has already been delayed to 2044 and now may be further postponed. The construction of fixed site radiation detectors under the second line of defense program will be reduced from 25 to 15 and work in the Middle East and Africa is not moving forward. Programs to improve the nuclear accounting, control, and security culture in Russia are reduced “to fund other NNSA priorities.” Other previously planned work in the removal of nuclear and radiological material will be “deferred to future years.”

In testimony before the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee in April, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz expressed his “disappointment” with the cuts to nonproliferation and attributed them to the tough budget environment and the decision to prioritize NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs.

We understand that the budget environment is difficult. We also understand that some major projects funded in previous years have been completed. Moreover, Moscow’s unwillingness to renew the old CTR umbrella agreement has reduced the amount of work we can do in Russia.

However, the FY 2015 budget request signals a major retreat in the effort to secure nuclear and radiological materials. Nonproliferation programs must be a top priority and their work is too important to be a bill payer for other activities.

We encourage you to work with Congress to ensure that these programs have the resources they need to secure nuclear and radiological materials as quickly as possible.

HOLY WEEK 2014: Reflection for Easter Sunday

by Joan Chittister, osb

Acts 10:34a, 37-43 | Colossians 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9

The Women at the Tomb, by Sr. Mary Stephens CRSS

The Women at the Tomb, by Sr. Mary Stephens CRSS,

Interesting. The day starts and ends at the tomb. No flash of light. No announcement. Simply the awareness that what has been is gone. Mary Magdalene, in the dark, notes that the stone has been moved. John, at the door, notes that the wrappings have been left behind. Peter, in the burial place, pronounces it empty of the Christ whose burial clothes have been left behind. And they are left to tell the others.

That’s about all the sight of Resurrection that anyone ever really gets, come to think of it. Darkness and an empty tomb. The notion that what has been taken is clearly alive. A burning memory and an unfinished truth. Even today, then, the Easter message to all of us is still the same as it was to Mary Magdalene and to Peter and to John. If the glory of God is to be revealed, then it is up to us to say so and to prove it by our beliefs.

The world is still in darkness and the wrapping clothes have been left behind for us to sort and show in our own lives the powerful presence of His. We must all, at the end of this Lent, live our lives now so that God is not put to the test, so that all the communities of he earth can find blessing in us, so that the expectation of the in-breaking of the spirit of Jesus is possible, so that Jesus can heal us of our own blindness, so that the dead of this world can be brought back to life, so that the Truth is made disarmingly clear in us, that the glory of God is revealed today. Alleluia.

This reflection was written by Joan Chittister, osb in the Lenten reflection booklet for 1987, The Glory of God Revealed: A Lenten Journal for Peacemakers.

HOLY WEEK 2014: Reflection for Holy Saturday

by Jean Stokan and Scott Wright

Click here for the readings at the Easter Vigil

We could imagine that, for the disciples, the day after Jesus’ crucifixion must have been one of excruciating grief, overwhelming fear, and utter confusion about what lay ahead. For us, however, Holy Saturday is a time of quiet anticipation, for we know that the stone is about to crack. We know that Christ rose and hope returned. We know that death did not have the last word!


Our reflections this Lent have been about living as resurrected beings in the midst of the world’s crosses. Our relationship to the crucified of our day — those carrying crosses of illness or exclusion or those living under the crushing impact of poverty, violence, racism or war — has been one of positioning ourselves at the foot of the cross. Not unlike when we genuflect to venerate the cross on Good Friday and kiss the caked blood on Jesus’ wounds, something happens when we draw close to the pain of others. Our hearts break. Our tears fall. They fall, however, into the chalice that Jesus holds out to catch the blood and tears of all who suffer. In that mingling, and with the kiss of his love on our human suffering, something in our hearts is transformed. At the foot of the cross, gestures of love may be all we have left to share. Maybe it’s everything.

Before her death in Auschwitz in 1943, Etty Hillesum wrote of her time in Westerbork, preparing people to board the trains for the death camps. While looking into the eyes of mothers whose children were being ripped from their arms and witnessing daily encounters with horror, she resigned herself to live through her moment of history with courage, relying on prayer and love:

From four to nine I dragged screaming children around and carried luggage for exhausted women. It was heart-rending. … The morning transport is ready … large empty cattle cars. … An old woman asked me helplessly, “Could you tell me, please could you tell me, why we Jews have to suffer so much?” I couldn’t answer. … In a few hours you can accumulate enough gloom here to last a lifetime. There are babies with pneumonia lying in the freight cars. … This morning I had a brief talk with a woman who had told me her latest experiences in three minutes. How much can you really tell in a few minutes? When we came to a door and I wasn’t allowed to go any farther, she embraced me and said, “Thank you for being such a help.”

Etty sought to “love everyone with all the tenderness possible.” She sustained herself by reading poetry and searching for slivers of nature amidst the crosses. She literally fell to her knees if she encountered a patch of flowers. She did everything she could to bring cheer to another on the cross, to love up until the end. Before getting on the transit for her own trip to the death camp, she gave her diary to a friend. Later, a letter dropped from a slit in the wooden planks of the train. Found by a farmer, her epilogue told people that “we left the camp singing.”

On Holy Saturday, our position changes. Instead of weeping alone at the foot of the cross, we turn to sit in front of the stone, together as community, facing the stone expectantly. The sliver is about to crack

This reflection was written by Jean Stokan and Scott Wright in the Lenten reflection booklet for 2010, Living as Resurrected Beings in the Midst of the World’s Crosses: Reflections for Lent 2010.

HOLY WEEK 2014: Reflection for Good Friday

by M. Shawn Copeland

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 | Hebrews 4:14-16 | John 18:1-19:42

Let us kneel in love and thanksgiving … for the wondrous love of God

Today, the suffering, violence and brutality that we human beings inflict on one another are caught up in the memorial of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. God in human flesh embraces his fate and takes up the cross for love of us.

Enslaved Africans in the United States knew in their flesh what it meant to suffer. They never mitigated the horror, but they recognized their own suffering in Jesus’ torture and death. Forbidden by law and custom to learn to read and write, these humble women and men listened with open hearts and keen ears to the sermons that treated the passion and death of Jesus. Their oppression gave them an epistemological privilege — they understood his vulnerability and pain, they grasped his love. They took comfort from his loving solidarity and, in return, sought to comfort him. They poured out their love in songs and moans that transcended the boundaries of time and space. As Jesus stood with them in their sufferings, they would stand with Jesus in his.


Here is one of the most famous of these great songs of sorrow:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there when they pierced Him in the side?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

In this spiritual, the enslaved people comment on each act in the crucifixion of Jesus and name its effects in the natural world (the sun refused to shine), and in the heart and body of the believer (it causes me to tremble). Through the repeated inquiry, “Were you there?”, they invite each of us to stand at Golgotha, to admit our collusion in its evil. John Lovell, the foremost historian of the Negro or African-American spiritual, writes that in these lyrics, the makers of the spiritual show us a grave and “great wrong [being] committed under the eyes of frightened or uncaring people.” The crucifixion of this innocent man is an offense against the whole of humanity. We all share in the guilt, “not so much for what we do, as what we allow to happen.”

On this Good Friday, let us kneel before the broken, crucified body of Jesus. Let us kneel before the disappeared and murdered bodies of thousands of peasants, workers, vowed religious sisters and brothers, ministers and priests in Latin America; the raped and abused bodies of young boys and girls and women who have survived sexual assault by clergy and church workers; the torn bodies of prostitutes forced to trade themselves for survival; the rejected bodies of gays and lesbians; the swollen bodies of children dying in hunger; the scarred and bruised bodies of women, men and children suffering with AIDS; the despised bodies of red and brown and black and yellow women and men. To kneel before these bodies is a first step in grasping our collusion in their suffering and death; it is a first step in grasping the absolute gratuitous love of the crucified Jesus. Let us kneel in love and thanksgiving for the wondrous love of God.

* Quotations from Black Song: The Forge and the Flame – How the Afro-American Spiritual Was Hammered Out, by John Lovell, 1972.

This reflection was written by M. Shawn Copeland for the Pax Christi USA Lenten reflection booklet for 2003, To Live the Passion and Compassion of Jesus: Reflections for Lent 2003.

HOLY WEEK 2014: Reflection for Holy Thursday

by Dave Robinson

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 | 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 | John 13:1-15

The readings for today all speak to recognition, to identity at the deepest levels. The identity of Jesus as the Christ, as God among us, renders the foot-washing that much more powerful an image. The Christ kneels before us to wash our feet and calls us to do the same for each other in order that we live out our identity as disciples of Christ.

feetwashingSo too with the Last Supper. Our identity as Christians is proclaimed by Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Knowing who we are is necessarily bound up with knowing what we are called to do. How we are is part and parcel of who we are. “What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do.” Jesus’ ministry has been an ongoing succession of teachings and actions that together give us a picture of authentic discipleship. When followed, they lead us to our true identity and away from the lies and false idolatries that distort who we truly are.

  • How do we follow this Christ in our daily lives?
  • Whose feet are we called to wash?
  • In whose service must we humbly place ourselves in order to fully proclaim our identity as disciples of the nonviolent Jesus?
  • Where in your life is God inviting you to let go of your need to control and protect in order to embrace the freedom of the resurrection?

This reflection was written by Dave Robinson in the Lenten reflection booklet for 2005, Into Your Hands: Reflections for Lent 2005.