Wednesday, May 11, 2016
THE DAWNING--LET US PRAY--OF A JUST PEACE
Last Sunday, just after returning home from Mass, I read a piece in the National Catholic Reporter entitled "Landmark Vatican Conference Rejects Just War Theory, Asks for Encyclical on Nonviolence."
The piece begins:
"The participants of a first-of-its-kind Vatican conference have bluntly rejected the Catholic church's long-held teachings on just war theory, saying they have too often been used to justify violent conflicts and the global church must reconsider Jesus' teachings on nonviolence.
Members of a three-day event co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the international Catholic peace organization Pax Christi have also strongly called on Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical letter, or some other "major teaching document," reorienting the church's teachings on violence.
"There is no 'just war,'" the some 80 participants of the conference state in an appeal they released Thursday morning.
"Too often the 'just war theory' has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war," they continue. "Suggesting that a 'just war' is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict."
"We need a new framework that is consistent with Gospel nonviolence," say the participants, noting that Francis and his four predecessors have all spoken out against war often. "We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence."
I could hardly breathe. Finally, an expression of the simple, radical teachings of Christ. Finally, a statement of the Way, the Truth and the Life, from the personal to the global, that had led me to become a member of the Church in the first place.
As Pope Francis has observed, "War is the mother of poverty." And as Dorothy Day, co-founder of the lay Catholic Worker movement, noted, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”
That filthy, rotten system, where wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few; where power is used to oppress, punish, and humiliate; where profiteers and politicians feed off an ever-escalating cycle of violence, war and death is precisely what Christ came to deliver us from.
For the solution to all that darkness is love: to love one another the way he loved us.
Monday morning I had the honor of being in downtown LA to help send off a friend from the Guadalupe Catholic Worker, Dennis Apel, to the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison. He's 65, with a wife and two teenage children, and was sentenced to 120 days for vigiling against nuclear weapons and our culture of death at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
As Scott Fina explained in his piece today in the Santa Barbara Independent--"Swords Over Plowshares"--"Dennis Apel left the side of Highway 1 to carry his peaceful protest down the entrance road of Vandenberg Air Force Base. There he was arrested for trespass, although he was standing on ground that is open to the public. Apel knew he was violating a base regulation and expected to be charged and penalized."
Dennis, his wife Tensie, and their fellow community member Jorge Manly-Gil serve the poor of the Santa Maria, CA area. The three of them had driven the three hours down to Los Angeles. Dennis was to self-surrender before noon. This would not be his first time in prison. He was cheerful and strong.
Ten or twelve of us gathered in a nearby plaza, including Catherine Morris, long-time member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, who is in her 80s. Her husband Jeff Dietrich was also sentenced to 120 days and had entered MDC the week before.
We laid hands on Dennis, and then on Tensie and Jorge, and prayed. Our friend Donald anointed them with holy oil. We sang "Carry It On."
Then Donald, Jorge and I walked Dennis over to the prison. We hugged Dennis goodbye one last time, he and Tensie had one last kiss and then a short, stocky guard who clearly loved his job just a little too much took Dennis outside, turned him head-first against the outside wall, patted him down, and snapped handcuffs on him. On Dennis, this gentle, compassionate husband and father who loves birds, who as his vocation distributes food and runs health care interference and does errands and goes the extra mile for the poor, and that includes you and me.
Above us loomed the MDC, a 272,000-square-foot prison that opened in December 1988 with a cost of $36 million. The windows are narrow slits. 738 inmates are incarcerated there.
As Dennis entered its maw, Tensie called out, "We love you!" "You can leave now," the guard barked. "Get out of here. Get moving."
"Nothing changes," the federal prosecutor had jeered at the sentencing hearing for Dennis and two others with similar trespassing charges a couple of weeks before--as if a lack of worldly results were a crime. "Over and over again they get arrested, and nothing changes."
Of course the same could be said of her job.
And then again--there was that conference at the Vatican.