By Laurie Hansen Cardona
The choice is no longer violence or non-violence; it is non-violence or non-existence, Jesuit Father John Dear told Catholic chaplains in a plenary address.
He called for a “vision of the heart” that “sees every person on the planet as our brother and sister.” With that vision, the task is to persist in reconciling “with everyone we meet for the rest of our lives,” he said in his plenary talk, which focused on the theme, “Blessed are the Peacemakers: Reconciliation Within Our Global Society.” It took place the last day of the May 19-22 NACC National Conference in Milwaukee.
Jesuit Father John Dear, in his plenary address, called
for a “vision of the heart” that “sees every person on the
planet as our brother and sister.”
Father Jack Crabb, SJ, who introduced Father Dear, called his fellow Jesuit “a prophet” and “an internationally known voice for peace and non-violence.” Father Dear also has run a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., served as director of a center for disenfranchised women and children in Richmond, VA, and served as a Red Cross chaplain to families affected by the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated Father Dear for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008.
Father Dear, in talking about his life, said he had been “a wild college kid at Duke (University),” until he was “knocked off the fraternity barstool, saw the light, knew I had to give my life to Jesus, and my next thought was I’m going to have to become a Jesuit.”
He explained what followed: “I go to my parents, and they’re utterly appalled and beg me not to, and say at least wait one year. I thought I could do that, but told them, ‘Mom, Dad, I’m packing up and going on a holy pilgrimage to hitchhike through Israel for three months by myself to see where Jesus lived….’ My mother put her hands on her head and said, ‘Where did we go wrong? It’s worse than we thought.’ And that’s what I did, only the week I left, Israel invaded Lebanon.” All the Holy Week pilgrimages were cancelled, and the young man was soon one of a handful of foreign tourists left in the country.
After research, Father Dear learned that the Pentagon had orchestrated this 1982 invasion, which it had called “Operation Peace for Galilee.”
“That summer we killed 60,000 people in Lebanon. I was camping out illegally by the Sea of Galilee. It was so beautiful, blue sea, green hills, big, blue sky…. I’m visiting the Chapel of the Beatitudes. For the first time in my life, I’m really reading the Gospel because I have nothing with me. I’m reading ‘blessed are the peacemakers, hunger and thirst for justice, love your enemies, be as compassionate as God.’ I suddenly thought, ‘Oh my God, I think this guy is serious.’
“And it was just then that I saw these big, black, Israeli jets fall from the sky, breaking the sound barrier, setting off all these sonic booms. They swooped down over the Sea of Galilee dropping a whole bunch of bombs and killing people.
“It changed my life,” he said. “For a split second I opened my eyes to the reality of the world.”
When he returned to the United States, issues of peace and justice become his No. 1 priority. As a 21-year-old young man he spent time with pacifist brothers, Josephite Father Philip Berrigan and Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan. “If you’re sitting at the feet of Daniel and Philip Berrigan, it’s just a matter of weeks before you’re arrested at the Pentagon,” noted Father Dear.
At current count, he’s been arrested about 80 times, Father Dear said. “I’m banned from all your favorite military bases. I’m an ex-con, and I can’t vote, and I can’t travel to half the nations of the world, I’m monitored by the government, and I’ve got a serious problem with recidivism.”
In 1985, at the height of the war in El Salvador, he went and lived and worked in El Salvador at the invitation of Jesuit priests at the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA).
He recalled that rather than a welcome, Spanish Jesuit Father Ignacio Ellacuría, UCA rector, said to Father Dear upon his arrival, “The purpose of the Jesuit university in El Salvador is to promote the reign of God.”
“Wow! I had never heard anybody say that – because I had been working at Georgetown. I didn’t think the reign of God was, like, in their top 40,” he said to laughter.
A chaplain asks a question of Father John Dear, following
his plenary address. (Photos by Laurie Hansen Cardona)
He said Father Ellacuría went on to say, “We’ve learned in El Salvador . you can no longer say you’re for peace, unless you stand up publicly, actively against war. You can no longer say you’re doing good, unless you stand up publicly, actively against structured, systemic, institutionalized, global evil.”
Four years later, in 1989, the U.S.-backed Atlacatl Battalion summarily killed Father Ellacuría and five fellow Jesuit priests – Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martín Baró, Joaquín López y López, Juan Ramón Moreno, and Amado López – and their housekeepers (a mother and daughter, Elba Ramos and Celia Marisela Ramos). In the middle of the night, the six priests were dragged from their beds, then shot in the head.
Father Dear offered eight points for individuals hoping to reconcile the whole human race with day-to-day ministry:
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