Light in the Darkness

Greetings Friends,

Our dear Disarm Now Plowshares people continue to do the various works to which they are moved. Lynne continues her work at Irma Gary House at the Tacoma Catholic Worker. Bix stirs the pot from his operations base at Jean’s House of Prayer just across the alley from Irma Gary. This coming weekend he will hold a shared Easter Eucharist at one of the Bangor Trident submarine base’s gates. Steve is a tough one to nail down; he moves as the Spirit moves him, and it moves him far and wide. There was a recent Stevo sighting at Jean’s House. Susan continues her work at the Redwood City Catholic Worker.

Speaking of Susan, she recently developed a website for the RC Catholic Worker. Today I came across a beautiful story (in the April 2014 Redwood City Catholic Worker Newsletter) written by Larry Purcell about someone who found light in the darkness when she came to the RC Catholic Worker for help. Click here to read the story and check out their website.

food distribution at RC Catholic Worker

food distribution at RC Catholic Worker

The Disarm Now Plowshares was a deep, spirit-led, courageous action that is now a piece of history, and a very important piece of history it is!  Bix, Lynne, Steve and Susan continue to be bright beacons as they do God’s work in the world. Their individual and collective works bring light to a world desperately in need of it.

And of course, we remember that great beacon Anne Montgomery.

May each of us light our candles from theirs and continue to spread light throughout the world.

In Peace,

Leonard

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Bix and Gilberto on Jeju Island!

Dear Friends,

In March 2012, at our yearly gathering of the Pacific Life Community, Dennis Apel of the Guadalupe Catholic Worker first introduced to PLC that US naval ships/subs were soon to be stationed on Jeju Island.

True to form of all actions and involvements the US is into and doesn’t want the American people to know about, don’t look for too much information about JeJu in the US press. These next two web sites can provide a lot of information most folks have no clue about.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/america-threatens-eastern-china-jeju-island-key-strategic-naval-base-for-americas-asia-pivot/5335532

You can see the photo’s Dennis took of his trip to Jeju on  http://vpan.org/resources/Jeju-Island-of-Peace

Bix has been very focused on wanting to respond to the call of the religious and lay community on Jeju. Daily vigils and resistance actions have been in place for quite some time with the hope that one day the construction will end and this very dangerous American Funded Naval base 300 miles from mainland China will cease to be.

On September 23rd Bix, and Gilberto Perez flew from Seattle to Seoul Korea. They spent one day in Seoul and then directly onto Jeju. They have joined in with the resistance community on Jeju and the following reports give a lively report of his and Gilberto’s activities.

They are due back here in Seattle on the 8th of October. In the meantime the following are some thoughts from Bix and Gilberto.

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 Van-den-berg vigil        September 26, 2013    From Bix

You would see and feel the holiness of this island; after returning from the regular daily practice of 100 bows (stand-kneel-deep bow) in front of a main gate of the construction site–with a view of the great sea beyond the site. The woman who started this deep bowing practice two years ago was there and today she was assisted by Gilberto and I, two Korean Notre Dame Sisters, a young woman from the US and two Korean women from Jeju.  One of the ND Sisters said to me, “Your country has done this to us”!

Very much wish Steve Kelly and Louie Vitale would have been able to make this trip. Their life experience, and ability to absorb and appreciate another culture would be solidarity plus. We have been greatly welcomed by all Jesuits and well provided for and well scheduled.Fr. Kim,S.J. lives on Jeju Island in a small house rented by the Jesuit Order. He lives in community with two other Jesuits; one, Brother Pamk, is in jail for resistance to the naval base; the other, Fr. Lee is presently on trial for resistance activities.  Fr. Kim has been jailed on different occasions for resistance. Jeju resistance and village -building is his assigned apostolate.

We began this day with Eucharist being celebrated at the gate leading into the construction site. We were four priests, five nuns, and four village women.  The village men sat in chairs in front other main gate.JCR_893

The police showed up in droves (high employment). When the time came for the construction trucks to enter the building site, the police surrounded us, asked us to leave, then carried all of us in our chairs to the sideline. Best chair- sedan ride ever. This happened four times. No arrests. Eucharist was being prayed and sung all the while. We all received communion.

 September 27, 2013

We are living in Gangjeong Village here on Jeju Island and the village life is wonderful. Daily Eucharist and rosary is ended with high spirited Korean dance and song. We then have lunch in the community meal long-home. Fr. Kim had arranged for Gilberto and me to attend the ongoing investigative trials of Brother Park, S.J. (who lives in community with Fr. Kim) and Doctor Song who were being held in jail for their resistance work against the naval base.

Signs of community solidarity are clear to see; however, there is division also with some of the islanders. After the court visit Fr. Kim drove us to the hospital to visit a village woman resister who was struck many times by a villager who disagreed with the resistance. Though most of the people of Jeju Island and South Korea don’t want the base, there are those that support it.

This division was made manifest when the coordinator of the community meal hut was brought into the emergency room with multiple facial injuries while we were at the hospital. He had made a remark to a villager opposed to the resistance and the villager struck him in the face many times. Many members of the resistance community showed up and were very vocal in their opposition to the police, who were investigating the victim rather than the perpetrator. Sometime after midnight we left the hospital with Fr. Kim who drove us to our guest house.

1336582897-save-jeju-as-island-of-world-peace--london_1203575 After the 100 bows, Eucharist and rosary, dancing and singing, and lunch in the community meal hut, we traveled to Jeju City to visit Brother Park, S.J. in jail. His spirit is strong and he is very alive and committed to his justice work.

I’m experiencing this time as a real retreat. The oneness of the Eucharist unifying all people in a live background stirs me. The signs of resistance and the dancing and singing give life and vibrancy to the Eucharist. What I’m experiencing is a church alive with a bishop calling for resistance.

 September 29, 2013

Great conversations today with two Korean Jesuit Priest, each named Kim. This is the most alive and vibrant faith community I’ve ever experienced. Daily Eucharist is the foundation of the ongoing acts of resistance which also occur each day. Everyday priests, nuns and villagers sit in chairs blocking the main gate while the sung Eucharist up the road is being broadcast. After the Mass and rosary there is very vibrant Korean dance that knocks your socks off and fills you with joy. After this there is lively song. This is followed by Korean lunch—kim chi style- that is held

in the community meal house that has free and open meals every day. The atmosphere is light and alive with communication. At 7AM the day starts with a village lady who leads us in 100 deep down on your knees bows in front of the gate. Different blocking actions take place in the afternoon. Each order of nuns sends two nuns every week to vigil and resist. They stay in a guest house that is rented by the diocese. Four Jesuits are assigned to full time resistance work. The bishop is fabulous and calls villagers to resistance as well as assigning priests to work for peace.

At 4pm the bishop of Jeju will lead the Eucharist gathering in front of the main gate where Gilberto and I with other priests and nuns will block the gate. It is not yet clear to us but we are talking about an action on St.Francis day to call Pope Francis to join the opposition and resistance to the naval base at Jeju Island. However, today the regular resistance community expects hundreds to show up. Gilberto and I will be blocking all day.

More later—love Bix

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From: Gilbeto Perez        September 29, 2013   

Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo,

We bow hundred times in front of naval construction site with nuns and Fr. Bix. Very tough nuns, just like Sr. Junsan. Oliver Stone was here about a month ago and also prayed and bowed at local sacred location where US and Korea police massacred over 30,000 left wing peoples, mostly farmers and whole families, burned villages just like Vietnam..began 1946 ended in 1948. US called Jeju a “Red” island during this period. After freedom from Japanese, Koreans did not want another colonizer, therefore the arguments and massacre.jeju4

We all continue to pray. Yesterday and today over 75 Catholic nuns, 45 Jesuits and even the Bishop performed Sunday Mass. With over 300 local peoples and big dinner party at the village center. Reminds me of Cuba and Mexico where everyone in town is invited. Many of the nuns, priests and Bishop came from Seoul.Yes, Koreans are very passionate about peace and prayers, many studied in Berkeley, Boston and even the Philippines too. Two young Americans are here but not able to block gate, as they want to return to Korea. We sit in front of gate while Mass is said and police carry us off to let trucks and cars on/off the base and then we just return again. Police are thus far been pretty gentle. They remove us and lots of filming while this is performed, about five time each day.

Fr. Bix becomes like a young teenager when he is resisting the empire and very funny and happy with all…A baby Buddha.

Being near ocean means fresh fish and wonderful vegetables, cheese…No cows! Yes, US has taken the most beautiful location for the naval nuclear site, with approval of government (Eminent Domain) and destroyed the coral reed too.

So much to say about the Koreans, very respectful to elders and all participate in actions with joy and dancing after mass…I like the dancing in front of the gate the best.

Gassho, love to all and much peace, – Br. Gilberto

Anne Montgomery remembered: “new birth, new time, new humanity”

Editor’s Introduction:  Dear Friends, Art Laffin, of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington D.C., wrote the following remembrance of our dear friend (and co-conspirator in the creation of God’s vision of a world at peace and with justice for all) Anne Montgomery, who died last year on August 27th.  It is, as is appropriate, mostly in Anne’s own words.  Anne’s words and witness in her life live on long after her passing; may they give us all strength for the long journey.  In our common humanity and in Peace, Leonard

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Dear Friends,

Today is the first anniversary of Anne’s home-going to God. I/we give thanks for Anne’s life and for all she did to make the Word flesh! We know Anne is advocating for us as she is among the cloud of witnesses in paradise.

Below is Anne’s letter that she sent out describing her cancer and expressing gratitude to all those she walked with and accompanied in the earthly vineyeard.

Anne comforting a Palestinian girl as she watches her family's orchard being destroyed by Israeli bulldozers, August or Sept. 1998. (courtesy of Christian Peacemakers)

Anne comforting a Palestinian girl as she watches her family’s orchard being destroyed by Israeli bulldozers, August or Sept. 1998. (courtesy of Christian Peacemakers)

In light of the Empire’s ongoing violence, past and present, including now the latest US military threats against Syria, the below poem by Anne speaks to the heart of the matter.

Anne Montgomery–presente!

With gratitude, Art

March 1, 2012 letter Anne wrote to friends describing her cancer and really a final farewell:

“I have been on chemotherapy for cancer, and it seemed to be helping, but, last weekend I had breathing problems and tests showed a lung full of fluid and that continuing any chemo, etc. would not help. I have been blessed by so much support, personal, and medical, that I know I must share that in some way with all those across our world who lack so much and are near desperation, especially for their children. I also know that the Spirit prays at the heart of the universe and that creation is an ongoing journey of death and resurrection, however mysterious that process is. Because it is energized by Love, we can enter into it rather than count on our own weak efforts and vulnerabilities and worry about failures. When I made my final vows, our group was named, “Joy in the Faith,” I am coming to believe that must somehow be possible since it is promised in the Beatitudes and that those who have nothing show us the way.

I am constantly filled with gratitude to you all who have done the nitty-gritty work of peace and nonviolent action and invited me to join you. I hope to be able to do so in a new way. As Phil Berrigan said in his last letter, that work must come from our own vulnerability. Much love, Anne.

FEAST OF THE INNOCENTS:1991
In Memoriam: Mass Graves

by Sr. Anne Montgomery, RSCJ

A voice in Ramah — a voice in Panama, Iraq–
weeping,
as yet again, Herod proclaims new birth
a threat,
the young expendable,
beginnings buried:
bulldozed into ditches,
shoveled into unmarked graves,
cast into the sea,
or flamed to ashes.

But in the sand and sea,
grass and cinders,
in silences,
the question will not die:
“Where is the one who is born?”
the child who sees with one eye__
or not at all,
who walks with one leg–
or never again,
whose dreams were shattered by shrapnel,
hunger stilled by pain.

The year’s death reminds us of an old story,
a nightmare that will not go away,
but, dragon-like, rises from the sea,
blinds the dawn,
blasphemes God’s name and dwelling
with fire from heaven
on those, uncounted, who do not count:
“You the nameless, do not exist.”
So it has been decreed,
for to allow the naming,
to confess reality and promise,
means new birth,
new time,
new humanity

###

Sr. Anne Montgomery, Plowshares leader against nuclear weapons, dies; National Catholic Reporter Online; Aug. 29, 2012

Abolish Nuclear Weapons: Choose Life!

Editor’s Note: This is an article I was asked to write for St. Patrick Church, Seattle.  It was recently published in the Summer 2013 Roots of Justice, the parish Social Justice Newsletter.  Click here for the PDF reprint.

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Abolish Nuclear Weapons: Choose Life

by Leonard Eiger

“In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims. The truth of peace requires that all – whether those governments which openly or secretly possess nuclear arms, or those planning to acquire them – agree to change their course by clear and firm decision and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament. The resources which would be saved could then be employed in projects of development capable of benefiting all their people, especially the poor.” (Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, 2006)

Decades before, the Archbishop of the Seattle Archdiocese, Raymond Hunthausen, was active in resistance to the U.S. stockpiling of nuclear weapons and the new Trident submarine-based nuclear weapons system, which included the Bangor Trident submarine base in Puget Sound just 20 miles west of Seattle. In 1981 Archbishop Hunthausen referred to the Trident submarines based there as “the Auschwitz of Puget Sound.”

The Church’s condemnation of nuclear weapons is grounded in the Church’s respect for life and the dignity of the human person. People of faith have been active throughout the movement to abolish nuclear weapons, and the struggle to resist Trident mirrors this history. Even before the first Trident submarine sailed into Bangor, people were coming together to build a resistance to it.

The Pacific Life Community (PLC), a small intentional community, formed to resist the coming of Trident to the Pacific Northwest. Two years later, out of the initial PLC experience, Jim and Shelley Douglass co-founded Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action (GZ). The GZ community purchased land adjacent to the Bangor base, laying the groundwork for the long work ahead.

As the submarines came and the base grew, so did the resistance. In the early years resisters handed out leaflets at the Bangor entrance gates. When the first Trident submarine arrived it was met by thousands of protestors on land in addition to a small flotilla of boats.

Next came rocket motors, and then nuclear warheads, transported by trains to Bangor for assembly to complete the Trident nuclear missiles. These trains were met by huge numbers of people, many of whom risked arrest blocking the tracks leading into the base. Archbishop Hunthausen was present at some of these actions in solidarity with the resistance.

The Douglasses later moved to Birmingham, Alabama to start a Catholic Worker House, and GZ’s work continued. Today that work is as strong as ever. A new Center House has risen from the ashes of earlier structures on the grounds. Three annual actions ground our continuing resistance to Trident – Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Mother’s Day weekend and the Hiroshima/Nagasaki commemoration.

This continuing resistance, deeply rooted in nonviolence, is absolutely necessary in this time of renewed pursuit of nuclear weapons as a foreign policy tool. Besides the US Government’s buildup of its nuclear weapons research, development and production infrastructure, it is pursuing new nuclear weapons systems – among them a new generation of Trident submarines.

The new submarines, currently in research and development, are intended to replace the aging Trident nuclear weapons system, a relic of the Cold War. Twelve submarines will cost $100 billion just to build, in addition to hundreds of billions in operational costs.

Beyond the costs – For people of faith killing is simply wrong, and nuclear weapons, which are omnicidal by design, are an abomination in the eyes of God. His Holiness was clear in his 2006 statement – Nuclear weapons must never again be used; they must be eradicated, and we must dedicate ourselves to life-affirming ends.

May we choose life.

“Washington youth pair anti-nuclear action with Scottish protests”

Dear Friends,

A group of youth from St. Leo Church in Tacoma led a vigil at the Bangor Trident nuclear submarine base on April 14th in witness against nuclear weapons.  You can watch a video of the day below (with thanks to videographer Rodney Herold), and read an article about their vigil in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) written by Julie Gunter: Washington youth pair anti-nuclear action with Scottish protests.  

The NCR article quotes (among others) Bill Bichsel who laments the state of the world that current and previous generations have created for the young people and future generations, and says “My generation, and the generation following, have left so much violence, so many systems of exploitation, to our young people,” he said. “I believe we have the obligation to let them know we’ve made mistakes, and help give them the strength to resist what we didn’t have the strength to resist.”

With gratitude to these young people, and their strength and courage, AND for models like Bix and others who show the way (to PEACE)..

Peace,

Leonard

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A call to repentance on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq

“A call to repentance on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq”,  by Wash DC Catholic Worker Art Laffin, originally published in the National Catholic Reporter – Mar. 19, 2013 http://ncronline.org/news/peace-justice/call-repentance-10th-anniversary-us-invasion-Iraq

Ten years ago on March 19, President George W. Bush ordered the
invasion of Iraq. Following in the footsteps of his father, President
George H.W. Bush, who 12 years before had authorized the Desert Storm
invasion and bombing of Iraq for 42 days, the younger Bush, with the
consent of Congress, initiated “Shock and Awe,” a massive bombing
campaign that led to an occupation that lasted most of a decade.

Hours before the commencement of the Shock and Awe campaign, I joined
a group of 25 peacemaking friends who climbed over the fenced-off area
on Pennsylvania Avenue in front the White House to make a final appeal
to the president to halt this action. Shortly after we offered our
prayers of intercession, we were arrested by Park Police. After hours
of processing, we were released from the Anacostia Park police station
later that evening. As we met our supporters, we learned the invasion
had begun. Heartbroken, I could only pray: God forgive us.News
accounts the next day showed the Baghdad night sky lit up like a
fireworks display. We will never know how many people were killed that
evening.

The protesters were not alone in their demands. Similar pleading
against going to war had also come from the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops and the Vatican in the months leading up to the
invasion. Pope John Paul II made a number of specific appeals calling
for no war. In January 2003, the pope told his Diplomatic Corps: “War
is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity.” And on
March 7, 2003, Bishop John Michael Botean, bishop of the Romanian
Catholic Diocese of St. George in Canton, Ohio, issued a pastoral
letter condemning Catholic involvement in the war: “With moral
certainty I say to you it [the Iraq War] does not meet even the
minimal standards of the Catholic just war theory I hereby
authoritatively state that such direct participation is intrinsically
and gravely evil and therefore absolutely forbidden.”

Many believed then, and the world knows now, that the purported
government justification for bombing and occupying Iraq were based on
lies and deceit. Yet 10 years later, no senior government or military
leader who ordered, directed and carried out this blatantly immoral
and illegal invasion and occupation has been held accountable. No
apology has been made, no public act of repentance or contrition has
ever been offered by any U.S. official for the unspeakable war crimes
committed. The use of white phosphorus anti-personnel weapons in a
massacre in Fallujah in 2004 and the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu
Ghraib are just two cases in point.

What was the human cost of invasion and occupation for the Iraqis? A
survey from The Lancet [1] found that more than 600,000 Iraqis have
died, while the Opinion Research Business Survey concluded that the
number was more than 1 million. An estimated 4 million Iraqis have
been displaced. And an entire society has been traumatized, devastated
and left in a state of upheaval. The reality is that the war will
never be over for the Iraqi people.

Following the invasion of Iraq, Pope John Paul II declared in his 1991
encyclical Centesimus Annus [2]:

I myself, on the occasion of the recent tragic war in the Persian
Gulf, repeated the cry: “Never again war!” No, never again war, which
destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws
into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves
behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more
difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked
the war. [Section 52]

The invasion and occupation has also taken a terrible toll on U.S.
troops. More than 4,400 soldiers died, and countless more were
injured. A vast number of veterans now suffer from post-traumatic
stress disorder, and the suicide rate has been exceedingly high, not
only for soldiers who were in Iraq but also for those who were
deployed in Afghanistan. Pentagon figures show that there were a
record 349 suicides among active duty troops last year.

Regarding the economic cost of the Iraq war, the National Priorities
Project has found [3] that the U.S. has spent more than $807 billion
waging it. And a Brown University report [4] just released ahead of
the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq says the Iraq war
has cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion, including $500 billion in
benefits owed to veterans. It is inevitable that when the government
squanders so much money from the public treasury, it will end up in
massive debt. No wonder there is a “fiscal cliff” and sequester
crisis.

In the last 10 years, peace organizations worked tirelessly to end the
U.S. occupation of Iraq. We at the Catholic Worker along with many
other communities across the U.S. and in Europe kept vigil and engaged
in many nonviolent resistance actions to demand an end to this war. We
also implored the bishops, who were conspicuously silent after the
occupation, to speak out against it and the Bush administration’s
pre-emptive war policy. On one occasion, I had the opportunity to
speak with military chaplains, including then-Archbishop Edwin O’Brien
(now a cardinal), head of the Archdiocese for the Military of the
U.S., and asked them to call on all Catholic soldiers to leave Iraq
and not participate in this sinful occupation. This appeal was not
well received. It should be noted that Archbishop O’Brien actually
advised soldiers [5] they could participate in this war.

Not all soldiers followed the orders of the commander in chief or the
counsel of Archbishop O’Brien. Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia ended up
serving up to a year in prison for refusing a second deployment to
Iraq for reasons of conscience. Other soldiers deserted or otherwise
resisted and were imprisoned. Iraq Veterans Against the War [6] was
formed to oppose the war and to assist fellow soldiers who had been
physically wounded and mentally scarred for life. And Pfc. Bradley
Manning, Army intelligence analyst and whistleblower, has been
imprisoned for more than 1,000 days for his courageous act of
conscience to let the public know about U.S. atrocities in Iraq and
Afghanistan. He is now being prosecuted for releasing to Wikileaks the
Collateral Murder video that shows the killing of unarmed civilians
and two Reuters journalists by a U.S. Apache helicopter crew in Iraq.
He is also accused of disclosing the Afghan War Diary, the Iraq War
Logs, and a series of embarrassing U.S. diplomatic cables. On Feb. 28,
Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, which
could carry a sentence of up to 20 years. One charge he did not enter
a plea for is the charge of “aiding the enemy,” which could carry a
life sentence.

Even though the occupation has officially ended, the CIA, private U.S.
military contractors and U.S. military special advisers remain in Iraq
while drone surveillance planes continue to patrol Iraqi skies.

What would Jesus, who commands us to love and not to kill, have us do?
Lent is the holy season for repentance and conversion. This would be a
good time, especially for the churches, to take the lead in calling
the nation to truly repent for our war-making in Iraq, to ask
forgiveness from the Iraqi people, to call on the U.S. government to
make substantial reparations to Iraq, and to demand that all CIA,
military advisers and military/security contractors leave Iraq
immediately.

Two years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the first U.S. war in Iraq,
I wrote the following prayer:

Loving God, we beg your forgiveness for twenty years of U.S. warmaking
in Iraq-for destroying Iraq’s infrastructure by massive bombings, for
using highly toxic weapons, including depleted uranium, that
contaminated Iraq’s land and water, and which have caused cancer,
severe birth defects and other illnesses for numerous Iraqis.

Forgive us for imposing economic sanctions that killed over one
million Iraqi’s, mostly children.

Forgive us for invading, occupying and destabilizing Iraq, causing
nearly one million deaths and displacement and long-term trauma for
countless Iraqis.

Forgive us for placing oil interests above human welfare.

Heal us of our moral blindness and fill our hearts with love.

Help us to renounce all killing, torture and violence, to stop
demonizing our adversaries, to value all life as sacred, and to see
the Iraqi people and all Muslims and Arabs as our brothers and
sisters.

Help us to truly repent for the sin of war and to make reparations to
the Iraqi people.

Empower us to engage in nonviolent action calling for an immediate
withdrawal of all U.S. military forces and private contractors from
Iraq, and for an end to U.S. warmaking and military intervention
everywhere.

O God, make us channels of your peace and reconciliation.

Amen.

[Art Laffin artlaffin@hotmail.com is a member of the Dorothy Day
Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C. He visited Iraq in 1998 with a
Voices in the Wilderness delegation.]

Bix: In the Audience at the Nobel Peace Prize

Friends, Here is the latest on Bix’s European journey that began with a stop in Oslo to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies.  Documentary filmmaker and producer Helen Young, who is accompanying the Jesuit on his mission, wrote a column in the Huffington Post, which I have posted in its entirety here.  The source URL is http://www.huffingtonpost.com/helen-young/2012-greater-tacoma-peace-prize_b_2287247.html.  Peace on Earth (or else!!!), Leonard

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In the Audience at the Nobel Peace Prize

by Helen Young, 12/12/2012

They were all in one majestic room: Norway’s King and Queen as well as the Crown Prince and Crown Princess; the leaders of 20 European nations including Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande; the European Union’s Nobel Laureates and their entourages; plus hundreds of other dignitaries. They filled Oslo’s massive and beautifully ornate City Hall. And there, too, among the VIPs sat an 84-year-old Jesuit priest who had traveled half a world away from Tacoma, Washington to be there. He seemed to be as well dressed as the rest of the crowd, though he admitted his black suit jacket and trousers had been purchased at Good Will. But to know Father William Jerome Bichsel is to understand that he does not place much importance on appearances. He’s focused laser like on action, and what the next best action needs to be to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

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Father Bichsel, whom everyone calls Father Bix or just plain Bix, was invited to the Nobel Peace Ceremony after he was awarded the 2012 Greater Tacoma Peace Prize by the Scandinavian community in Tacoma a few months ago. The award is bestowed annually on an individual whose life exemplifies a dedication to peace. The elderly priest had just been released from federal prison because he and four other activists broke into the U.S. Navy’s Trident nuclear submarine base near Seattle, which houses one of the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the country. Acting as citizen weapons inspectors, the intruders, whom prosecutors called, “The Bangor 5,” were intent on exposing America’s “weapons of mass destruction.” Father Bix has spent a lifetime “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” says Tom Heavey, a U.S. military veteran who headed up the committee that voted to give the elderly priest its Greater Tacoma Peace Prize. Heavey admits he wrestled with the decision to give the priest the award, because Heavey is “uncomfortable” with some of the priest’s protests actions. In the end, however, Heavey decided Father Bix deserved the honor and that it was the right thing to do.

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One wonders if there was similarly such soul-searching among the members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee whose choice of the European Union as this year’s Laureate has sparked so much controversy.  The EU is mired in a three-year-old debt crisis causing rampant unemployment, with some countries in the group teetering on bankruptcy. Several previous Nobel Laureates have sharply criticized the decision including, Desmond Tutu who called the EU an organization based on military force and not deserving of the award. Despite that one cannot overlook the progress in peace the group has fostered over the last 60 years, culminating in a unity among nations who were at one time often at war with each other, such as Germany and France.

At the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, Father Bix listened intently to the speeches and said he came away feeling an opportunity had been missed. He commended the remarks of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who described the European Union as supportive of disarmament and against nuclear proliferation.  However, Father Bix said he wished that the support had come in the form of some concrete action from the EU instead of just words.

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