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A century also rich in peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesuit Fr. Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, Elizabeth McCalister, Ammon Hennacy, Muriel Lester, Arthur Laffin, Anne Montgomery, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop Raymond Hunthausen.

The century we are leaving, it has been amply documented, marked itself as one of the bloodiest and most brutal on record.

The calculated campaigns of killing and domination were ghastly. The enormous strides in education and science and technology were more than matched by developments in the pursuit of killing in massive and indiscriminate ways. More than half of the past century was lived under the threat of annihilation by nuclear warfare, a threat that follows us into the 21st century.

It was also a century distinguished for the amount of activity dedicated to the pursuit of peace, much if not most of it beginning with people of religious conviction.

Perhaps it was because the threat was so enormous and pervasive that the organization of pacifists, of anti-war resisters and of peace organizations reached levels in the 20th century unknown before.

Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Alva Myrdal, Doctors Without Borders, Charles Clements, A.J. Muste, Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Gordon Zahn, Barbara Deming, Maryknoll Srs. Ita Ford and Maura Clark, Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan, Jesuit Fr. Richard McSorley, Archbishop Denis Hurley of South Africa.

Certainly, the instinct for peacemaking instead of war making has a long history. The idea is expressed in the teachings of Buddha, Confucius and other Eastern thought. In the Christian experience, many scholars hold that the early church was essentially pacifist until the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion in 313. Though alliance with secular powers may have been inevitable, many would say the church never recovered from that official status. Too often, Caesar’s purposes and methods were sanctified when they should have been resisted.

The rise of nation states brought with it the occasional idea for alternatives to war through the 19th century, when, scholars say, the first organized peace society was formed in New York in 1815.

In the 20th century, something new happened. We saw the raw brutality of war in a way the world never had before. We were able to communicate the horrors of mass violence in new ways. The century’s world wars and the increasing efficiency of war-making machinery and tactics set off a new level of peace activities.

Sam Day, Robert Coles, Eileen Egan, Kathy Kelly, Voices in the Wilderness, Jesuit Fr. John Dear, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Bishop Leroy Matthiesen, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Cardinal Paulo Everisto Arns, Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Colman McCarthy, Dom Helder Câmara, Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Carol Richardson.

No single pacifist expression exists. Pacifists come in all forms, absolute to relative. Some engage in civil disobedience, others in prayer, many in both. Despite the differences, one might discern consensus around some major points at the dawn of the new millennium: that the world’s resources are still being squandered on weapons of mass destruction; that global arms trading is simply seeding the horrors of the new century; that continued reliance on military solutions betrays a politics devoid of creative ideas and in the grip of the military and the industries that sustain it.

Molly Rush, Jean Vanier, Pax Christi, Bishop Walter Sullivan, Bruce Kent, Franz Jaggerstatter, Thomas Merton, Marian Wright Edelman, Maria Montessori, Ramsey Clark, Joan Baez, Lewis Randa, Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos Hora of East Timor, the Nevada Desert Experience, Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa.

We are leaving the American century and entering the global century. We are leaving a century that saw the demise of kings and empires and the rise of democracy and the spread of individual freedoms, however imperfect. Old style dictators will not be able to survive in the new global information age. Too many people can find out too many things too many ways.

But no one has yet figured out how to end the violence, and far too many concede that war (currently nearly three dozen are being waged) is simply a way of the human species.

Amnesty International, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement, Albert Schweitzer, the American Friends Service Committee, Jane Addams of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Rigoberta Menchú, Jean Goss and Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Jesuit Fr. Jon Sobrino, Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker, the Plowshares community.

The people listed here -- hardly an exhaustive list, just an abundant reminder that the century has been partly shaped by their lives and thinking -- make no such concessions. They defy the status quo, are difficult to listen to most of the time, even harder to follow. Many of them have paid for their convictions with their lives, their reputations and their jobs.

They don’t have the luxury of overseeing well-funded think tanks where they might bend the Christian message to fit American economic and political programs. They don’t have the time or, daresay, the will, to check every inch of the journey to assure they are respectably moderate, veering not too far from the center of the road. Indeed, they usually are on a different road, one full of wild and unreasonable gospel realities, calling out the truths that few of us want to hear.

In the issue of The Catholic Worker published just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Dorothy Day wrote, beneath the headline, “We Continue Our Christian Pacifist Stand”:

“We will bring the words of Christ who is with us always, even to the end of the world. ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you, so that you may be children of your father in heaven.’ ”

She was ridiculed for being sentimental and simplistic, lacking in the complexity needed to read the times. They’re the words often slung at those who take such a radically nonviolent approach to living the gospel.

More than any generals or theologians or academics, however, they are our hope.

Blessed, indeed, be the peacemakers. If we are to survive as a world, it is the peacemakers’ blessing we must earn.

National Catholic Reporter, January 7, 2000