September 23, 2015 // Local
Peace is always possible
Community of Sant’Egidio meets for dialogue and prayer
By Allison Ciraullo
NOTRE DAME — Students, scholars and members of the community gathered from Sept. 6-13 at the University of Notre Dame for the fifth annual American Meeting for Peace organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio. The conference, titled “Peace is Always Possible,” was co-sponsored by Notre Dame and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend’s Office of Ecumenism.
This meeting for dialogue and prayer coincided with the International Meeting for Peace, which the Community of Sant’Egidio has convened in cities around the world since 1986, when it began in Assisi during the papacy of Pope St. John Paul II. This year it was held in Tirana, Albania.
The goal of the meeting, according to Paola Piscitelli, president of the Community of Sant’Egidio USA, is “to spread the ‘spirit of Assisi’ to as many people as possible.” The “spirit” she refers to is the guiding principle of the community: to work for peace by means of prayer and friendship with those at the margins of society. A group of high school students in Rome started the community in 1968 and it now has more than 60,000 members in countries around the world.
The 2015 American Meeting for Peace featured an interfaith dialogue panel discussion moderated by Professor Daniel Philpott, titled “Reflections from Proven Peacemakers,” held Sept. 9.
Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, discussed his role as a mediator between the Ugandan Government and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, an effort designed to help end the violence in his home archdiocese.
Miko Peled, the son of an Israeli general, reflected on his journey from growing up in privilege to becoming a peace activist and researcher challenging the Zionist narrative. His reflections were accompanied by those of Bassem al-Tamimi, a Palestinian activist and organizer of non-violent protests, who has been imprisoned and tortured on several occasions as a result of his work for peace.
Laurie Johnston spoke as a representative of the Community of Sant’Egidio that mediated the end of a 16-year civil war in Mozambique in 1992 and continues to be involved in peace mediation, currently in Syria and the Central African Republic.
In keeping with the theme of the conference, the panelists emphasized the difference that one life can make in spreading peace.
Archbishop Odama recounted his experience of meeting with the rebel leaders of Kony’s LRA, and the significance of standing between the government and the rebels as a witness to the value of human life on both sides of the conflict.
“What we were doing in Gulu was not only for the people of Gulu,” he said, “because whenever any human being makes a small contribution to peace, it is a contribution for all of humanity.”
Johnston remarked that the charism of Sant’Egidio is a “border-crossing charism” that invites us to make friends at the periphery of society and then respond to the needs of those friends.
“To say that peace is possible is to take a risk because it requires us to move out of our ordinary resignation,” Johnston said. “Once you express that hope, then you have a responsibility, because if a situation can be changed, then you have a responsibility to try to change it.”
Piscitelli hopes that participants in this year’s meeting, primarily undergraduate students at the University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College, come away with the conviction that they can be agents of peace in their own time and place.
“I would like for the students to think that their lives, that each life, has an impact. In a world where we are bombarded by news, by complications, by the difficulties and complexities of our world, the risk is to be overwhelmed and to withdraw and think, ‘My life is so small that I cannot have an impact.’ But the people who changed the world were individuals who were able to draw other people around them and witness that there was a different way to live,” Piscitelli said.
On Sept. 10, Archbishop Odama presided over an ecumenical prayer for peace in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame, accompanied by students, members of the Community of Sant’Egidio and local religious leaders. Piscitelli led the assembly in invoking God’s mercy for the nations and regions in the world afflicted by violence and war, while participants lit candles to represent each intercession for peace.
At the end of the prayer service, attendees signed the Appeal for Peace being promulgated by the International Meeting for Peace in Tirana, which states, “Peace is always possible. Therefore we must build it together, all of us, believers and nonbelievers. Let us build peace! With God’s help, we shall transform this era into a time of peace. Because nothing is impossible to God.”
A number of other sessions were held throughout the week for prayer and dialogue concerning issues such as poverty, the environment and the death penalty.
The week concluded on Sunday afternoon with a Mass at Cardinal Nursing Home in South Bend where the local Sant’Egidio community has visited weekly for the last 13 years, building peace through friendship with the elderly.
Retreat aims at peace-building
By Jill Boughton
CHAMPION, Wisconsin — Gus Zuehlke, lay pastoral associate at St. Bavo Parish, Mishawaka, invited about 30 individuals — civic and religious leaders from Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and South Bend, all of different ages, races, genders, life experiences and outlooks — to his favorite Wisconsin retreat spot, the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, to focus on “Healing America’s Wounds: A Moral Vision of Reconciliation.” They gathered for two intense days, Sept. 7-8, in what one participant called the most engaged, inspiring, intelligent, honest and nurturing group he’d ever experienced.
To help get the conversation started, Zuehlke invited four people who have risked their lives for peace, individuals who have bravely reached across barriers to seek healing in two of the most troubled spots in the world, Palestine and northern Uganda. Those four, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, Miko Peled, Bassem Tamimi and Joe Bock, opened their hearts and shared their own moving experiences.
The retreat included a time for individuals to practice lamentation and a corporate reconciliation service. But its “meat” consisted of working sessions where the whole group wrestled with issues like reconciliation and forgiveness. Working groups also tried to identify the wounds of injustice in their own cities and to develop strategies for addressing them.
At the conclusion of the event, the main speakers headed to the University of Notre Dame for a panel discussion and interfaith reconciliation service sponsored by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the Community of Sant’Egidio. Other participants headed home interconnected and energized by hope.
Other participants who reside in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend included former South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke, Sharon Kniss, Peter Helland, Judy Latanation, Kirby Falkenberg, Tom Loughran, Tom Marentette, Karen Zuehlke and Bryan Finkelstein, director of music at St. Anthony de Padua Parish, South Bend.
The retreat was sponsored by B.O.S.C.O. (Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach), a project that brought the Internet to refugee camps in northern Uganda and is now promoting human dignity by helping create modern infrastructure in the African countryside.
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