How was I to participate in the transformation of the world? I didn't know where to start. With so many needs, what should I do? Then I learned "Where the world's needs and my passion intersect" there is my call.
They intersected without a doubt when I had the extraordinary privilege of living in Bethlehem and serving as Registrar of Bethlehem University from 1987-1992. There I saw needs I couldn't imagine: a student's family needed a tent to house the family after their home had been demolished by the Israeli occupation forces. I came to know the people and to share just a bit in their suffering when the curfews - which mean house arrest - and closure of roads and schools affected us all. Palestinians clearly have a need for autonomy and freedom of movement.
This is a superb example of the wisdom of Pope Paul VI's statement "If you want peace, work for Justice". Decades of peace talks on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have gone nowhere because the structural injustice has not been dealt with. Wouldn't it be great for the world if US policy were based on Paul VI's insight - "If you want peace work for justice"?
Commitment to nonviolence has been a significant part of my Journey. On August 9, 1985 the 40th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Nagasaki, I took the Pax Christi vow of nonviolence. A group of Pax Christi members had been preparing by fasting, prayer and weekly meetings for the previous 40 days.
The first statement of the commitment - "Strive to be a peace within myself and be a peacemaker in daily life" is the heart of the vow. Additional statements make it easy to focus on once aspect at a time. I began with "persevere in nonviolence of tongue and heart" because I recognized nonviolence of tongue as a big need in my life. It was challenging and even fun to eliminate some common expressions such as: "kill two birds with one stone"; "kill the lights so we can show the film"; and "Stick to my guns".
I thought I was getting pretty good at this. That is, until I went to Bethlehem where I needed to work on the other half “nonviolence of heart". When I saw Israeli soldiers harassing and abusing Palestinian men, women and children I was angry. Jesus'' command to "love your enemy" became a big challenge. Before that I don't think I had any enemies. I learned one way to lessen the injustice. Just stop and make it obvious that I was observing. The hope was that being observed would temper the soldiers' actions.
Many people have helped me on my journey. The CSJ community and other groups to which I belong: Middle East Peace Now of which I was president for 8 years; and the Middle East Committee of Women Against Military Madness. I have been active in Pax Christi Twin Cities and Coordinator of Pax Christi Minnesota for a three-year term that expanded to eight years. This area is rich in activists, whom I admire, including the faithful who vigil weekly, regardless of weather on the Marshall Ave Lake St bridge. A group of us still vigils for justice in Palestine on Fridays at Summit and Snelling in St. Paul.
Some writings have been helpful on my journey. To remind me that it is not a good idea to try to do it all, I carry Thomas Merton's "Letter to a Young Activist" in my datebook.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete - another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what were are about - We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capability. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning. This was a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.
As Archbishop Oscar Romero has said:
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen
Florence Steichen CSJ