Nick Meleby Nick Mele, Pax Christi Pacific Northwest

[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.

Pax Christi Pacific Northwest icon Fr. Bill Bichsel protests at Jeju Island.
Fr. Bill Bichsel, SJ, center, protests at Jeju Island.

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.

BixA 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.

To read Bix’s obituary in NCR, click here.

5 thoughts on “OBITUARY: Farewell to Bix – Fr. Bill Bichsel, SJ, d. February 28, 2015

  1. His entire life Bix was there for the marginalized people and poor – the homeless, immigrants, and the Native people. He spent almost 3 years in prison for civil disobedience against nuclear weapons and School of the Americas. He has had serious heart problems for the last six years and every time I saw him and asked how he was doing, he responded: “Still above ground.” I went to a deportation hearing of an immigrant from Mexico in October. Bix had just had eye surgery and could not see and in a walker but he was still there to support the man at the hearing for deportation. The hearing lasted 3 hours and at the end Bix and I used the restroom at the same time. Going out I told him that that day I finally met my life list. I told him I once used the urinal next to Dan Berrigan, and now I had used the urinal next to Bix. Without missing a beat, he asked me: “Which one of us was the straighter shooter?” He had a great, earthy sense of humor. Last time I saw Bix was February 15 when I was at the Native American Mass and potluck selling raffle tickets for their quilt. I went out to my car and another one of my Catholic heroes, liturgical dancer, Betsy Beckman, was videotaping a dance with staff and members of the Catholic Worker homeless shelter. I took photos of them as they rehearsed. The two minute dance video they did is impressive and is pure Bix. It can be viewed at:
    -Bob Zeigler, Olympia

    1. Bob, your story of Bix is so inspiring and funny, just like him! Thank you so much for sharing the video of our dance celebrating Dorothy Day … in which Bix is featured keeping time for all of us. So glad that he joined us for the dance … only two weeks before his passing. We have a new saint in heaven! xo

    2. Bob, your note about Bix is both inspiring and funny, as he was! I am so glad you shared the dance celebrating Dorothy Day as well. We were so honored that Bix came out to dance with us that day – only two weeks before his passing. We have a new saint in heaven! xo Betsey

  2. Very nice Nick; thank you! It was an honor to work with Bix, and it was also impossible (for me) to say no to him. During one of our conversations Bix asked, “Leonard, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get a Hibakusha to come to Seattle?” I immediately knew that his question was an invitation (to me). I got to work, and after thinking that nothing would come of it I received an email from Japan informing me that a 38-person delegation, including a Hibakusha of Hiroshima, had their reservations to arrive in two months. That was not a lot of time to plan. Bix and I worked together, and in his remarkable way he gathered people together to provide the most gracious hospitality possible for our honored guests (who were on their way back to Japan after the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. I will always cherish my memories of my time with Bix. He was a model for us all; truly a doer of the word. Peace, Leonard Eiger

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