by Carol Jachim, Pax Christi Michigan
A time for warmth … sharing, caring, and inspiring on a cold wintry day
February in Michigan can be unpredictable … and so it was on February 2 when 30 PCM members welcomed four leaders from PCUSA : Sr. Patty Chappell, SNDdeN, Executive Director; Sr. Ann-Louise Nadeau, Director of Programs; Scott Wright, National Council Member; and Tom Cordaro, Anti-Racism Team Member for a dialogue at Cristo Rey Church in Lansing.
Heavy snow and hazardous road conditions prevented many from attending that day of prayer, conversation, lunch, discussion and reflection on what is and what can be with an eye on the future.
With her usual dynamic personality, Sr. Patty enthused the audience with her chant … God is Good, All the Time; All the Time, God is Good! … the gathering of peace folks joined the chant quickly.
“Sr. Patricia being in Michigan twice in the last 10 months or so, is a tribute to PCM, the state council and the tireless efforts of coordinator Joan Tirak. Joan’s weekly communication efforts with members, keeping those of us who live in distant cities informed and involved with the most current issues is a model of organization building; membership feels attached because of her diligence,” says Robert Powers, of Muir, (a small town in lower Michigan between Grand Rapids and Lansing). “Sr. Patty’s enthusiasm is contagious, and having a chance to witness that energy is inspiring, Powers adds.
“We are grateful to be here today,” says Sr. Patty. They were invited to 20 PC regions and have been on the road continuing through May to complete this mission to talk with members.
Before breaking into small groups, Chappell offered three rules that we must live and strive for: love tenderly, act justly, and walk humbly. “We are known to be peacemakers… we must recall God’s presence as we continue on the path.” She reminded us of the four priorities of Pax Christi:
- Non-violence: Look at the Beatitudes in our personal lives and in social issues because the gospel calls for us to do this;
- Disarmament: Look to non-violent alternatives to WAR, and other ways in dealing with conflicts; we must make sense for the common good, not just for ourselves.
- Economic Justice: Look to the gospel teachings. There is much institutional racism, still we don’t know now how to handle this which is basic social teaching of the church. How do we do it without fear. Money from the Pentagon should go into Health Care …
- Human Rights: Look for and believe in reverence of all creation, and the dignity of all our sisters and brothers at home and abroad; and caring about toxic substances dumped in areas where people of color live …
Our job as PC members, is no small task, Sr. Patty reminded us, “ … we have to help people understand these basic principles; we’re here today to review these initiatives and share with each other. “We are called to do more … but, the basic ground rules are Prayer, Study, Action.”
And so it goes … the words remain the same, but how to do get everyone fired up … membership is down. Some voice .. listen to the young people … they have issues more immediately pressing … they are restless, and can’t endure an all day meeting … they deal with bullying, a crucial issue with the young … young adults are facing joblessness plus enormous college loans … etc.
Dialogue gatherers share stories of conversion, how perhaps one event, or one lecture, or one person sparked activism in their own life, plus what they continue to do for peace in their communities.
Personally for me it was the early 1970s, the Vietnam War time; I was working in a co-op nursery school, and one of the other moms was wearing a medallion faced with the logo War is Not Healthy For Children And Other Living Things. It prompted a conversation about peace … she told me about a moms for peace group that met each Friday morning in a local Unitarian Church for two hours … each week a project or speaker was the agenda (meanwhile the toddlers were babysat by two loving grandmothers whom we payed for their time). The children came to be called the Peace Kids. There was a will by the young moms to do something for peace, and they made the time to do it … participating in letter writing campaigns, bringing in speakers, visiting congressmen, education, etc. My husband Ron being a Political Science graduate was informed with the issues … and so it goes in the last several decades we both have been involved in the peace movement, and eventually to Pax Christi. In the early years, there was one main theme … we opposed war and the extreme military budget. Now, although we are in PC because we oppose war, we think there are too many initiatives.
Attendees shared that spark that geared them towards peacemaking; and shared activities they create in their own small areas/parishes throughout the state. Powers impressed me because in his rural tiny town about recently joining with an ecumenical group for peace and actions events. It impressed him that the PCUSA team took interest in our Michigan issues, and especially to the Detroit area where PC has some really dedicated activists.”
Live with enthusiasm; deal with challenges
Sr. Patty congratulated PCM for their success, for their skills, and experience. PCM is one of three PC groups that has a paid coordinator, which has helped to keep the region going with annual conferences, retreats and regular communications. She tells the group, “live in enthusiasm; deal with challenges. She applauded Fr. Fred Thelen, a long time leader in PCM, and Bishop Tom Gumbleton for his untiring leadership. There are few pastors and bishops who are willing to speak out for social justice, she says. “They must be congratulated, supported and thanked.”
Sr. Patty discussed the issues honestly … our challenges are many: being registered under the USCCB as a 501 c3 organization; improving membership and increasing income; dealing with the Catholic church’s stand on women and other social issues that have been driving people away; the anti racism campaign; and keeping the dialogue going within the church.
“We’re all in the same church; respect all,” Sr. Patty says. “We need to keep the doors open for listening and talking with others … it’s that dangerous dance, but because we are people of faith, a new church is emerging. More people are really looking at and studying Catholic teaching, like the Pacem in Terris. We must examine wars … a huge tragedy; gun violence is prevalent; we must look at not only what happens out there, but here in our own communities and in our hearts; there is no time to rest.
As Pax Christi members, we are part of a national and international peace community. “I feel stronger because of it; but we take strength from you in the regions,” Sr. Patty says.
When she spoke of dwindling membership, she stated that the sisters in communities order the most items from PC USA. She stressed that paying annual dues is crucial to keep the PCUSA office and small staff operating. We must clarify that membership in PCUSA means automatic membership in an international organization of PC, and PCM membership for Michigan folks.
The underlying fact is the organization of Pax Christi is a witness to peace everywhere, it is a voice to government and all citizens that we care about life – about peace and justice issues and nonviolence.
Neville and Doreen D’Souza have been active PCM members for 29 years; I clearly recall them bringing their children to meetings and conferences (was it hard, yes) … their dedication is outstanding and inspiring. And now their son, Arun, 38, has a PC group in Ann Arbor; he attended the dialogue. I asked Arun how he felt about the day: “It was good to hear Sr. Patty’s thoughts on the current status of PCUSA with the move to Washington, DC. It seems like she is really thinking about what is important for Pax Christi to continue.”
Arun went on to say that “it is important to maintain some connection with the official church. I know that this is difficult but the people most likely to be interested in a Catholic Peace Movement are people who are attending Catholic Churches; many PC members have problems with the official church, but I think most people were probably attending church when they joined PC.”
For Arun, the most crucial peace issue that PCM should focus on is “redirecting the military budget towards domestic priorities that can create jobs (for the good of all, and not solely for destruction).”
For Neville and Doreen D’Souza, the best part of the day was dialogue and the realization that PCM does have strengths that the other regions may look up to; the worst part of the day was the weather and that it prevented some people from coming and offering their input to the mix.” There was ample time to talk informally with one another throughout the day. Peace folks are a family.
Neville believes that membership in PCUSA can improve by gatherings such as these. “But to obtain the full benefit however it would be important to follow up on the lessons learned and to communicate to those who participated at these sessions in all the regions.”
Carmen and Mike Kelly, of Harper Woods, immediately sent a beautiful letter to Sr. Patty and the others from the national office … thanking them all for their roles in the dialogue with Michigan Pax Christi, and for the time and effort they have generously given to PCUSA. “You and others in PC are being faithful in the broadest and most important way. You seek to see where the Spirit leads and to follow, nurturing the ongoing, seeking the ever revealing, and leading the Spirit to new paths in making the Gospel alive in each day … we pray that you will continue to walk (or dangerously dance) faithfully in the light, with due caution as road conditions or tempo of the dance demand, but always following that light where ever it leads.”
And so it goes … moving forward with God’s help. Talking with each other, improving dialogue on crucial issues is the way to work for peace and improve the organization of Pax Christi. It does help to put a face with a voice or the written word. As I write this today, PCM sends an email alert … PCUSA encourages members to use Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) as a meditation for Lent. Visit http://www.paxchristimi.org.