by Tom Kelly,
National Catholic Reporter, August 25, 2002
Pax Christi USA has served notice that escalated war on Iraq by the United States will trigger civil disobedience throughout this country. The international Catholic peace organization's board committed itself to that action at the Pax Christi USA National Assembly held at the University of Detroit-Mercy July 26-28. Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton urged the assembly's 600-plus participants to sign a pledge of resistance against U.S. military action in Iraq.
"The war in the Persian Gulf in 1991 was an unjust war condemned by Pope John Paul II," said Gumbleton, who was founding president of the U.S. branch of the peace organization and headed it from 1972 to 1991. "Any new war against Iraq will be an unjust war. We must say 'No!' "
The civil disobedience pledge was sponsored by eight national peace groups. In addition to Pax Christi USA they include the American Friends Service Committee, Education for Peace in Iraq Center, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Lutheran Peace Fellowship, National Network to End the War against Iraq, and Voices in the Wilderness. The petition, which was circulated for signatures at the assembly, indicates willingness "to join with others to engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience at U.S. federal facilities in order to prevent or halt the death and destruction that U.S. military action causes the people of Iraq."
Gumbleton proposed that next year Pax Christi members gather Aug. 6, the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, at a place like Oak Ridge, Tenn., "where they are making the new nuclear weapons that we will be preparing to use. We must have our bodies there, do civil disobedience there, and say no to nuclear weapons in a very dramatic way," he said. He also called for a 22-day fast starting on July 16, anniversary of the first nuclear device explosion in Nevada in 1945.
In his keynote talk, Gumbleton contrasted choices between Pax Americana -- "the peace of America" as represented by Bush administration foreign policy -- and Pax Christi, the peace of Christ. He recalled that when President George Bush announced the war strikes in Afghanistan Oct. 7 he said, "We are a peaceful nation." Gumbleton then listed 19 military conflicts involving "this peaceful nation" since 1945, adding "and now Afghanistan."
The Bush administration's proposed nuclear missile defense is not a defensive strategy, but rather part of a first-strike capability, Gumbleton said. "Pax Americana: bombing, killing, wherever we decide."
Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, the assembly's first keynoter, touched on the assembly's theme, "Casting Out Fear, Building on Hope, Living Nonviolence," when she recalled the gospel narrative of the Transfiguration. She noted that Jesus identified himself with Moses, who led people out of oppression, and with Elijah, whom King Ahab called "the troublemaker of Israel," the one who "exposed to the people the underlying causes of their problems, so they could both heal the present and have hope in a better future."
"Our ministry must be not only to comfort but to challenge church, state and community; not just to attend to the pain but to advocate for change; not simply to care for the victims of the world but also to change the institutions that victimize them," Chittister said
At one orientation session, first-time attendees were asked why they were there.
Gloria Dugay of Chicago said she was impressed by the ecumenical participation in a peace march against the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was held recently in Oak Park, Ill. Dugay said the march motivated her to be an ongoing part of such efforts.
Joe Walker, of East Grand Rapids, Mich., said he has been affiliated with Pax Christi since the Gulf War but hasn't been active beyond sending e-mails. Now, he said, it's really time to educate Catholics that peace and social justice are essential elements of their faith, "because most Catholics I know, they'll tell you about transubstantiation and the Virgin Mary, but they do not want to hear about peace and justice."
Danise Jones Dorsey, a member of the Black Catholics Congress in Baltimore, said she wanted to learn more about Pax Christi's anti-racism strategy because she was concerned about what "seemed to be an epidemic of violence in the African-American community." She said she wonders if the same elements that cause people of different countries to war against each other are taking hold in black America, and whether "the same strategies for conflict resolution would be effective in my community."
The Detroit gathering devoted one plenary session to launching its 20-year anti-racism initiative, "Brothers and Sisters All." David Robinson, Pax Christi USA's national coordinator, said one key focus of the program will be "dealing with the hidden racism within our own movement and developing ways of being accountable to our brothers and sisters in communities of color, especially those who are Catholic."
"We are essentially a liberal white peace movement," Tom Cordaro, a member of Pax Christi's anti-racism team, told NCR. "We're not going to find many people who think of themselves as being racist. But I think for white middle-class people the issue we really have to deal with is white entitlement and white privilege, and how that has guided the way we think about, frame and do our peace work. For a lot of white folks, they're not even aware of that."
The 2002 assembly marked the U.S. peace organization's 30th anniversary by recognizing six "faithful witnesses to the 'Peace of Christ,' " as Pax Christi USA Ambassadors of Peace: Helen Casey, Jesuit Fr. John Dear, Ray LaPort, Colman McCarthy, Megan McKenna and Nancy Small.
The final plenary session ended with participants extending their hands in blessing over a family from Wall, N.J. Tom Mahedy, the husband and father, faces three months in federal prison for crossing the line into the former School of the Americas, now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, in Fort Benning, Ga. Mahedy was one of 43 nonviolent demonstrators who were arrested and sentenced for protesting the human rights abuses in Latin America carried out by graduates of the U.S.-run military training school.
"[Going to prison] is hard as a father," Mahedy told NCR, "but I've come to realize that while love begins at home, it has to flow forth into the world as well."
Tom Kelly is a freelance writer in Toledo, Ohio.