e-mail us
‘Spiritual leaders should speak out’

Kansas City and Independence, Mo.

Twenty-five years ago, Máiread Corrigan Maguire won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to foster peace in Northern Ireland. Today the Nobel laureate is still speaking out against violence, whether in Northern Ireland, Tibet, Iraq or Afghanistan.

In conjunction with several other Nobel peace laureates, Maguire has called on the United Nations General Assembly to implement a cease-fire in Afghanistan and has condemned the recent U.S. bombing campaign there as both immoral and counterproductive.

“Meeting terror with more terror is criminal and cannot be condoned. Neither should it be accepted with a chilling and deadly silence, particularly by spiritual leaders whose calling it is to proclaim the sacredness of every single person’s life as well as the values of love, compassion and forgiveness,” said Maguire, who wants the pope and other spiritual leaders to take a stronger stand against the war in Afghanistan.

Both Maguire’s personal experience in Northern Ireland and her religious faith have shaped her philosophy of nonviolence. “I came to the realization as a Catholic, as a Christian, that Jesus said love your enemy,” she told NCR. “There is no just war. You can’t read the gospels and not know that Jesus was totally nonviolent. The cross is the greatest symbol of nonviolent love,” she said.

Instead of war, Maguire said the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon should be brought to justice through legal means. Bombing Afghanistan will only strengthen the hands of Muslim extremists, she said.

“My concern is that Afghan children and women are already suffering,” she said. “They’ve suffered too much. We can’t provide both humanitarian aid and conduct a war. The pope needs to speak very clearly that it is immoral to go to war with a country that is so poor. We need spiritual leaders to remind us that we can do this another way.”

In October, Maguire came to the United States to lead the Not in Our Name peace march in New York City. An estimated 12,000 people marched to declare their support for nonviolence rather than war in the wake of the September terrorist attacks. The Oct. 7 march led by Maguire and Jesuit Frs. Dan Berrigan and John Dear took place the day the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan began. Just five days before, on Oct. 2, Maguire had walked with 30,000 people in India, who were also calling for peace, not war.

Maguire’s commitment to a nonviolent response to terrorism was forged in Northern Ireland. In 1976, she and Betty Miller, a Protestant, founded the Community of the Peace People, which brought together people throughout Northern Ireland to march for peace and an end to sectarian violence. The establishment of the Community of the Peace People was triggered by the deaths of three young children hit by an Irish Republican Army getaway car that went out of control after its driver was shot by a British soldier. Maguire was the aunt of the three children killed. Her sister, Anne, never recovered from the deaths of her children. After her sister’s death in 1980, Maguire married her brother-in-law in 1981. In addition to the three surviving children of Anne and Jackie Maguire, the couple has two children of their own.

Visiting Kansas City, Mo., last week for PeaceJam, an international education program founded by Nobel Peace Prize winners to inspire young people with a commitment to peace, Maguire delivered her thoughts on the peace process in North Ireland and its lessons for the United States to a packed audience at the Community of Christ Temple in nearby Independence. The Community of Christ was, until last year, known as the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints. Rockhurst University co-sponsored the lecture.

“Don’t get stuck in the suffering of Sept. 11,” Maguire urged her audience. “If you get stuck in the suffering, you lose your creativity.”

Maguire also said Americans mustn’t let themselves come to believe they are hated. “People love Americans. What they don’t like is the suffering that is a result of your foreign policies. I’ve been to Iraq and seen the children dying of malnutrition there because of American policies. I’ve been to Palestine and seen homes demolished there because of Israeli policies.”

Awareness could be the good coming out of the events of Sept. 11, Maguire told her listeners at the peace colloquy at the Community of Christ Temple.

Describing herself as optimistic about the future of peace in Northern Ireland, Maguire said one of the lessons to be learned from the conflict there is that “if you want great ends, you must have good means.” In Northern Ireland, this meant finding a third way, which Maguire said involved neither fight nor flight but “all-inclusive dialogue.”

“These deep ethnic political problems are very complicated, and the approach to solving them must be a multi-layered one,” said Maguire, who paid tribute to the help the U.S. government provided to the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland.

Peace takes time, Maguire said. The recent troubles in Northern Ireland date back to 1969, and the fruits of the peace movement she and Betty Williams founded in 1976, for which the two of them received the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize, are only now beginning to show.

“If you look at what happened in Northern Ireland, people had to come together to look at the root causes of violence,” Maguire said. Today, a similar effort is needed in Afghanistan, she said.

“We have to look at how to tackle the poverty of Afghanistan,” said Maguire, who spoke of the need for countries to come together to develop a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan and a representative government there. “It takes time, determination and effort to really help these countries to have economic justice and to have human rights.”

In a speech that combined passion and humor, Maguire told her listeners that an American friend told her recently that nonviolence may be all right for Northern Ireland, but Americans aren’t ready for it. Maguire said she was sure that was not true.

Maguire said that she was saddened that Pope John Paul II had not spoken out more forcefully against the military campaign in Afghanistan.

“I think if the churches have a role, it is surely teaching the message of Jesus, the message of nonviolence. We need our great spiritual leaders to call us to be men and women of hope and peace,” she said.

Margot Patterson is NCR’s senior writer. Her e-mail address is mpatterson@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2001