Just Peace…

By FAN Executive Director, Stephen Schneck, PhD


This morning, National Catholic Reporter, published my assessment of the Trump administration assassination of Qassem Suliemani, along with similar assessments by noted Catholic theologians. For reasons of space, the focus of analysis in the piece was whether military action could be called “just” according the church’s so-called just war teachings. My conclusion was that not only was the assassination unjustifiable, it was immoral.

Focusing on just war teachings, though, can lead us to overlook something much more important – peace.

Since St. John XXIII’s papacy, just war teachings have been de-emphasized in Church teachings. Emerging is a Christlike emphasis on peace, replacing the casuistry justifying any military actions. St. Paul VI at the United Nations in 1965 cried “No more war, war never again.” St. John Paul II not only repeated Paul VI’s cry for peace many times, he admonished President George W. Bush in a message ahead of that administration’s pre-emptive attack on Iraq, advising that God was not on the side of the United States. Pope Benedict XVI, even questioned if it was “still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war?'” Pope Francis at Hiroshima in November, 2019, argued that “Violence is not the cure for our broken world” and, just this week warned after the Suleimani assassination that “War brings only death and destruction.”

As these recent pontiffs signal, the Catholic Church is increasingly a peace church – a church which never justifies war. This should give us pause. If peace is the only justification, then surely we must look at military forces in a different way.

If you’ve not had a chance to see the recent movie A Hidden Life, I recommend it. The movie traces the heroic martyrdom of Bl. Franz Jägerstätter. An Austrian and a Secular Franciscan, Jägerstätter refused military service when called up to serve in a war he thought was unjust. For that conscientious objection he was guillotined by the Nazis in 1943. In 2007, he was declared a martyr for his faith by Pope Benedict XVI and was beatified. His feast day is May 21st.

Published in: on January 13, 2020 at 11:41 am  Comments (1)  
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“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”

This post originally appeared on this blog in August 2014.

Acting Franciscan

hands up don't shootJason Miller in solidarity with Michael Brown and for justice and peace.

The walk up the hill to the monastery from the metro station where the FAN office is each day can be somewhat of an adventure. I’ve been nearly run over by cars, and once attacked by a dog, all before 9am. Some days, when I have a meeting downtown or on Capitol Hill, I have to make that 15 minute trek more than once.

Earlier this summer, after a meeting I found myself struggling to get back to the office. It was 90 degrees, sunny, and humid, and I was lost in my own little world. I can’t even remember what I was thinking about, but I was paying little attention to everything else going on around me. Suddenly, I heard someone yell at me from across the street. I ignored him at first but when he yelled…

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Published in: on November 24, 2014 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tweeting a War: While we watch from afar, are we complicit?

Sunset near the Tent of Nations / Nassar Farm, West Bank, June 2010. Photo by Jason Miller.

I read with great relief about this week’s 72 hour humanitarian cease fire in Gaza. I pray that it is for good. I went to Israel and the West Bank as part of an innovative dual-narrative tour with Israeli and Palestinian guides in 2010, during the middle of the Gaza Flotilla incident and have been interested in the conflict there ever since. The last month has been a particularly strange experience trying to keep up on the latest news. Rather than checking news outlets, I’ve been getting twitter notifications on my phone from young Gazans on the ground—16 year old girls and 20-something college graduates, reporting directly on what’s happening there, usually right before I make dinner or go to bed.

As I read the tweets that will soon give me nightmares-I wonder how it’s possible that so many ordinary citizens who seemed to have lost life’s lottery still try to remain hopeful despite the death and destruction. Most Palestinians are just ordinary citizens, who want to live a normal life like anyone else, and yet, it’s easy to dehumanize them as the “other” because of the nature of the government in Gaza. Hamas gives Israel the justification it needs for civilian causalities. No longer are people in Gaza human beings, but rather, human shields (a debunked myth), collateral damage, or worse, which makes it much easier to justify bombing schools or places of worship. As with most instances of war, it is civilians who end up suffering the most and can do little about their own plight.

When the Gulf War started in 1991 and was broadcast on CNN, it fascinated the American public, able to watch far away bombings from the comfort of their living rooms. War once again became theater, like the days of old, only this time, it was much more distant and detached. Drone warfare further dehumanized acts of war, almost making it like a video game. Most Americans never have to face wars up close—war is for foreigners in far off places, or for poor Americans who enlist, not “us.”

Middle East politics involves feuds and grudges that have existed for centuries, and lately, they’ve made strange bedfellows. As John Stewart so aptly pointed out recently, the United States supplies arms to Israel, and also to Qatar, who then sells them to Hamas. If the United States is selling weapons to both sides in the name of our country’s chosen god, the almighty corporate dollar, does that make Americans complicit in acts of war? What about when we buy products from corporations which make money from war profiteering or when we pay our taxes to the government? And perhaps worse, have we forgotten so much about our shared interconnectedness as fellow human beings that we simply no longer care about innocent people being killed half a world away?

Each night before I go to bed, I have to turn off my phone, to keep it from buzzing all night and reminding me of the horrors of war, at least for a few hours. But before I do, I remind myself of Pope Francis who recently alluded to the words of St. Francis of Assisi and said:

“Now, Lord, help us! Grant us peace, teach us peace, guide us toward peace. Open our eyes and our hearts and grant us the courage to say: ‘no more war!’; ‘with war all is destroyed!’ Instill in us the courage to perform concrete actions to build peace…. Make us willing to listen to the cry of our citizens who ask that our arms be transformed into instruments of peace, our fears to trust and our tensions to forgiveness.”

Pope Francis is right: working for peace is never in vain. We must keep those trapped in the horrors of war, no matter who they are, in our thoughts and prayers.

And may we continue to examine our own lives, speak out for peace, work towards justice, and always remember that we are all members of the same human family.

Jason Miller is FAN’s Director of Campaigns and Development. Follow him on twitter @419in703

Published in: on August 5, 2014 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On the Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Death: Life, Legacy, and Interconnectedness

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FAN Executive Director Patrick Carolan reflects on the life, death, and legacy of Martin Luther King.

Today is the 48th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. In the Jewish tradition, they would call today the 46th yohrzeit.

Exactly one year before he was murdered, the Reverend King addressed a group of over 3000 Clergy and Laity at a meeting at Riverside Church in New York City. He stated: “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. “

Today we are living in the tomorrow that Martin Luther king dreamed and spoke about. Have we fulfilled the dream or have we turned it into a nightmare? Dr. King spoke about a “radical revolution of values.” Have we experienced this change of value, do we consider profit, money and things more important than people? We often talk about the moral and ethical values of our nation. But we never define what that means. Most Americans define themselves as people of faith, the majority claiming to follow the teachings of Jesus. Yet their value system allows for the destruction of Gods wondrous creation, it allows for the hungry to go hungry and the homeless to remain homeless. Our nation’s value system thinks that it is more important to protect the wealthy than to feed the hungry children. These are not the values Jesus teaches us in the Gospels.

We are living in a story of separation not connectedness. Our story has been one of perfecting our capacity for greed and violence. As a result we are on the verge of environmental and social collapse. So on this, the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, let’s take up the challenge and transform our society, let’s have a “radical revolution of values.” We need to start a new story, a story of compassion, of sharing, a story of connectedness, not separation. Richard Rohr tells us: “The gift of enlightenment, transformation and “salvation” is not an evacuation plan for the next world but a gift of “reconciliation” for the world here and now.” We are not hopelessly divided and doomed to self-destruct, we do not have a genetic predisposition towards greed and violence. It is just the way our story has been written. It is time for a new radically different story, a story of interbeing, of oneness with God and all creation. In, the Our Father, the prayer that is most frequently prayed by Christians we pray:

Thy kingdom come

Thy will be done

On Earth as it is in heaven

Is it God’s will in heaven that some will go hungry while others have excess, some will live in mansions while others will be homeless?

It is time to change our story on earth so it more reflects the will of God in heaven.

Let us begin the radical revolution of values.

Peace and All Good

Patrick Carolan is the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network.

FAN Participates In March Sabbath Weekend to Prevent Gun Violence

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Speaker Movita Johnson-Harrell

On March 13th, on the lawn in front of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, 130 t-shirts representing people killed by gun violence in DC in 2013 blew in the brisk wind. Inside, people representing member organizations in Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence gathered with some members of Newtown Families and elected officials to listen to remarks and to bless a group of first responders. This was followed by an informative and inspiring panel discussion, “What Has Happened and Where Are We Going?” After a reception for all gathered, there was a national webcast, “How the Faith Community Can Make a Difference,” followed by prayer for those remembered in the memorial exhibit on the front lawn. Vince DeMarco, director of Faiths United, thanked FAN for the number of Franciscan pledges to commemorate the weekend.

During the weekend nearly 1000 Faiths United remembrances were held around the country, including one in Aston, PA in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. The service was co-sponsored by the Sisters, Neumann University and Anna’s Place, a house of hospitality in Chester, PA which is sponsored by the Sisters and works in partnership with Heeding God’s Call. During the opening ritual, 33 pairs of shoes, representing those killed by guns in Delaware County, PA during the past year, were carried into the sanctuary by students, sisters, and members of the Chester community while names were read and a candle lighted for each person named.  A Gospel reflection was offered by Sr. Marie Lucey, OSF, FAN staff member, followed by remarks by Bryan Miller, Executive Director of Heeding God’s Call, and witness offered by Movita Johnson-Harrell who moved listeners to tears with her story of losing her father to gun violence, and years later, her 18 year old son. Movita is now a board member of Heeding God’s Call which holds a vigil every week outside a gun shop in Chester, PA in which Sisters of St. Francis participate.

FAN thanks all Franciscan groups who remembered victims of gun violence in some way during the March Sabbath Weekend. Here are some photos from the weekend:

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Sr. Maria Orlandini lights a candle at the vigil service at the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.

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FAN’s Sr. Marie Lucey speaks at the vigil service in Aston, PA.

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Candles and shoes representing those lost to gun violence.

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Bryan Miller, Executive Director of Heeding God’s Call.

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Movita Johnson-Harrell offers her witness at the vigil service.

Published in: on March 18, 2014 at 11:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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Reflections from the Holy Land: Something to think about…

Today was a day of visiting Holy sites from our Christian heritage, mostly around the Sea of Galilee. The trip was a good 4 hours with traffic.  Besides visiting the Sea of Galilee (with) a boat ride, we visited the Beatitude Church, believed to be the site where Jesus taught his disciples; Capernum where he performed three miracles (the Centurion’s servant, the lame man lowered through the roof, and healing  Peter’s Mother-in-law.  We next visited the Church of the Multiplication, where tradition has it that Jesus multiplied the bread and fish.  We finalized our day with Mass at Peter’s Primacy where after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the fishing disciples and called Peter to build the Church.

One of my thoughts with these Christian Holy Sites is to see how they differ from Jewish or Muslim Holy site like the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock.  During the Crusades, Christians felt it necessary to kill and control the Holy Land, and to this day Christians control most of our own Holy Sites.  What would happen if some government or people took control of these sites for their own usage?  Would Christians be just as combative as the Muslim and Jewish people are to one another over their holy sites.

Something to think about.

Sunday’s update from the Holy Land

Today, Sunday, was a mixed day with the theme of glimpses of hope being a bit more prevalent.

We began the day with a 2hr drive to three towns over from Bethlehem for mass.  It took 2hrs because instead of going in a more direct way we had to go out of Palestine into Jerusalem, around Jerusalem and through a second check point to re-enter Palestine.  The direct route is only for Palestinians and not Israelis or foreign persons.  This will discourage foreign persons to going into Ramallah and other West Bank cities and towns easily.

The trip was worth it as we enjoyed Mass at the local parish.  It was mostly in Arabic, however it could easily be followed.  The people were incredibly welcoming and kept inviting us to share the story of their struggles under occupation.

One gentleman, Amel, had just returned from California with his family.  In the economic downturn of the U.S. He and his family were going to have to move into what he described as a gang neighborhood.  He felt it was much safer in Palestine than the U.S.  This was one of those statements of interest.  The perception in the U.S. is that Palestine is dangerous.

Following mass we enjoyed a lunch  at a senior citizen center started by HCEF in support of the Christian seniors.  Through the senior center, mass, and the experience of prayer with the Nassar family at the Tent of Nations the previous day, I was able to witness a deep hope in change based in faith.  The hope is not one of naivete, but one that is clearly based on a belief of God’s support.

Following the meal we drove to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives.  It is clearly a holy place with some ancient olive trees that may have witnessed Jesus’ agony in the garden.  The garden shares space with the Church of Many Nations which is built over a large rock where tradition has it that Jesus sweat tears of blood.  It is a place that does give a sense of awe, and a place where we prayed for the agony of the Holy Land to find a resolution.  The church itself was built with the shared resources of 16 nations coming together.  Again a witness to the in-breaking of hope over agony.

We completed our day going to the Wailing Wall.  This is Judaism’s  most holy site.  It is the remainder of a retaining wall that was built up above the Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.  The Jewish people believe that it contains a piece of God who entered there upon the destruction of the Temple.  People place small pieces of paper with prayers.

Above the Wailing Wall is the Dome of the Rock and a Mosque.  This is built on the Temple Mount and is considered the 3rd holiest site in Islam because it is where they believe the Prophet Mohammad went up to heaven from the rock.

The tying of holiness to the land is such a source of conflict.  But this is for another day’s reflections.

Published in: on November 9, 2009 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Day 4 in the Holy Land

Today was the experience of the inbreaking of hope.

We began our day with an organization named The Tent of Nations. The Tent was begun as the Nassar family farm was struggling to prove its ownership of its land.  They have farmed it since 1916 when they got a title to the land from the Ottoman Turks.  They also have tax receipts showing payments for the entire land since that time.  Nonetheless, the Israeli government says they are not allowed their land.  The Orthodox Jewish settlement on the next hill pulls out the Bible and claims the land as their own.  The Nassar farm is surrounded by three large settlements.

In order to have a way of staying in their home, the Tent of Nations was formed as a way to have international people connected in solidarity.  This solidarity is in a number of forms: prayer, financial support, and outside connections to keep pressure on the Israeli government, and due accompaniment.  This is very important, as the Israeli soldiers and settlers come by often for harassment.  International eyes are important to keep an escalation from occurring.

Perhaps with prayer and good advocacy  they might be able to keep their land and create a precedent for others.

After the Tent of Nations we went to two significant churches on the Mount of Olives.  The first was Pater Noster, where there is a cave that is believed to be where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer.  The beautiful thing is that there are more than 80 languages that have the Lord’s Prayer. It is a hopeful symbol of unity.  The second church on the Mount of Olives was Dominus Flevit where Jesus was believed to have wept over Jerusalem.

From there we ended the day by walking to the pools of Bethsaida and St. Anne’s Church.  At the pools Jesus did some healing and Mary was born in a cave below St. Anne’s.  Here we had a prayer for healing and a hope for healing in the Holy Land.

Day 3 in the Holy Land

Today was a much more difficult day. I think the theme running through it is the torture of the Incarnation.

We began going through the old city of Jerusalem to meet with the Latin Patriarch.  He was away, but the Chancellor of the Diocese of Jerusalem met with us instead.  He provided a nice intervention that shared an honest skepticism that peace would not be possible soon.  He did offer some points of hope but they were tempered by the reality that even the Christian community is not that united.

We next visited two holy sites, the Cenacle (the place of the last supper) and the Church of St. Peter Gallincantu.  This church is believed to have been the High Priest Caiphas’ house where Jesus was condemned by the Jewish leaders and where Peter denied Jesus three times (thus the name of the church).  It is also here that Jesus would have been tortured and kept overnight in a dungeon before being taken to legal authorities the next day.

After lunch we had the gift (not a nice gift) of meeting some families whose house are being taken by settlers.  The story is a sad one but a typical one.

There are 28 households that were moved by the Ottomans in the 1910’s from their previous neighborhood in Jeresalem to their current one.  Now, the Israeli government has declared that the land is not theirs and has determined it should be made available for settlers.  They have begun moving these families out of their houses.  One family was able to get papers from Turkey proving that they are the rightful tenants of the land.  However, the case was “decided” before the official papers could arrive.  They have not been able to get an appeal hearing.

A word on “settlers” as the word brings up a connotation for Americans that is not true.  We think of settlers going to uninhabited or unused land and creating a new life, often from agriculture.  In Palestine, there is almost no uninhabited or unused land.  So to get the land they must take it.  The settlements are more like neighborhood or small towns than farm settlements.  The persons who are settlers fall into two types: religious/ideological and economic.  The first type believes the Holy Land should on be inhabited by Jewish persons.  The second are looking for a better life and housing.  In all cases the settlements are heavily subsidized by the Israeli government, which gets the largest amount of foreign assistance of any nation.  Our aid to the Israeli government frees money to subsidize the building and defending of the settlements.  So we who pay taxes are in part supporting the removal of families from their land.  The Israeli government’s reason is for security; however, their action squeezes the Palestinians so much that it builds pressure to a point where terrible things will happen.

The ongoing building of settlements is a torture to the people of Palestine.  Let us all pray for forgiveness and a peaceful resolution.

Day 2 in the Holy Land

After morning prayer, led by Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM,  we visited more holy sites in Bethlehem, but not the ones most people see.  Today we witnessed three places where people of faith are making the Incarnation a reality in our world.

We started with a visit to a house of a Palestinian Christian family that was being rebuilt by the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation. Heading next to their office we reviewed the various programs and projects that HCEF prepares for the purpose of improving the lives of the Christians in the Holy Land.  One of their foci is education of Christians in the U.S.  HCEF does its work in a way so as not to be too political in their direct support of the Palestinian Christians.  However, their work in educating U.S. Christians is directed towards solidarity between the Christian communities of our two lands.  Part of solidarity is recognizing the other’s existence.  There are many U.S. Christians that are completely unaware that there are Christians living in the Holy Land.  It is hoped that by being aware and learning the stories of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, U.S. Christians will also become engaged in the underlying causes of their struggles; one of the chief causes being the unjust policies of the Israeli government many of which are supported, or at least not contested, by the U.S. Government.

The second place of incarnational hope was Bethlehem University.  Here we heard from students and faculty as they shared how this relatively new school (begun in 1973) offers Palestinian young people new opportunities.  In particular, it was refreshing to be in a place where Christian Palestinians and Muslim Palestinians study, learn, and play side by side.  This is quite a different story than we hear.

Finally, we ended our day at the Holy Land Trust, where we interacted with their founder, Sami Awad.  In this interaction we heard stories of how non-violence has been making a difference in the the conflict.  Nonviolence seems to not only be a tool for lasting change, but perhaps the only tool for real lasting peace.

All three experiences were a grace-filled encounter of seeing Christ alive in the land where he once walked; and still does today.