e-mail us

Paths to Peace

Young peace activist finds familiar face in marginalized people

Eric LeCompte, the new national council chair of Pax Christi USA, is 26 years old. But he’s already experience-rich in work for peace and America’s underclass.

The 6-foot-6-inch product of a South Side Chicago working-class neighborhood has honed his organizing skills at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn.; at a Catholic Worker house in Rochester, N.Y.; and in three Latin American countries: Cuba, Guatemala and Colombia.

He also spent three months counseling military personnel about their rights; eight months of local group organizing for the Fellowship of Reconciliation; and eight months with Pax Christi USA, coordinating its campaign to cut Pentagon spending and redirect money to social needs.

For the past two years he has been outreach director at SOA Watch’s international office in Washington. SOA Watch is an independent organization that seeks to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas (renamed last year as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Fort Benning, Ga.

LeCompte, who is single, says he is excited that more young people are becoming involved in social action, as evidenced by SOA Watch’s annual demonstrations at Fort Benning. “We’re at a point where more than half the people coming are college age, or people in their mid-20s,” he said. “Many of them are Pax Christi members.”

LeCompte says living and working with the marginalized poor in Rochester “really radicalized me.” He recalls being “disenchanted” with the church and Christianity when in high school, and he links that to one of his earliest memories in grade school when his parents often took him to church to see the statues and lights.

He was 5 or 6 when, on a weekday visit, he went to the front of the church and saw the cross with a person on it, “dying, bloody, a complete failure.” He didn’t understand when his parents told him, “That’s Jesus, the son of God.” His dad continued to instruct him, “Eric, your mother and I and you, we’re all children of God.”

LeCompte recalls “looking back up at that cross and thinking, ‘If that’s what happens to children of God, I want no part of it.’ ”

LeCompte says he continued to struggle with such questions and reconciled them in Rochester, “when I saw that the faces of those coming into the soup kitchen every day were the faces of the person on the cross -- that same look of crucifixion and death and failure -- and recognizing that what it means to be the ‘children of God’ means to be in solidarity, and work for justice for all people.”

-- Tom Kelly

National Catholic Reporter, August 16, 2002