[NOTE: Many in Pax Christi USA have been inspired by Fr. Bill Bichsel’s witness. We invite you to share stories or memories of Bix in the comments section of this story.]
A few months ago, Fr. Bill “Bix” Bichsel, SJ, traveled to a village on the island of Jeju in South Korea to stand in solidarity with villagers who have been resisting construction of a naval base there; base construction has already destroyed a unique ecological and geological area and has disrupted relationships throughout the village. This past weekend, he died, several years later than a doctor had predicted. Bix never let his health stand in the way of his call to accompany oppressed people, minister to marginalized people and discomfort comfortable people.
He is being eulogized across the Pacific Northwest and in the U.S. peace and justice community as a prophet, and he was a strong and powerful voice for peace and justice. Bix was also a sociable, funny, gentle soul and a friend to many. He led retreats for young people and ministered to homeless people on the streets of Tacoma in addition to his peace activism. Bix encountered many people during his long, active life. He took part in protests, retreats, workshops and actions in many places and with various groups, including the the Catholic Worker Movement, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, and Pax Christi.
Bix’s last journey to Korea was one of many. Some were short, perhaps over to Bangor, WA, to take part in civil resistance to nuclear weapons or to Joint Base Lewis-McChord just south of Tacoma for peace vigils. Others were long, to Japan, Korea, Fort Benning, Georgia. I first worked with Bix when he was planning a peace walk from Tacoma to the 2006 World Peace Forum in Vancouver, British Columbia. The walkers needed a place to spend the night in, a our town, the last stop before the US-Canadian border, and my wife was able to arrange for the walkers to spend the night on the grounds of our parish church. Bix was funny, energetic and altogether amazing in his commitment to nonviolence and to those suffering from injustice of any kind. He seemed indestructible.
A few years later, partly with Bix’s example in mind, a group of Pax Christi and JustFaith members organized a walk to Tacoma, a pilgrimage of about 140 miles to pray for justice for immigrants. Bix met us at the conclusion of our walk, at a Mass and dinner at St. Leo’s Church in Tacoma. Again, he was funny, supportive and knowledgeable—we talked, among other things, about nuclear abolition and his recent trip to Japan to apologize to the Japanese people for the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before his trip to Korea last fall, Bix and I corresponded about what he would find there; in the course of our correspondence, I disagreed with him at one point. We could have both been unyielding, but instead we agreed our difference was insignificant beside the human tragedy that has been unfolding on Jeju and noted we were both working toward the same goal, the end of base construction and some justice for the villagers. It was my last encounter with Bix, and it was typical. He never lost sight of his goal, and he never used any tools but humor, humanity and nonviolence to achieve his goals.