Every year, on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis, memories of my first visit to Assisi come to mind. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of Pax Christi International. Some 800 Catholic activists converged on the town and a lavish conference got underway. I attended a presentation or two and heard some eloquent speakers from around the world pleading for justice and disarmament. But I found myself beckoned by the beautiful and irenic landscape, so I left the talks behind and headed for the quaint streets and the fertile hills and the town's glorious churches -- the Church of San Damiano and the Portiuncula, the little chapel Francis erected by hand.
On the Road to Peace
"We're here to collect Sen. Pete Domenici's signature on our Declaration of Peace," we said to the security official in the lobby of the Santa Fe Federal Building. "We're here to collect his promise that from now on, he will work to end the U.S. war on Iraq and bring the troops home, and pursue reparations and nonviolent solutions for the Middle East. Until we get his signature, were not leaving."
The guards stared in disbelief. They knew that New Mexico's senator is one of the Bush Administration's biggest supporters, one of the greatest defenders of nuclear weapons in history. We knew it, too. When some of our group wrote asking him to oppose the Iraq war, he wrote a letter in return -- a letter brimming with braggadocio and punctuated by boasts of his support for the war. We responded in turn by deciding to take a stand for peace, or more specifically, a sit in for peace.
"We will never win a war against terror as long as the conditions for poverty and injustice remain," Archbishop Desmond Tutu said. "Poverty breeds terrorism. So we should stop spending billions of dollars on weapons of destruction and instead feed the hungry people of the world. Then, we'll stop terrorism. If we want to live in peace, we have to realize we are all members of the same family."
This past spring, I received an invitation to meet the organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast, an evangelical Christian organization that brings together the president, members of Congress and the Supreme Court, and virtually every putative Christian in the government.
For the last five days, some 50 of us walked more than 50 miles; we went from Thomas Merton's hermitage at the Abbey of Gethsemani to downtown Louisville, Ky. There on Sept. 11 we held a rally at the corner of Fourth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, where nearly 50 years ago, Merton realized he loved everyone and decided to spend the rest of his life engaging the woes and tumult of the world.
The year has turned again; Sept. 11 approaches. This year it marks not only the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, but the 100th anniversary of the beginning of Gandhi's satyagraha movement in South Africa. A measure of the man, his leadership and spirit, he inspired 3,000 to profess a vow of nonviolence.
The other day, my friend Jack Marth said to me on the phone, "I wonder what Jesus would have to say about the U.S. government, about what the Bush Administration has been doing?"
The U.S. war on Iraq goes on unabated. Ordinary people die every day by the gruesome violence provoked by our military presence. Our war over the last three years has killed at least 45,000 Iraqi civilians, possibly as many as 100,000. And there is no end in sight.
But the end can be imagined, and we can work toward it. This week, some friends in New Mexico are gathering to plan a nonviolent witness to call for an end to the U.S. war on Iraq. We've marched during the past few years. And we've kept vigil, lobbied Congress and prayed for peace in a spirit of nonviolence, as have people all over the country.
The high desert of New Mexico, where I live, is one of the most beautiful places in the country, with its red mesas, fields of sagebrush, Sangre de Cristo mountains and endless turquoise sky. Recently, I visited Bandelier National Park, where the Anasazi Native Americans lived from the 1100s until the 1500s, hidden away in a spectacular canyon surrounded by high brown cliffs. They shared everything in common, cared for their children, and lived together in peace. Each day they ascended the highest cliff into a large niche and there worshipped the Creator. While St. Francis strived to teach nonviolence in Europe, these holy people had cobbled together a community of nonviolence already. The people are long gone. But their peaceful spirit remains. One comes away knowing you've been to a genuine place of peace.
But today on the top of that same mountain, beyond the canyon, lays a dark contrast -- Los Alamos, the most destructive place in the world. Birthplace of the bomb, where business is booming, where a new generation of nuclear weapons, against international treaties, is in the works.