REFLECTION: Are things looking up for women in the church?

schenkby Christine Schenk, NCR

A plethora of conferences about women have popped up all over Rome in the last three months. The Vatican’s former hard-line freeze on discussing women’s roles may at last be thawing out.

The Pontifical Council for Culture’s controversial February event, “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference,” was the first to break the ice. A month later, Voices of Faith hosted a searingly honestdiscussion by female theologians and activists from inside Vatican walls.

SAINTS REPRESENTED IN CHURCH WINDOWThen, on April 14, the U.S. embassy to the Holy See sponsored an interreligious conference on “Women’s Leadership in Conflict Resolution: Faith Perspectives.” Cardinal Peter Turkson shared a private conversation he had with Pope Francis, who told him he saw no obstacles to a woman or married couples being appointed as the new secretary of justice and peace or as heads of the pontifical councils for the laity and for the family. (Turkson, however, was careful to remind attendees of the need to “de-couple” the question of women’s roles from priestly ordination.)

Most recently, Rome’s Pontifical University Antonianum and four embassies to the Holy See sponsored an April 28 conference on women in the church. Significantly, Catholic Health Association president Sr. Carol Keehan was an invited speaker.

Any time a staunch Affordable Care Act advocate like Keehan is invited to speak at a pontifical university in Rome, it’s a good bet that U.S. nuns aren’t the bad girls of the Bible anymore…

To read this entire article, click here.

STATEMENT: Pax Christi International celebrates with gratitude the memory of Bishop Martyr Oscar Romero from El Salvador

from Pax Christi International

mural_oscar_romero_ues

Pax Christi International rejoices with the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and celebrates in solidarity with the people of El Salvador and the peoples of the world who recognize in Msgr. Romero a witness of a peace which is the fruit of justice. Msgr. Romero’s legacy is the persistent search for truth, justice and reconciliation; his journey was marked by a unique coherence between his values and faith and his practice.

While Msgr. Romero was leading the Archdiocese of San Salvador, the political repression of the popular demands for justice and human rights reached brutal levels of violence. In facing that reality, he became a true prophet. His word and his pastoral practice – based in the Gospel – denounced the structural injustice at the roots of the repression and proclaimed the centrality of justice and the unconditional respect for human rights as the only way to leave behind the spiral of violence in which El Salvador was immersed. He tirelessly defended those whose rights were persistently violated and built bridges among those who looked for a just transformation of the conflict. But his voice was not heard by those who clung to their own power and interests, and they ordered his assassination while he was celebrating the Eucharist.

The beginning of Pax Christi’s commitment to peace in Latin America and the Caribbean is closely linked to Msgr. Romero who asked the leadership of our movement early in 1980 to show special solidarity with the people of the region. After his assassination – and especially inspired by his evangelical coherence – Pax Christi International sent a mission to four countries of Central America as a sign of its solidarity with Christian communities and with civil society organizations working for justice and human rights in those countries. The mission also made an inquiry into the human rights situation and the position of the churches in Central America. Its findings were published in 1981 and 1982 in four reports dealing with the situation in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua and with the position of the Salvadoran refugees in Honduras…

Click here to read more of this statement.

REFLECTION: We are many and strong

jzheadshotby Johnny Zokovitch
Director of Communications, Pax Christi USA

During my time in Israel-Palestine, perhaps the single most uplifting experience has been connecting (or in some cases, reconnecting) with other people who work for human rights and peace from around the world. Pax Christi International concluded our world assembly in Bethlehem this past Sunday, and I cannot adequately express the joy and appreciation I have experienced in hearing the stories of my colleagues—their victories and challenges, the interesting and inspiring and effective programs they are undertaking, and the commitment they have to the work for peace.

Pax Christi International has sections and member organizations in countries on 5 continents. I spent my days with human rights workers from Burundi, Haiti, Peru, Belgium, Palestine and Australia. I joined sessions with advocates for peace from Uganda, Canada, El Salvador, Italy, the UK, and the Philippines. An international coalition of (by my count) more than 35 nations were represented as we joined with our Palestinian hosts, the Arab Education Institute, to commemorate Nakba Day on May 15 and conclude our time together with a procession along the Separation Wall in the Occupied West Bank followed by a closing Mass at the Wi’am Conflict Resolution Center.

Pax Christi International members process along the Separation Wall in Bethlehem in the Occupied West Bank.

Pax Christi International members process along the Separation Wall in Bethlehem in the Occupied West Bank.

Years ago, one of my mentors, Ched Myers, drew an analogy for what it is like for people who are working to make our world a more just, peaceful and sustainable home for everyone. He alluded to the book Gulliver’s Travels and the scene where the tiny Lilliputians are throwing ropes over the giant Gulliver as he sleeps, working feverishly to fasten the ropes and tie down every part of his body. He likened us to the Lilliputians and Gulliver to “Empire”, the systems of the world which endeavor to oppress the vast majority of humankind through greed and violence.

Viewed from the perspective of a single individual’s efforts, or even the work of a single organization, the work of peace seems all too often to be fruitless, pointless and ineffective. We struggle against powers far beyond what any one of us can match.

But there is hope in knowing that others, all across the world, are throwing their own tiny ropes and trying to wrangle the beast to the ground. There is hope in knowing that at every minute of every day we are working alongside brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, Europe, and throughout the Americas who are doing their part. Coming together here and seeing their faces, learning their names, hearing their stories and holding their hands, if only for a few days, is empowering for me in a way that I did not anticipate. My back feels a little straighter after these days. My lungs a little more full. My legs a bit stronger. I am neither alone nor part of a small minority. I have partners, brothers and sisters in the struggle. We are many and strong.

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

ISRAEL-PALESTINE DELEGATION: Lamentation and hope

Scott Wrightby Scott Wright
Former Pax Christi USA National Council Member

“Forged in the broken relationships of a brutal war, Pax Christi began its journey 70 years ago with a vision based on the Gospel – love your enemies – and rooted in a deep belief that reconciliation was possible.”

These words, which begin the final declaration of the Pax Christi International World Assembly, held in Bethlehem, Palestine, from May 13 – 17, 2015, could just as well describe the state of affairs in Israel and Palestine.

For five days, I joined a delegation of Pax Christi USA and Pax Christi members from six continents in Bethlehem, and traveled to various towns and villages throughout the occupied territories to discover the realities of life in Palestine, united by this common goal: “Real peace is what we aspire and hope is one of our deepest values.”

For some of us, this would be our first trip to Israel and Palestine. For me, it would be one of the most challenging trips in my life, given the real absence of both real peace and hope.

Most of this past week we have lived in a kind of global village in Bethlehem, in the heart of the occupied territories that make up Palestine, about 22 percent of the land of Israel, at a time when illegal Israeli settlements continue to encroach upon Palestinian lands, villages and neighborhoods.

This mural in Aida Refugee Camp in the Occupied West Bank lists children killed in Israeli's Gaza offensive in July 2014.

This mural in Aida Refugee Camp in the Occupied West Bank lists children killed in Israeli’s Gaza offensive in July 2014.

We have visited Palestinian refugee camps, walked the divided streets and heavily militarized city of Hebron, traveled the Jordan Valley and witnessed the marked contrast between gated Israeli settlements and disappearing Palestinian lands.

We deepened our reflection on our encounters with Palestinian reality by reflecting more broadly on human rights, ecological justice, justice and reconciliation, and demilitarization – all themes which are deeply embedded in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. We also lifted up the role of women peacemakers, and the hope that young people offer as examples of peacemakers.

Israel and Palestine are deeply divided, and have been since the creation of Israel in 1948, which resulted in the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages and the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians. It is an event etched deep in the collective memory of Palestinians and known as the “Nakba,” or the “catastrophe.”

For its part, the creation of the state of Israel cannot be understood apart from the Holocaust, and the destruction of six million Jews in Europe. Nor can European Christians forget a deeply-rooted anti-Semitism that provided the rationale for Holocaust and centuries of pogroms against the Jews.

Two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, with deeply contrasting narratives, and vivid memories of suffering, violence, and destruction. Added to this more recent history is a deeply rooted and shared religious tradition that has since branched out to become what we know today as Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In 1967, Israeli occupied the West Bank of Palestine and Gaza during the Six Day War, and set in motion a system a system of control and discrimination that has only resulted in a deadly cycle of violence. And those divisions appear to be growing as both Jews and Arabs are convinced that the other is trying to destroy them.

Yet the reality may be that security of one is bound up with the security of the other. At least that is grounds for hope. As one Palestinian Christian told us today, after a visit to that most conflictive of cities, Hebron, “We are all on this journey together.” What is the reality on the ground?

Hebron: A Tale of Two Peoples

On a trip from Bethlehem to Hebron, two ancient cities in the occupied Palestinian territories, we were introduced to what might be called “a tale of two peoples.” In the occupied territories of the West Bank, there are hundreds of Israeli “outposts” and “settlements.” Deemed by religious Israeli settlers as their “divine” right, and by Palestinians as a violation of their human rights, settlements are illegal under international law.

As we traveled along the road between Bethlehem and Hebron, our guide pointed out dozens of outposts and settlements around Bethlehem and Hebron. The same thing is happening in the Jordan Valley and in East Jerusalem. Since 1948 and 1967, the map of Palestine has grown smaller and smaller and more deeply divided with the advance of the Israeli settlements.

Hebron itself is a deeply divided city, with centuries of peaceful coexistence among Jews and Arabs, broken by more recent violence that has created two separate communities and enforced by a system of military check-points and control. Distrust and hatred abound, as do an intolerable state of tension, daily violence, and fear.

But there are some bright lights, and some cracks in the system of segregation that divides the two communities. For a number of years, Christian Peacemaker Teams and more recently World Council of Churches EAPPI teams monitor the situation on the ground and try to minimize or prevent more violence. A number of Israeli soldiers have formed Breaking the Silence and objected to the violence of the occupation, while Israeli NGOs have protected Palestinians and monitored check-points.

Jordan Valley: Disparity of Land and Water

On another trip, this time to the Jordan Valley, we witnessed another kind of division, this one based on both land and water. Throughout the occupied territories of the West Bank, water is a precious and scarce resource. But access to water is clearly unequal.

According to the World Council of Churches EAPPI accompaniers, studies show that 10,000 Israeli settlers living in the Jordan Valley receive on average 300 liters of water a day, while 60,000 Palestinians receive only 70 liters. This is clear from simple observation, as the gated-Israeli settlements along the Jordan River contrast sharply with the poor Palestinian farms.

We saw an abundance of water diverted to the settlements and their farmlands, while Palestinians relied heavily on water barrels on their roofs to gather water. By law, Palestinians cannot dig deeper than 94 meters to build a well, while the Israeli settlers can dig as deep as 1,000 meters. For the most part, electric power lines carry electricity to the settlements, but not to the Palestinian lands. There is a hospital in the settlements, but no access for Palestinians.

This same disparity was also apparent in other parts of the West Bank, including Hebron. We heard stories from the international monitors of water lines that had been cut by Israeli settlers, and water barrels on top of Palestinian houses that leaked because they had been shot at by Israeli soldiers.

Looking to the Future: Two Sides to the Story

During our week-long stay, we heard from both Palestinian and Israeli voices, particularly those who were looking for a solution based on justice. And we also visited Palestinian and Israeli projects that offered a glimmer of hope for reconciliation based on truth, justice and human dignity. But we also encountered profound discouragement with regard to a political solution to this unending conflict.

On the Palestinian side, we heard from two Palestinian Christian young people who offered a sober assessment of the reality, but also a dream of hope.  Mohamed asked, “What is the future for our children? I don’t want my son to grow up and be arrested or killed in a protest. I don’t want him to have to live under the occupation. But what opportunities are there for him? What chance does nonviolence have to succeed? We need international support.”

Rania, another young Palestinian Christian, said: “The Nakba (catastrophe) is still going on, with the building the wall, the settlements, the fear, the silence. We want people to unite. Pope Francis just announced his support for a Palestinian state, and the Vatican just canonized two Palestinian Catholic nuns as saints. This land is a land of love and life. We still have hope, we are resilient.”

On the Israeli side, we heard from the field director from Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann, said: “I am the child of Holocaust survivors. I love this land. I served in the Israeli army as a medic. But I am concerned about the soul of my country. The problem is deep. The fact that Israel exists is a tragedy for the Palestinian people. We have a bi-national state but a divided country. We are afraid, and that fear is based on an existential conflict about this land. We are concerned about the Palestinians, from our religious tradition. But we need a change of heart on all sides, and we need the involvement of the international community to help us.”

We also heard from Ruth, a young Israeli Jew and member of the Israeli Coalition against Demolitions. She minced no words when she said: “We are an apartheid state, with an intentional plan in place to further segregate the Palestinians. There is a fear in Israel of a Palestinian majority. Israel has created a matrix of control of check-points, roadblocks, walls, settlements, laws and policies, enforced by the violence of the army.”

When we asked people on both sides about a political solution, we heard mixed results. Several people said the time for a two-state solution is gone: “That train has left the station long ago,” as one person put it. But whether a one-state solution could ever work, without greater justice for the Palestinians, was also a question of debate. But the divisions are deep, the violence profound.

Still, there are glimmers of hope. There are Palestinians and Israelis who deeply desire reconciliation, based on truth and justice.

In Bethlehem, we visited the Palestinian Conflict Resolution/Transformation Center, otherwise known as the Wi’am (agape) Center. Zoughbi  Zoughbi, the director of the center, said: “We try to be a center of hope to a people living under occupation and a world that is brimming with the cries of injustice and oppression.” He further shared with us his confidence that most people, Israelis and Palestinians alike, would prefer to live together in a society without fear.

And on the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Neve Shalom, otherwise known as the Oasis of Peace, was formed in the 1970s as an experiment in which an equal number of Palestinians and Israelis came to live together and to raise their children with mutual respect for each other’s tradition and with training in both Hebrew and Arabic. Such “experiments in truth,” as Gandhi would call them, offer glimmers of hope for the future. In Rabbi Grenimann’s words, “All things are possible in God’s world.”

Pax Christi International: The Bethlehem Commitment

At the conclusion to the Pax Christi International Assembly, a declaration was issued in the form of a commitment, and participants were invited to take this commitment to heart. One concrete fruit of the assembly will likely be an increased attention on the part of Pax Christi regions around the world to see how we can contribute to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

More than one person at the assembly, and among the Palestinians and Israelis with whom we met, expressed a profound sense of discouragement, with little hope for peace. When asked, do you have hope, one Catholic nun working in the region said, “No.” Yet she, like so many people, Palestinians and Israelis alike, remain, working tirelessly day by day, for a hope that does not exist – yet. In that spirit, the words of Pax Christi International’s “Bethlehem Commitment” may offer, if not hope, at least a direction for hope in the future. “There is no way, we make the way by walking.”

“On this journey we have learned that just relationships are essential for sustainable peace – that we humans are part of an earth community that must be healthy if we are to survive. We have come to see the interconnections between war and preparations for war, environmental damage, climate change and scarcity of essential resources. We are deepening our understanding of sustainability. We also learned that just relationships are essential to just peace…”

“While war, preparations for war, the proliferation of arms and violent conflict seem to be omnipresent, we promote nonviolence, nurture community and work for a world where human rights and international law are consistently respected… As we turn to the future, we claim again the vision that peace is possible and vicious cycles of violence and injustice can be broken. We seek a world where people can live in peace and without fear … relying on the presence of the Spirit to ‘guide our feet into the way of peace.’”

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

REFLECTION: The courageous witness of Blessed Oscar Romero

Tony Maglianoby Tony Magliano

Who would have predicted it?

Who would have imagined on Feb. 23, 1977, the day of his appointment as Archbishop of San Salvador, that the highly conservative Oscar Romero – who was suspicious of the Catholic Church’s involvement in political activism – would die a martyr’s death for courageously defending his people against the murderous assaults of the Salvadoran government, military and right-wing death squads?

romeroRomero’s appointment was welcomed by the government, but many priests were not happy. They suspected their new archbishop would insist they cut all ties to liberation theology’s defense of the poor.

One of the priests who worked with Romero, Father Inocencio Alas, recalled key moments leading to the archbishop’s dramatic conversion.

According to Alas, the archbishop began realizing that the poor laborers waiting for work at the coffee plantations were sleeping on the sidewalks.

“What can be done”? Romero asked. Alas replied, “Look at that big house where the school used to be. Open it up!” And Romero did.

Next, he started talking with those poor workers, and began to understand their problems.

But Romero had difficulty believing Alas’ claim that plantation owners treated workers unjustly. Alas said, “Why don’t you go to the plantation of this friend of yours … Go find out for yourself.”

After visiting the plantation, Romero said to Alas, “You were right Father, but how is so much injustice possible”? Alas replied, “This world so full of injustices is exactly what they [the Latin American bishops at their famous meeting in Medellin Columbia] were talking about in Medellin.”

But the most important event affecting Romero’s decision to wholeheartedly stand with the poor and oppressed was the assignation of his close friend Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande; who was promoting land reform, worker unions, and organizing communities to have a greater voice regarding their own lives.

Romero, who was deeply inspired by Grande said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘if they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’ ”

A shameful chapter in American history reveals the U.S. government supplied the brutal Salvadoran military with millions, and later, billions of dollars in weapons and training.

In a letter to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Romero warned continued U.S. aid to the government of El Salvador “will surely increase injustices here and sharpen the repression.” Romero asked Carter to stop all military assistance to the Salvadoran government.

Carter ignored Romero. And later, President Ronald Reagan greatly increased military aid.

During his March 23, 1980 Sunday national radio homily, Romero said, “I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army … You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters … The law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God … In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people … I beg you … I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

The next day while presiding at Mass in the chapel of the hospital compound where he lived, Romero’s loving heart was pierced with an assassin’s bullet.

On May 23, the holy archbishop of San Salvador will henceforth be known as Blessed Oscar Romero. But for the people of Central America, especially the poor and oppressed, he is already known as Saint Oscar Romero.

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: Blessed are the merciful

by Pat Ferrone
Pax Christi Massachusetts coordinator

justice-and-death-penaltyArmed only with banners advocating mercy, and signs decrying the death penalty, nonviolent peacemakers from Agape, Pax Christi, Veterans for Peace and elsewhere, regularly stand vigil in front of the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in Boston. In the early morning, a stream of employees, visitors, victims and lawyers pass before us, some with averted eyes or unreadable expressions, some clearly disdainful, like the man who muttered, “We should fry him – crisp as bacon.” Others, perhaps reflecting the general distaste for the death penalty in Massachusetts, pause to read the banners, or quietly voice appreciation and thanks for our witness. Reporters from the major news outlets are strategically stationed in view of the entryway, eager to capture the highlights of the day; on several occasions, interviews of vigil participants takes place, the reflections broadcast beyond our small witness.

As I write, the federal capital trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, admitted and convicted Marathon Bomber, is in its winding-down phase as the defense team offers a mosaic of reasons why this young man should be spared the death penalty, despite his culpability. During these latter weeks, family members, teachers and others brought in to testify, recall the young person they once knew, describing him as friendly, gentle and intelligent – not the kind of kid prone to violent behavior. Clearly, the defense team hopes to soften the perception of him as a categorically evil monster, beyond redemption. Focusing on the influence of his turbulent family background and Dzhokhar’s idolized yet controlling older brother Tamerlan, an ex brother-in-law said that in Chechen culture, he would be “obligated to do what his older brother tells him,” and that it was “better to be a dog than a younger brother.”

Through graphic testimony and visuals presented by the prosecution, the trial has laid bare the still raw suffering of the families of those brutality killed, and has exposed the enduring pain of the forever wounded. Amidst the repetitive and dire picture of destruction, the abyss of pain generates little empathy in many hearts for the young man on trial for his life. Flanked on both sides by the women of the defense team, Dzhokhar’s impossible aloneness seems somewhat mitigated by their mindfulness. Their simply gestures of human contact and solace remind us that, despite the radical fact of sin, individual and social…”each person’s human dignity must be honored” as it is imparted by an unconditionally loving God, not by us.

As the trial evolves, Dzhokhar, the victims, jurors, and the people of Boston are required to confront the madness that exploded into havoc on a bright, celebratory spring day in 2013. That day – burned into memory’s horror chamber – was one in which few in Massachusetts were spared the experience of fear and outrage that pervaded the very atmosphere as the blasphemy of destruction screamed its way into our small world. Out of the blue – here, not there – not Iraq or Afghanistan, not Syria or Nigeria or Yemen – terror came calling, ripping from us the naive innocence that had led many to believe that we, the righteous of American, are somehow immune to the kind of violence that is daily fare in other parts of the world. Traumatized, it was difficult at that time to consider the possibility that the global “culture of death,” in which our country and its citizenry are implicated, could spawn a response of malevolence against innocent people in our city, fulfilling the prophesy that violence begets violence, ad infinitum.

Two years later, a collectively wounded psyche, detailed in the stories of the wounded, gropes its way toward resolution, seeking meaning and the the healing of persistent pain. The prosecution, pursuing “justice” for the federal government, argues that the extent of the carnage requires the prescription of death to insure some deliverance from the trauma of the tragedy; the jurors, all selected with the caveat that they must consider the option of execution if Dzhokhar is found guilty on charges qualifying for death, listen to final evidence. After convicting him on all charges (17 of which qualify for death), they prepare to decide his fate. And the defense, opposed to execution, offers the only other option available, inevitably sealing his tomb in another way, if only because of the cruel limitations imposed by a penal system built on retributive rather
than rehabilitative principles.

In Kevin Cullen’s column of April 28 in the Globe, David Bruck, a member of the defense team, spared no punches when he described the likelihood of Dzhokhar’s imprisonment in the superman prison in Colorado if death is avoided. “One punishment is over quickly…the other will last for years and decades while he is locked away and forgotten. No more spotlight like the death penalty brings…And no martyrdom. Just years and years of punishment, day after day, while he grows up to face the lonely struggle of dealing with what he did.”

Mr. Bruck’s conclusions are not hyperbolic. Currently, the United States Penitentiary Maximum prison (ADX) is the only federal supermax prison in the United States, housing 490 male inmates who spend a minimum of 12 months in solitary confinement (22 – 24 hours/day) before consideration is given for less time; in reality, Amnesty International cites a report stating that the average length of time before an inmate receives some reprieve from the torture of killing isolation is 8.2 years, amounting to “cruel, inhuman treatment…in violation of international law.”

Juan Mendez, Special Rapporteur on Torture for the United Nations, has tried for years to gain access to Guantanamo, the ADX and other high profile prisons in the United States, without success. Laura Roverner, a legal expert on prison conditions, at the University of Denver says, “The fact that he (Mendez) hasn’t received response is contemptible”…”it puts the US in the company of countries like Syria, Pakistan and Russia that also have been responsive to requests for country visits.” According to the ACLU, on any given day 80,000 people in the US are held in solitary. Mendez says, “The numbers are staggering but even worse is the length of terms…it is not uncommon for people to spend 25, 30 years or even more in solitary confinement.” Some people, citing the severity of life in such an institution favor this as an even more suitable punishment; we, aware of the miserable trade-off of substituting life without parole in such a place for the death penalty, recognize the poverty of imagination and meanness of spirit necessary to create and maintain hell’s anteroom here on earth.

Three months have passed since Agape and Pax Christi MA initiated an effort to address the federal government’s pursuit of the death penalty. Initially, one of our hopes was to gain the support of the leadership of the Catholic Church. On February 4, a letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley asked that he reiterate his (and our Church’s) condemnation of the death penalty and apply it specifically to the trial happening in our own neighborhood; following this, a statement, accompanied by 400 personal endorsements, was delivered, and on Easter Monday, “A Statement of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts on the Death Penalty” was issued by the Cardinal’s office, and included the names of the bishops of the other dioceses. Recently, we were told that the Cardinal appreciates our witness, though no clergy has yet joined in public witness. However, small indications give hope for further dialogue on crucial concerns. As Franz Jaegerstatter, martyred for his refusal to serve Hitler said, “If the Church stays silent in the face of what is happening, what difference would it make if no church were ever opened again.”

The days of vigil provide rich opportunities for reflection, and it becomes apparent that this one case illuminates the network of connections among the myriad manifestations of individual and state-sponsored violence that runs like a toxic current among us, contaminating us all. How can we, after all, talk about this example of calculated destruction without being reminded of the surging unrest that abides in the hearts of the chronically dispossessed and brutalized – a combination of injustices fraught with dire implications; how can we not think of the 50 million refugees from war and civil unrest who flee their homelands and arrive in other beleaguered nations, ill-equipped to fashion new lives, bereft of resources; how can we not realize that massive militarism and never-ending wars, the dispatch of drones, racism and the mass incarceration of people in the US is a mix of ingredients brewing cataclysmic acts and perpetual suffering.

On May 11, the defense brought to the witness stand, Sr. Helen Prejean, Catholic nun and activist icon of the anti-death penalty movement. As spiritual guide, this woman of deep condition and extravagant compassion, has, over 20 years, accompanied six “dead men walking” to their deaths, at the same time working with families of murder victims, both commitments crucial to her ministry of mercy. She says, “The important thing is that when you come to understand
something you act on it, no matter how small that act is. Eventually, it will take you where you need to go” This “need” brought her to Dzhokhar’s prison cell where she spoke with him on five different occasions. Though hobbled in the range of her testimony, she communicated his words to the jury: “No one deserves to suffer the way they did.” Whether these are perceived as an indication of remorse remains to be see. We can only trust that a single juror among the twelve thwarts the demand for death, trusting in the possibility of eventual healing for the victims – and the perpetrator.

And so we stand, praying to discern the ways and means of “mercy” as in “Blessed are the merciful…”, believing that mercy and love ultimately seed the fruit of justice, and that it is worth spending our life’s time figuring out how to do and be mercy. We continue to insist that Dzhokhar’s life be spared and that it is past time for the United States to eliminate the use of the death penalty – for even the most egregious criminals: not one more execution, whether by lethal injection, high-voltage electricity, gas, bullets, or a rope around the neck – no more “dead men walking.” None of this barbaric behavior adds a single bit of life or the tiniest bit of grace to a world well-versed in death. It cannot be of God or blessed by the gospel or person of the nonviolent Jesus Christ. “Enough,” we say.

Somber and sad, we hear the jury’s pronouncement of death and mourn anew, both victims and killer. Bless us with wisdom to continue our labor of love to end the death penalty. Lord, have mercy.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE DELEGATION: Visiting the Oasis of Peace – Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom

by Bob Cooke
Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore co-coordinator

After a week of very good–but very intense–listening and interacting with Palestinian peacemakers and learning about the huge obstacles they face, Sunday evening offered a glimpse of hope of what can be for both Arabs and Jews living in the area.

Community leader from Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom addresses the delegation.

Community leader from Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom addresses the delegation.

Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace in Hebrew) is located in Doar Na Shimson in Israel. It is a 40 year old intentional community made up of Israeli Jews, Muslims and Christians who want to live in peace and harmony with each other.

On land given to them by their Trappist monk neighbors, they started as an inter-religious dialogue group, who decided to put their talk into action by living together. Over the past 40-plus years, they have developed primary and pre-schools for their children as well as for over 200 children from neighboring Arab and Jewish communities.

Their School for Peace was established in 1979 for the purpose of conducting outreach educational work for a humane and egalitarian society. Encounter workshops on the Israeli/Palestine situation for Jewish and Arab youth and adults, facilitator training courses, and empowerment courses for Jewish and Arab women are only a few of the many offerings of the School of Peace.

School of Peace

School of Peace

In addition, the Oasis of Peace has a spirituality center in honor of Bruno Hussar, their Trappist founder, a youth club, humanitarian aid, a volunteer program and hospitality at their own hotel, which has a large outside swimming pool among many other accommodations, to name a few of their outreach efforts.

The good news is that this place has flourished despite no help–and significant opposition–from the Israeli government. The bad news is that many other groups have been inspired by the great work of Neve Shalom to try to duplicate their work, but none have succeeded. Our host indicated that the main reason for this is that Israel controls almost all of the land and unlike other community groups, it will not give any of its land to groups like Neve Shalom to let other Arabs and Jews live together.

Another reason for its success is its many international partners in 12 countries around the world, including the United States.

While our group was very happy to see such a fine success story of Arab-Jewish relationships in Israel, we were also very saddened to know that Israeli policies at home make this a truly unique experience. We can only hope and pray that the people and government of Israel will one day be open to co-existence between all Arabs and Jews both within its pre-1967 borders and in the occupied territories.

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