REFLECTION: “History will judge us” – Torture, truth, justice and accountability

Scott WrightBy Scott Wright, Pax Christi Metro DC-Baltimore, & past member of the PCUSA National Council

“We must never forget, history will judge us. . . .  If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others we would not be willing to have invoked against us. . . . The record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our lips as well.”  ~Chief Justice Robert Jackson, chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg Tribunals, 1946

“The Eucharist makes a Christian lifestyle mature. The charity of Christ, when embraced with an open heart changes us. It allows us to love beyond our human limitations, opening us to the depths of God’s love. . . . Torturing people is a mortal sin. It’s a very serious sin. I repeat the firm condemnation of every form of torture and invite all Christians to engage and collaborate in abolishing torture and to support victims and their families.” ~Pope Francis, Angelus, June 23, 2014

On December 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its 500 page report, documenting a decade of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret detention and interrogation program. Between 2001 and 2009, 119 detainees – including 26 who by the CIA’s own admission should never have been detained, were beaten and shackled, held in stress positions, deprived of sleep – some up to seven days, subject to frigid temperatures – one detainee froze to death, water-boarded – one detainee up to 187 times, and threatened with harm to their families.

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According to the U.N. Convention against Torture, “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information” constitutes torture. Rendition to other countries, where the likelihood is that a detainee will be tortured, is also a crime.

Torture is a crime against humanity. It degrades the perpetrator and the society that condones, tolerates, or is silent in the face of evil. But most of all, torture is a violation of human dignity, and a mortal sin. In the words of Jean Amery, a victim of the Gestapo, “Once tortured, a man remains tortured.” Fortunately, throughout the world, there are human rights organizations which defend the victims, and torture treatment centers that help survivors heal.

It is important to remember, too, that of the nearly 800 detainees held in Guantanamo since 2002, including the 119 who were later transferred there from CIA secret detention centers, fewer than 50 of the 800 were ever deemed liable for prosecution – by the U.S. government’s own admission.

The Senate report documents a chronicle of shame: crimes were committed, laws were broken, and lies were told. The report concluded that torture occurred, that torture did not provide actionable intelligence, and that the CIA lied to government officials and to the American people. Lawyers prepared briefs justifying torture, and psychologists and medical doctors participated in the torture sessions. Administration officials at the highest level ordered the torture, and members of Congress who were briefed remained silent.

We remember, too, the real fear and desperation that reigned after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the more than 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania. That fear contributed to an environment that gave a green light to the war on terror and torture. But we would do well to remember, as well, the words of Rev. Nathan Baxter, the African American dean of Washington National Cathedral, who spoke at a memorial service for the victims just five days after 9/11:

“We must understand that justice is never ‘just about us,’ no matter what the tragedy of our experience. When it is just about us it becomes vengeance and blind retribution, and more innocents suffer. . . . True justice is never about revenge, pure retribution, or acting without the light of our spiritual values and accountability to the larger community. We must not become the evil we deplore in the search for justice.”

Whether torture is one day abolished in the world will depend on the courage of governments, including our own, to hold people accountable for crimes against humanity. As it stands, reaction to the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report by those responsible for ordering, justifying, or practicing torture does not lend much confidence to that hope. But the verdict is not out yet. Hopefully there will be other voices – and religious leaders – calling for truth, justice, and accountability. Only then is true reconciliation and reparation – especially moral reparation – possible.

Religious Leaders and Human Rights Defenders Call for Accountability

There have been strong condemnations of the CIA torture documented in the Senate report by religious leaders, human rights defenders, newspaper editorials, and survivors themselves, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, a survivor of torture from the Dirty War in Argentina.

Bishop Oscar Cantu, chairman of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said acts of torture “violated God-given human dignity inherent in all people and were unequivocally wrong.” The U.S. bishops condemned torture as an instrument of national security and added: “The Catholic Church firmly believes that torture is an ‘intrinsic evil’ that cannot be justified under any circumstance,” including for reasons of national security and in response to “ticking time bomb” scenarios. “Congress and the President should act to strengthen the legal prohibitions against torture and to ensure that this never happens again.”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, criticized President Obama for failing to prosecute the torturers, and urged him to do so. “President Obama has been firm in stopping torture . . . but he has utterly failed and flatly refused to investigate torture, let alone prosecute those responsible,” as required by U.S. and international law. The U.S. is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture, and required to investigate, prosecute, punish, and offer compensation to the victims. “Torture tarnished the United States’ reputation,” Roth continued, “endangered U.S. troops overseas, undermined the rule of law, and became a rallying cry for terrorist recruiters. Prosecuting the torturers is in America’s interest.”

Survivors of torture have also been in the forefront of calling on the President Obama to hold those who ordered, justified, or practiced torture to account. One of those survivors, Juan Mendez, is now the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, who describes the 1984 adoption of the Convention against Torture by the United Nations General Assembly a landmark moment: “The Convention against Torture was a very significant milestone in the fight against torture because it incorporates very specific obligations on states to investigate, prosecute and punish every incident of torture.”

In fact, many of the methods of torture used by the CIA in secret detention centers were the same as those used by the Gestapo in Nazi Germany, which merited the denunciation of the world at the Nuremberg Trials. The practice of enforced disappearances still used by governments to torture people and evade accountability dates back to Hitler’s infamous “Night and Fog” decree. Many of the CIA methods of torture were taught for decades to Latin American military officers and soldiers by the U.S. School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC), as outlined in their infamous “Torture Manual,” with the same shameful results.

History Will Judge Us – Never Again!

“History will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again,’” Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democratic official on the Senate committee, told the press upon release of the report.

“Never again!” was the cry that emerged from survivors of the Holocaust. It was echoed by people in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, and Guatemala in the aftermath of military dictatorships, and by bishops’ conferences which published reports entitled “Never Again” in Brazil and Chile, by public trials of the military responsible for torture and disappearance of 30,000 citizens in Argentina, and by United Nations’ Truth Commissions that documented the torture, disappearance, and extrajudicial assassinations of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens in El Salvador and Guatemala.

For thirty years, the United States supported cruel military regimes in Latin America, and failed to stop the systematic torture, disappearance and assassination they committed against hundreds of thousands of their own citizens: In Brazil, from 1964 – 1985, more than 17,000 people were victims of torture; in Chile, from 1973 – 1989, there were 3,428 documented cases of disappearance, killing, torture and kidnapping; in Argentina, between 1976 – 1983, torture was practiced in secret detention centers, bodies were dumped into the sea from airplanes, and 30,000 people were disappeared; in El Salvador, between 1977 – 1992, 75,000 people were killed and 8,000 disappeared; in Guatemala, between 1964 – 1994, 200,000 people, mostly indigenous, were killed in what the United Nations described as “genocide.” In more recent years, the United States has supported repressive governments in Colombia and Honduras.

The Catholic bishops in Brazil, Chile, El Salvador and Guatemala (Argentina was the regrettable exception) played a key role in defending the victims and denouncing the repression. The Chilean bishops even went as far as to deny communion to those who refused to repent for their actions of torture. On December 15, 1983, the National Bishops’ Conference of Chile published the following declaration: “Those who in any form realize, promote or collaborate with torture offend gravely against God and human dignity. Therefore, while they do not repent sincerely, torturers, their accomplices, and those who, having the opportunity to stop torture, do not do it, cannot receive Holy Communion.”

Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, denounced the torture, disappearance and assassination of his people in his Sunday homilies, and he gave shelter to the mothers and families of the disappeared. He said: “For the church, the many abuses of human life, liberty, and dignity are a heartfelt suffering. The church, entrusted with the earth’s glory, believes that in each person is the Creator’s image and that everyone who tramples it offends God. . . . There is no dichotomy between man and God’s image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own that cross, that martyrdom.”

Remembering a Special Mass 35 Years Ago

When the Senate Intelligence report came out, I remembered a very special mass that took place 35 years ago in Washington D.C. On that day, May 25, 1979, a young Capuchin priest delivered a powerful condemnation of torture in St. Matthew’s cathedral to three hundred Argentine military who had gathered there to commemorate the Day of the Armed Forces. As the mass began, six of us walked up to the altar and turned around to face the military, holding pictures of the disappeared. Almost immediately, we were escorted out of the church onto the street by local police officers. The mass continued, and the priest began the homily:

“It pains us to see how this Catholic continent continues to be a valley of tears, a river of blood. How many bishops in Puebla spoke to us of the persecution of the church! How many catechists, priests and religious, kidnapped, tortured and dead! How many peasants, indigenous and workers, trampled in this great struggle between opposing ideologies!”

He then quoted from the conclusions of the 1979 Latin American Bishops’ Conference at Puebla, which took place only three months before. How many families are “anguished by the disappearance of their loved ones, about whom they have no news.” How many feel “total insecurity on account of their detentions without any judicial order.” When national security becomes “a doctrine,” it develops into “a repressive system, in accordance with its concept of ‘permanent war’” and is opposed to “a Christian vision of man” and a vision of “the State as responsible for administering the common good.”

In the middle of the homily, all but one of the military officers stood up and exited the cathedral.

One of those present at the mass that day was Fr. Patrick Rice, a young Irish missionary priest and dear friend (now deceased) and superior general of the Little Brothers of the Gospel, who had been kidnapped and tortured by the Argentine military. He survived, though much of his community did not, as his disappearance was witnessed by people in the shantytown where he worked, and later denounced by the Irish Embassy. He went on to become the General Secretary for the Families of the Disappeared in Latin America (FEDEFAM), and to become a life-long advocate for the abolition of torture and the abolition of the practice of enforced disappearances.

Whether the United States will pursue the path of truth, justice and accountability depends in part on the courage of religious leaders, human rights activists, and ordinary citizens to call on President Obama and Congress to do just that. There has been much talk about “moving forward,” but we cannot move forward with integrity if we do no remember the past. There must be an accounting of crimes committed, or we are surely condemned to repeat them. Many have said, “this is not who we are.” If so, then we would do well to heed and act on the words of Chief Justice Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946:

“We must never forget, history will judge us. . . .  If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others we would not be willing to have invoked against us. . . . The record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our lips as well.”

My hope is that there will be a general outcry by all of us, and religious leaders will have the courage to do what one young Capuchin priest – who would later become Cardinal Archbishop of Boston – did 35 years ago, in St. Matthews cathedral in Washington D.C., when he called the Argentine military to account for persecuting the church, and torturing and disappearing its citizens.

Perhaps, without knowing, he was also giving solace to thousands of victims undergoing torture at that moment, and to a young Jesuit priest in Argentina – who would later become Pope and give hope to many by denouncing torture as “a mortal sin,” and urging all of us “to love beyond our human limitations” by treating even our enemies with justice, not degrading them and ourselves by torturing them.

ADVENT 2014: Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 21

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by Rev. Joseph Nangle, ofm

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16 | Romans 16:25-27 | Luke 1:26-38

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall
name him Jesus … God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his reign there will be no end. (Lk 1:31-33)

The Annunciation story in today’s Gospel reminds us again of God’s preferential option for the poor. An obscure village in an occupied country — far from the centers of 1st Century Roman imperialism — and a young unmarried woman provide the setting and the principal actor for the greatest event in human history. Liberation will come not from the great and powerful ones of the earth but through a poor Jewish girl and her Son whose “reign will have no end”.

So it is twenty centuries later that people of the Gospel and many others of great good will cling to this same vision: economic and racial justice must finally emerge from “below”, from the “little ones”, in particular, from those whose rights are denied. And if the privileged of the world wish to join the struggle for equality and the right order of things, we shall necessarily have to place ourselves on the side of those who strive to overcome the oppressions which enslave them.

This is not the prevailing wisdom of our times. Yet, today’s Gospel points to a logic which says that we who are not poor, oppressed, or marginalized can help in the struggle to overcome these evils by doing what Pope Francis urges in his wonderful Pastoral Letter, The Joy of the Gospel: “Our commitment does not consist … in activities or programs of promotion and assistance … Only on the basis of … real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path to liberation.” (The Joy of the Gospel, #199)

Do you know by name anyone who is materially or socially poor?

Has a poor person ever taught you anything?

*This reflection is from this year’s Pax Christi USA’s Advent reflection booklet,Waking Up to God in Our Midst: Reflections for Advent 2014. The booklet is still available for purchase as a download by clicking here.

ADVENT 2014: Please give to the Advent-Christmas Appeal

adventappeal2014button-smallLast week Sr. Patty sent out our annual Advent-Christmas appeal to all members who are on our email list. If you have not had a chance to read the appeal, we hope you’ll do so and that you’ll be able give as generously as you are able.

Click here to read Sr. Patty’s letter.

You can give online via the links in Sr. Patty’s letter or you can send in a gift to the Pax Christi USA office. I am also posting a link below for those of you who have already read Sr. Patty’s letter and want to give right now.

Click the donation button to make a special gift today!
(If you prefer to send a check, send to Pax Christi USA, Christmas Appeal, 415 Michigan Ave, NE, Suite 240, Washington, D.C. 20017 or call at 202-635-2741.)

Thanks again and we hope you are having a meaningful and peaceful Advent season!

ON THE LINE: December 2014 edition highlights members and groups across the nation

Compiled by Johnny Zokovitch

Each month, “On The Line” features news items and announcements from around the nation featuring Pax Christi members, local groups, regions and partners. 

VOTE FOR MARIE DENNIS FOR THE PUBLIC PEACE PRIZE BY TOMORROW NOON: Pax Christi International Co-President Marie Dennis is a candidate for the 2015 Public Peace Prize. Her profile appears on the PPP web site, Facebook and Twitter accounts through December 17 at noon, and they’ll be counting the number of visits to her page as well as “Likes” and “retweets”. Go to this link to find out how you can vote for Marie: http://publicpeaceprize.org/marie-dennis/

Pax Christi International Co-President meets with Pope Francis in October at the Vatican.

Pax Christi International Co-President meets with Pope Francis in October 2014 at the Vatican.

PAX CHRISTI MEMBERS IN SOUTH DAKOTA HOLD 6TH TAKE BACK THE SITE VIGIL: (from The Argus Leader) A group of about a dozen people huddled in a circle on the wilted grass of Sabrina White’s apartment to remember and mourn their loss. “We’re here because this is a site where violence has struck one more time in our city,” Harold Christensen of Pax Christi said. “I’m sorry for that.” They sang “Amazing Grace” while covering their lit candles to keep the bitterly cold wind from blowing them out. Twice, they paused for silent moments of remembrance, each lasting about a minute. They reflected on the violent incident that took place inside White’s residence and hoped for change. Many of the people attending the vigil sponsored by the Southeastern South Dakota chapter of Pax Christi outside the duplex where White lived at 523 S. Western Ave. didn’t know her long… Read more at http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/crime/2014/12/04/vigil-murder-victim-held-tonight/19883307/

PAX CHRISTI METRO NY COORDINATOR INTERVIEWED IN NCR: (from NCR) Sr. Camille (asks PCMNY Coordinator Rosemarie Pace): You have been the face and energy of Pax Christi Metro for 14 years. What brought you into this arena? Rosemarie Pace: I don’t remember when I read in The Tablet of a group of Catholics who were engaged in some kind of peace activism. Intrigued, I was curious to know more, but it was years before I inquired about them at St. John’s University, where I worshipped on Sundays. The sister in charge of the choir directed me to a Fr. Jim Reese, who taught at SJU. He was a member of Pax Christi Queens. He directed me to Elaine L’Etoile, another member of the group, who invited me to a meeting one Sunday evening in September 1987. I dragged along a friend so I wouldn’t be a lone stranger in the group. I was immediately drawn in and have been a member ever since, even though at that time, I knew nothing of Pax Christi beyond that little local group. That’s when and where my education began… Read the full interview at http://ncronline.org/blogs/conversations-sr-camille/pax-christi-leader-peacemaking-and-catholic-social-justice-are

Rosemarie Pace of Pax Christi Metro New York

Rosemarie Pace of Pax Christi Metro New York

PAX CHRISTI FLORIDA CO-HOSTS VIGIL FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AWARENESS: (from The St. Augustine Record) On the evening of Dec. 7 candle and solar-lantern lit vigils will take place all over the world. People are gathering to show their concern about climate change. Building on the momentum from the People’s Climate March where they mobilized tens of thousands of participants, faith groups are holding vigils in 13 countries to pray for progress towards an international agreement to address climate change. The vigils will take place as leaders are gathered for the Lima climate talks. As part of the project #LightForLima, St. Augustine will host a vigil from 8 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church. Participants are invited to gather at 7:45 p.m. “We want our leaders to hear the moral imperative for action,” said Nancy O’Byrne of Pax Christi Florida. “These vigils represent the voices of the human spirit, expressed through our religious and spiritual traditions and through many people’s personal convictions. The vigils show love and concern for our children, vulnerable people and our precious planet.”… Read more at http://staugustine.com/living/religion/2014-12-04/vigil-st-augustine-set-st-cyprians-episcopal-church#.VJCC0CvF_Cs

PAX CHRISTI MEMBERS IN SEATTLE-AREA TAKE THE VOW OF NONVIOLENCE: (from Deacon Denny Duffel) Pax Christi members in the Seattle-area will be participating in a special ceremony to take the Vow of Nonviolence with Bishop Eusebio Elizondo on December 28 from 2-4 pm. People interested in joining them can contact pc.centralseattle@gmail.com or denny@stbridgetchurch.org for more info. Join them in making a one-year commitment to strive for peace in our lives, our relationships, and our world. They also welcome those who desire to come as witnesses in support of those who take the Vow of Nonviolence.

PAX CHRISTI HOLY CROSS OBSERVES ANNIVERSARY OF JESUIT MARTYRS: (from The Catholic Free Press) The College of the Holy Cross commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Nov. 16 murder of six Jesuits, and their cook and her daughter, in El Salvador. Among commemorations at Holy Cross this week and last week was a display of crosses, with the victims’ names and photos, which the Pax Christi campus chapter set up. Associate chaplain Marty Kelly with Pax Christi members Anthony Yakely, Sloane Burns, Ozzie Reza, Mary Kate Vanecko and Risako Iida, takes students on January immersion trips to the site of the murders and other “sacred sites” in El Salvador. “We sort of walk in the footsteps of those who gave their lives as a result of their faith,” he said. Jesuit Father Philip L. Boroughs, Holy Cross president, attended commemorations in El Salvador for the anniversary.

Upcoming or Ongoing Events:

Dec. 25 – Christmas

Jan. 1 – World Day of Peace, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Jan. 4 – Feast of the Epiphany

Jan. 11 – Witness Against Torture Annual Fast in Washington, D.C.; http://www.witnesstorture.org/blog/2014/11/20/join-us-in-dc-1-5-13/

Jan. 19 – MLK Day

Jan. 23-25 – Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare, Princeton, New Jersey: http://www.peacecoalition.org/component/content/article/39-cfpa/233-interfaith-conference-on-drone-warfare.html

Quicklinks:

Sr. Patty Chappell, Executive Director of PCUSA, was quoted in this article from Catholic News Service following the release of the torture report … Monsignor Neil Connolly, associate pastor at St. Francis in New York City, is hoping to make St. Francis an official “Peace Parish,” as part of Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement … Pax Christi Florida member Jim Rucquoi took this video of PC Florida’s Rally in Tally Against The Death Penalty … Bob Cooke and Bob More have been elected the new co-coordinators of Pax Christi Metro D.C.-BaltimoreDr. Shannen Dee Williams, one of our Advent 2014 authors, published an article holding up the lives of black women and children … Sr. Patty was featured in the newsletter of the National Black Catholic Congress in November … The new regional coordinator for Southern California is Alice Soto. Thanks to Sharon Halsey-Hoover for her years in service as coordinator … Pax Christi’s Marie Dennis and Sr. Anne-Louise Nadeau, SNDdeN spoke at the Ignatian Family Teach-in in DC in November … Pax Christi at St. Maurice Parish in Ft. Lauderdale (FL) helped sponsor a rally for the homelessPax Christi Burlington (VT) participated in a benefit concert to benefit the people of Gaza … Pax Christi International’s December 2014 newsletter is online … See more local and regional updates in the Winter 2014-15 edition of The Peace Current

REFLECTION: A Christmas gift for suffering South Sudan

Tony Maglianoby Tony Magliano

The world’s newest nation is in big trouble.

After more than 20 years of civil war between the southern and northern areas of Sudan, the southern part of that country on July 9, 2011, became the independent nation of the Republic of South Sudan.

But the situation on the ground soon looked like South Sudan had not been born, but instead was still suffering intense labor pains.

The many years of war brought not only much death, but also drained South Sudan of valuable resources leaving it an extremely poor nation.

According to South Sudan’s National Bureau of Statistics 51 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, 73 percent are illiterate and 45 percent do not have access to improved sources of drinking water.

But if conditions weren’t bad enough, last year – 10 days before Christmas – civil war broke out in South Sudan amid a struggle for power between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar who was dismissed months earlier by Kiir.

According to the International Crisis Group the civil war has claimed over 10,000 lives, and more than 1 million have been displaced. And it warns that the current humanitarian crisis threatens many more.

According to “The Sudd Institute: Research for a peaceful, just and prosperous South Sudan,” 4 million people are facing a serious risk of famine and starvation.  And that approximately 100,000 people are already experiencing desperate, humiliating circumstances in U.N. camps.

The United Nations Children’s Fund warns that without greatly increased emergency international assistance, over 50,000 children under the age of five will soon die of starvation.

But long-term development aid is also indispensable.

from un.org

from un.org

John Ashworth, who serves as an advisor to the Catholic bishops of South Sudan, wrote in an emailed to me that many international donors are reducing their development aid to South Sudan due to a lack of progress in the peace talks among the warring parties.

Ashworth said that seven of the ten states in South Sudan are not directly affected by the conflict, and it is both unfair and counter-productive to deny development aid to those people.

The heroic Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban often says that development is peace, and there is thus a fear that reducing development aid will create the conditions for insecurity to spread.

A U.S. State Department official, who wanted to remain anonymous, told me how important it is for us to contact our congressional delegation urging them to increase funding for both emergency and development assistance – that would support critical programs aimed at justice and reconciliation, education, infrastructure and food security.

Ashworth said, “I would highly recommend making a donation to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) which is very active in South Sudan. I work closely with them.”

To send a Christmas donation to suffering South Sudan please go to Give to CRS South Sudan or call 877-435-7277.

During this Advent season, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our savior, Christ the Lord, let us also remember the birth and infancy of the world’s youngest nation.

As the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus, let us bring Christmas gifts of prayer, money and advocacy to suffering South Sudan.

And let’s not forget, that by giving gifts to the South Sudanese, we are ultimately giving Christmas gifts to Jesus who said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. Please contact your diocesan newspaper and request that they carry Tony’s column. Tony is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.

REFLECTION: This country needs a truth and reconciliation process on violence against African Americans, right now

by Fania Davis, YES! Magazine

I am among the millions who have experienced the shock, grief, and fury of losing someone to racial violence.

handsupWhen I was 15, two close friends were killed in the Birmingham Sunday School bombing carried out by white supremacists trying to terrorize the rising civil rights movement. Only six years later, my husband was shot and nearly killed by police who broke into our home, all because of our activism at the time, especially in support of the Black Panthers.

As a civil rights trial lawyer, I’ve spent much of my professional life protecting people from racial discrimination. In my early twenties, I devoted myself to organizing an international movement to defend my sister, Angela Davis, from politically motivated capital murder charges aimed at silencing her calls for racial and social justice. Early childhood experiences in the South set me on a quest for social transformation, and I’ve been a community organizer ever since, from the civil rights to the black power, women’s, anti-racial violence, peace, anti-apartheid, anti-imperialist, economic justice, political prisoner movements, and others.

After more than three decades of all the fighting, I started to feel out of balance and intuitively knew I needed more healing energies in my life. I ended up enrolling in a Ph.D. program in Indigenous Studies that allowed me to study with African healers.

Today, my focus is on restorative justice, which I believe offers a way for us to collectively face this epidemic, expose its deep historical roots, and stop it.

The killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York have sparked a national outcry to end the epidemic killings of black men. Many note that even if indictments had been handed down, that wouldn’t have been enough to stop the carnage. The problem goes far beyond the actions of any police officer or department. The problem is hundreds of years old, and it is one we must take on as a nation. Truth and reconciliation processes offer the greatest hope…

Click here to read the entire story.

ADVENT 2014: Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 14

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by Adrienne Alexander

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11 | 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 | John 1:6-8, 19-28

He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” (John 1:23)

This Gospel passage is particularly profound because of the messenger. Remember, John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and looks like it, probably smells like it. He is not refined, but God is using him to testify that Jesus is God. So naturally, the approach of the religious elite is to question John the Baptist’s authority and gauge his ambition.

A friend once told me that the marginalized have the most informed view of the world. That should not be a surprise because throughout the Bible God uses imperfect figures, those on the outskirts of society, to deliver messages or otherwise reveal God’s work. And yet, it is human to find ourselves dismissing people whom we don’t view as legitimate. I can think of examples of state legislators who made the news by discrediting workers who testified in favor of a minimum wage increase as being unqualified to speak on an economic issue.

As we prepare for Christmas, let us do our best to develop John the Baptist’s clarity of mission. And let us pray continually that the Holy Spirit would guide us so that our hearts will be open to God’s message, even when the messenger may look different from us.

In your world, who are the voices from the wilderness?

*This reflection is from this year’s Pax Christi USA’s Advent reflection booklet,Waking Up to God in Our Midst: Reflections for Advent 2014. The booklet is still available for purchase as a download by clicking here.