Wednesday, September 20, 2000

World peace activists convene here

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The blood of the slaughter was gone.

        The will to honor the lost lives remained.

Paul Knitter
Paul Knitter
        Villagers of Chiapas, Mexico, mourned 45 deaths, the latest casualties in a long-running feud with paramilitary soldiers. But instead of seeking revenge, they pledged to continue pushing for equality and justice through nonviolent means.

        As Xavier University professor Paul Knitter prayed two years ago with the villagers and a group of world-renowned peace activists, he realized the lessons of Chiapas translate even to peaceful places thousands of miles away.

        “We all deal with conflicts in various ways in our lives, with our spouses, groups in our neighborhoods, political parties,” Dr. Knitter says. “Here we see a people caught in a brutal conflict, and yet their response to that is an example for us. They are committed to dealing with conflict bravely, yet at the same time nonviolently.”

  What: Xavier University's Milliennium Peace Celebration. Event features interfaith prayers, rituals, songs, dances and stories of peacemaking efforts.
  Featured speakers: Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire; the Most Rev. Samuel Ruiz Garcia, former bishop of Chiapas, Mexico; Dr. Elise Boulding, former secretary-general, International Peace Research Association, and Sister Joan Chittester. former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The Rev. Damon Lynch Jr., of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, Cincinnati, is the master of ceremonies. Other guests include the Peace Council, an international, interfaith group of leading peace activists.
  Events: Open houses at 12 local temples, churches and synagogues, Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. Call 513-745-3922 for more information on times and locations, e-mail at or go to Open houses are free.
  Peace Celebration on Sunday, 2-4 p.m., at Xavier's Cintas Center, 1624 Herald Ave. Tickets for celebration: $5 for adults; children and students are free, but they do need a ticket because seats are assigned. Available at door or in advance at 513-745-3411.

  Before Vatican II, and long before interfaith dialog became a catchphrase in religious circles, Father Edward Brueggeman was leading the way to bridge understanding between different faiths.
  The Jesuit priest graduated from Xavier University in 1933, and taught theology there for more than 30 years. In the classroom, on his weekly TV show, and on the streets, Father Brueggeman was a leader in promoting interfaith relationships. After his death in 1995, Xavier officials decided to honor his memory and continue his work by establishing the Brueggeman Center for Interreligious Dialog.
  As part of the Century Campaign, the university is working to raise $4 million to fund the center.
  The goal of the center is to become a “spiritual hub, a place where students, faculty and the community can discuss, celebrate and learn more about the world's di verse faiths.” The center will sponsor annually a visiting professor. Dr. Roger Corless, a former Duke University professor and leading Buddhist scholar, holds the Brueggeman chair this year. Plans also include opening a resource center and sponsoring interfaith, community symposiums each year.
  The Millennium Peace Celebration is the first major event sponsored by the center.
        Peace Council members who will attend Xavier University's Millennium Peace Celebration:

  Dr. Elise Boulding: Formerly secretary-general, International Peace Research Association. Formerly professor of sociology, Dartmouth College. A longtime Quaker peace activist, lecturer, and networker, she was editor of a periodical newsletter providing news and networking opportunities to international peace teams.
  Sister Joan D. Chittester, OSB: Formerly prioress, Benedictine Sisters, Mount St. Benedict, Erie, Pa. Formerly president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She is a well-known author and activist in the areas of human rights; peace and justice; ecumenism; contemporary religious life; and women, church and society. Author of Winds of Change: Women Challenge the Church.
  Prof. Chung Hyun Kyung: Professor of ecumenics and world Christianity at Union Theological Seminary, New York, she is active in Christian women's movements in Asia. Formerly professor of systematic theology at EWHA Women's University, Seoul, Korea. Author of Struggle to be the Sun Again.
  Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda: Supreme patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism; co-founder of Inter-Religious Mission for Peace in Cambodia; author of Step by Step: Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion. His quiet bravery as the leader of “dharma-walks” through heavily mined combat zones in Cambodia has brought hope to millions.
  The Rev. Thomas Keating, OCSO: Cistercian monk and former abbot of St. Joseph's Abbey, Spencer, Mass. Former president, Temple of Understanding; founder of Contemplative Outreach and the Snowmass Interfaith Conference; and former chair, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. Author of numerous books and articles on Christian contemplative practice and on dialogue with other religions.
  Mairead Corrigan Maguire: Northern Irish peace activist. Co-founder and director of the Community of the Peace People. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1976, jointly with her Protestant co-worker, Betty Williams, for their “courageous unselfish acts for peace that proved an inspiration for thousands; that lit a light in the darkness. ...” Together with Ciaran McKeown they were the founders of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement. Recipient of the Norwegian Peoples Peace Prize, 1976.
  Imam W. Deen Mohammad: Religious and moral leader of the Muslim American Community. He hosts a nationally syndicated television program and is an outspoken advocate of improved worldwide Muslim, Christian and Jewish relations. He is a member of the World Supreme Council of Mosques and is an international president of the World Conference of Religion and Peace.
  Dr. Chandra Muzaffar: President, International Movement for a Just World (Malaysia). Professor, Centre for Civilizational Dialogue, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Advocate for human rights. Board of directors, International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (Belgium). Founder-president of Aliran (1977-1991; Malaysia). Author of Human Rights and the New World Order and other books.
  The Most Rev. Samuel Ruiz Garcia: Roman Catholic Bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas (Chiapas), Mexico. He is known for his efforts to secure human rights in Central America and Mexico, especially among indigenous peoples, and for his service as peace mediator between the Indians of Chiapas and the Mexican government.
  Ven. Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche: Tibetan monk and scholar and chairman of the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies. Director of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Banaras, India.
  Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman: Rabbi of a Reform Jewish congregation in Jerusalem called Kehilat Kol Haneshama. A leader of the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism and of Rabbis for Peace, his congregation is a model for inter-religious understanding, dialogue and healing in Jerusalem. Source: International Committee for the Peace Council,

        This message of courage, tolerance and tenacity comes to Cincinnati Sunday for Xavier's Millennium Peace Celebration. The world's leading peace activists — a group called the Peace Council — headline the event. The celebration marks the opening of XU's Brueggeman Center for Interreligious Dialogue and is expected to attract 5,000.

        “Whoever writes the history of Cincinnati ... will mark this as a milestone in our city,” Dr. Knitter says. It will be remembered as the time when a worldwide assembly met here to talk about the greatest challenge facing all religions in the new millennium, he says.

        “We cannot stay in our own back yards but must reach over the fences and work together to build a world of greater justice and peace.”

        Eleven Peace Councilors, including a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the leader of Cambodian Buddhists, will attend. The activists are part of the 17-member international Peace Council established five years ago in response to the thousands of people killed around the world in religious and political conflicts.

        Here are some of their stories:

Sense of hope

               Anne Maguire began the half-mile walk pushing a baby carriage. With her four children, she planned to visit her mother.

        On a Belfast street on Aug. 10, 1976, a British soldier shot an Irish Republican Army soldier. The car the injured man was driving veered off the road and pinned Anne Maguire and her children against the railing. Six-week-old Andrew died. So did John, 2 1/2, and Joanne, 8 years old.

        Anne Maguire killed herself four years later.

        Mairead Corrigan Maguire came home after a vacation to the news of her sister's children. With Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown, Mrs. Maguire rallied Ireland to take to the streets and march for peace. Thousands came.

        “People had suffered enough and wanted to stop the violence,” says Mrs. Maguire from her home near Belfast. The three established Community of the Peace People, a nonviolent organization that encourages interfaith discussions and lobbies for human rights, justice and equality.

        Peace People was founded with the belief that “people on the ground have to build peace. If you don't have a change of heart and change of mind, then we really won't secure our future,” she says.

        Mrs. Maguire, a Catholic, and Ms. Williams, a Protestant, won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

        They were threatened and criticized, but the violence waned. No longer was the sound of exploding bombs a drumbeat in the background of Belfast life.

        But the process of peace hasn't ended, Mrs. Maguire cautions. Deep ethnic and religious conflicts remain. It will take many generations, she says, to fully bring together her deeply divided country.

        But “I have the sense we are going in the right direction,” she says. “I have a sense of hope.”

        Cincinnati residents can help. Peace starts in the heart of an individual and spreads to the family, community, country and world, she says.

        “We live in a world where there is a great deal of injustice,” Mrs. Maguire says. “We need to change the world, and we can only do that together as a human family. ... The people of Cincinnati, the people of America, have a responsibility together with all of us to work very hard for a more humane world.”

Peace and justice

               In the cold, cement basement of a South Korean police station, Chung Hyun Kyung said over and over parts of the 23rd Psalm.

        God is my shepherd. I am not afraid. God will lead me into the green pasture. I go into the valley of death. God will protect me.

        She was ready to die.

        Dr. Chung could hear the screams from the other rooms. Cries echoed down the corridors.

        For three weeks in the late 1970s, Dr. Chung was interrogated, beaten and tortured for her involvement in a radical anti-government group. The Christian Student Movement worked with factory workers and unions and demonstrated against the government, she says. Members even considered bombing the American embassy, because of the United States' support for the South Korean dictator.

        In the stark basement, Dr. Chung found peace reciting the psalm.

        She decided not to treat the torturers as her enemy. She found if she could make a human connection, the government officials no longer had power over her.

        “I started to have compassion for these people,” she says from her New York City office. “I smiled at them, tried to be polite to them. ... I think what they are doing is bad, but I couldn't give up on their humanity.”

        After her release, Dr. Chung says, she came to realize justice and peace must be achieved together because one without the other is meaningless. She learned violence, even prompted by good intentions, begets violence.

        Dr. Chung left the Christian Student Movement group, earned a doctorate in theology and now teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

        Active in the peace movement, she has seen religious and political strife tear up communities and countries around the world — and at home. Dr. Chung considers the United States one of the most unpeaceful countries in the world.

        “This is a very slow violence,” she says, born of economic injustice, inadequate health care and loose gun laws.

        “If you cannot do something about America's violence, then it will become a war zone,” Dr. Chung says. “People will not take this kind of injustice for too long.”

Promise of nonviolence

               Votive candles flickered, and flowers lay where the bodies once had.

        Mexican paramilitaries killed 45 people in a remote village of Chiapas. That was December 1997.

        In drenching rain and under dark skies, the Peace Council stood around the site almost a year later. There was the Most Rev. Samuel Ruiz Garcia, the former bishop of Chiapas, in a long white robe and miter, and carrying his crosier, a staff that symbolizes his position as bishop. The leader of Cambodian Buddhism, Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda, wore the saffron robes of a monk.

        A woman in her mid-30s stood between Bishop Garcia and Sister Joan Chittester, another Peace Councilor. The woman had lost several members of her immediate family, children, brothers and sisters. Sadness was etched into her ruddy face and deep-set eyes.

        “We prayed together,” says Dr. Knitter, a trustee of the council. “We cried together. It was just wrenching, the suffering of these people.”

        While the villagers asked the Peace Council to publicize a list of the people responsible for the slaughter, they also promised to continue using only nonviolent means in their struggle for equality.

        After the service, the villagers invited the Peace Council to dinner. Internationally renowned leaders and the poor, indigenous people ate soup, rice, chicken and tortillas together in a woodshed with two walls.

        Dr. Knitter left Chiapas with anger, sadness and hope weaved inextricably together.

        “There was such a mixture of anger that these kind of gross human rights violations can take place, and yet with that anger, there was also a feeling of hope,” he says. “That these people were not devastated by this horrible loss, and that they were continuing their efforts to work for peace through nonviolence.”

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