Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

An ANZAC Day lament

by Rev. Claude Mostowik, msc
Pax Christi Australia

Romans 12:2ff: ‘Don’t change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but let God change you inside with a new way of thinking……….’ We can and must rearrange our priorities….

How do we want to remember ANZAC or any war? To suggest changes in the way we think about Anzac is dangerous territory. The contemporary focus on this sacred day is changing from an inherent opposition to militarism since the 1920’s to a sudden reinvigoration of ANZAC which seems to contribute to a new militarism and nationalism. Whatever this day means, we must recognise that we are all part of ‘the dark ecosystem of violence’ – whether towards Aboriginal people, refugees, asylum seekers, the Earth or peoples we have never met. ANZAC Day is a call us to do life differently. Your presence here today might indicate an interest for some alternative. I begin with a quote from Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination: ‘….real criticism begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the visceral announcement that things are not right. Only in the empire are we invited to pretend that things are all right … And as long as the Empire can keep the pretense alive that things are all right, there will be no real grieving and no real criticism…’ When I think of saints they often become monuments rather than a command/ challenge. Dorothy Day warned again it and in some ways people like Martin Luther King have suffered that fate.

For the past 20 years, Anzac has become impregnable; a bastion of patriotism over which words and argument cannot prevail. Are there other ways of remembering war? As we remember the dead, all, we could honour conscientious objectors who said there is ‘No glory in war’; acknowledging the costs of war; working toward ways that breaks down enmity between people and seeing war and violence as the enemy; of breaking down enmity between people – seeing war and violence as the enemy; an ethic of inclusivity and recognition for all the victims – past and present – of war; choosing a national identity based on positive values of care and service rather than war; holding leaders and war enablers to account; and remembering war so as to ensure ‘Never Again’ as a means to a nonviolent society (Richard Jackson). Let us not reinforce exclusive identities of friend/enemy; worthy/unworthy victims; or let lies obscure the realities of war; or rewrite unjust wars; or myths and lies; or white-wash history; or absolve leaders; or put duty and sacrifice for the nation over above responsibility to the Other; or demand conformity and closing the space for dissent and conscientious objection; or subscribe to the broader culture structures that maintain militarism, the arms trade, war preparedness and the global culture of violence (Richard Jackson).

In the 2017 World Day of Peace Message, Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace, Pope Francis reflected on nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. Whilst drawing attention to the ‘piecemeal’ violence around us: the wars; terrorism, organised crime; abuses suffered against migrants and victims of human trafficking; and environmental devastation, Francis said to be true followers of Jesus today includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence by building up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers; showing mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost [20]. Through our solidarity with one another and the Earth we acknowledge everything is interconnected. We can rearrange our priorities….by giving up any kind of commitment to violence or killing or war. That is Jesus’ way is enemy love. God’s voice is ringing out to us: ‘listen to him’. ‘Put away the sword’. ‘Don’t return evil for evil. Return good for evil’. Listen to him who says ‘try it my way when we seek peace through violence: through war, through conquest, through strife, through the elimination or subduing of an enemy other, or hide behind a Just War doctrine. Let us try to do things differently – to work to build a culture of peace – just peace.

ANZAC Day is a call to remember the many First Peoples in this country who paid in blood to defend this land that we stand on, from invasion. The First Peoples who lost their lives defending their country from invasion in the Frontier Wars. It is a call to remember those voices that said no to war and paid the price – the prophets, teachers, healers and revolutionaries, who have rebelled, worked and suffered for the cause of love and joy.

For the follower of Jesus, there a call to call to listen to his voice and ‘try it my way’ in the face of hurt, suffering, violence, etc.… try it my way with nonviolence, with forgiveness, with compassion and generosity. He showed us that we transform the world through the power of love – not through violence, not through war, not through killing.

A potentially violent outcome is overturned in the first reading. Abraham learned that God was a God of peace and not of sacrifice. It has no sanction in our religion whether in war, refugee camps, the use of sex slaves, human trafficking, child labour, sweat shops or capital punishment. Abraham saw that violence is not God’s way. When the angel stayed Abraham’s hand, it said ‘Enough!’ Sarah was left out. That voice of God still rings out: ‘listen to him’. ‘Put away the sword’. ‘Don’t return evil for evil. Return good for evil’.

With Mother’s Day in two weeks, we forget it began as a Mother’s Day for Peace in 1870 with a Proclamation where women had their eyes opened to the lies, deceit, waste, the evil sacrifice of humanity to war in the form of their children, husbands, fathers and brothers and made a passionate demand for disarmament and peace. ‘We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, / Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, / For caresses and applause. / Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn / All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. / We, the women of one country, / Will be too tender of those of another country / To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. / From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with / Our own. It says: ‘Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’

In the gospel today, Jesus enters the temple for one purpose – to overturn business as usual. Jesus, in the gospels, is continually interrupting, disrupting, overturning, and throwing out the business as usual which destroys lives relationships, and environments. Pope Francis stresses that ‘faith and violence are incompatible……’ and that ‘Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare……. the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities.’ In 2015, he said, ‘It is not enough to talk about peace, peace must be made. To speak about peace without making it is contradictory, and those who speak about peace while promoting war, for example through the sale of weapons, are hypocrites. It is very simple.’ For Francis, Jesus’ mercy is at the heart of ‘shalom’ and the alternative to violence.

The danger is that ANZAC Day will be only a monument rather than a command or challenge to act for peace, to find alternatives to war, to question and reflect why we are fighting in Afghanistan or anywhere else. Tasmanian Governor, Peter Underwood, in 2014 said we need to reflect more on peacemaking rather than glorifying war with such descriptions of the mythical tall, lean, bronzed and laconic ANZAC, enthusiastically and unflinchingly carrying the torch of freedom in the face of murderous enemy fire. Richard Flanagan last week also said we need to drop the sentimental myths that this day has attracted. We dishonour the dead by a perfunctory annual commemoration without thinking what we commemorate and how we can avoid what we commemorate again. Peter Underwood suggested in the 2014 that the beginning of WWI could be commemorated by declaring 2014 a year of peace. Nothing happened. What about 2018?

Political leaders today will speak movingly of the death and destruction of many Australians in Gallipoli and France, yet still want to promote an arms industry to export arms even to countries accused of war crimes and human rights violations. It is deep contradiction as we prostitute ourselves by joining ‘merchants of death’ (Pope Francis). What would Jesus – who said ‘Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword’ — do regarding our fascination for making, possessing, buying, selling, and using high tech weapons?

Not far from here, at National Gallery of Victoria, is a painting by Louis Duffy called Christ driving out the money changers. 16 men in business suits are in confrontation with Jesus. It is set in a graveyard, not a temple. The money changers have morphed into arms dealers trading munitions on the graves of the dead: the ultimate profit and loss indicators of their grim transactions. Jesus always presented options where none existed. He turned things upside down. Another way is possible. John shows us who Jesus is. He is in our midst and shows us how to live differently. Some people have expressed concern about Jesus’ anger. Of greater concern would have been silence, as are many leaders, in the face of injustice, oppression and other acts of violence, or where religion is entangled with power, money and authority that threaten life. We do not need to rely on acts of sacred violence to remain bonded together. We need to find new ways of encountering one another as expressed the following quote: ‘Interred beneath the runways and the sea are the sites of some of the first encounters between Indigenous Australians and British marines and convicts; places where they approached one another with ‘emotions of pleasure, astonishment, curiosity and timidity’ – exchanging gifts and gestures of introduction, touching hair, skin and clothes – each searching tentatively for proof of the others’ humanity’ (Mark McKenna From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories).

Today we acknowledge the wounds deep not just in Australia but NZ, Ireland, India, France as well as Germany and Turkey. The latter were defending their country. They never threatened us. We gloss over many anomalies. Do we think of or acknowledge the impact of our alliances – colonial- have meant for others. We must refuse to listen to various voices that would make us more fearful and suspicious. We need to listen to different voices – those who dare us to care, to open our arms out to a world desperate for compassion and healing. We can be more.

Sadly, the churches have rejected or ignored Jesus’ teaching by forming pacts with forces that promoted violence. For 1600 years they have been saddled with the Just War Doctrine. It is not/was not consistent with Jesus’ life and ministry. It often functioned to legitimise and perpetuate war rather than prevent it. It established a mentality where conflict was the only response to conflict. It limited our ability to find nonviolent responses and find resources and skills need to undertake the work.

These betrayed the one who stands amongst us representing the God of nonviolence. A new framework is required which includes not limiting war – but outlawing it. The betrayal continues when they fail denounce the invasion of another country; the moral credence given to war; racism, sexism, corporate greed; obscene accumulation of property and wealth. There is hope because these are our problems and can be changed. They begin in the sanctuary of our heart. If we are interested in patriotism – there is another form: to the planet and humanity. The really fundamental changes in history have not come by government dictate, or battles, but groups of people taking little steps and sometimes in response to Jesus’ ‘try it my way.’

Today we are challenged to see and act differently. We have been exhorted to listen to Jesus. The message is the same: love one another, i.e., take care of one another, especially the downtrodden. It is possible that we can live together in our diversity.We can see things in a new way. We can let go of racism, to let go of an addiction to money, to let go of power and control, to let go of violence, to let go of inaction, to let go of our blindness and selfishness. We can solve international problems without war. We can see the world as a global community and to see all people as our brothers and sisters.

Pope Francis’ core signature phrase is ‘culture of encounter’ which we need to develop. Though differences in ethnicity, religion, race, language, skin colour can breed animosity, enmity and suspicion, when there is a meeting of strangers, walls and those in our hearts can be replaced by bridges. The invitation to embrace ‘the culture of encounter’ is not just about seeing but looking; not just hearing, but listening; allowing ourselves to be moved with compassion. In general it includes reaching out, fostering dialogue and friendship even outside the usual circles, especially people who are neglected and ignored by the wider world.

A superb contribution to just peace was issued by the WCC in a document The Just Peace Companion (2012) alongside another An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace. It states, ‘To care for God’s precious gift of creation and to strive for ecological justice are key principles of just peace. For Christians they are also an expression of the gospel’s call to repent from wasteful use of natural resources and be converted daily. Churches and their members must be cautious with earth’s resources, especially with water. We must protect the populations most vulnerable to climate change and help to secure their rights’ (p. 12).

In April 2016 a ground breaking and unprecedented gathering in Rome, co-hosted by Pax Christi International and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, called for us to go back to the sources of our faith and rediscover the nonviolence at the heart of the Gospel (Jose Henriquez). There was no intention to invent something new but of a return to the sources – to the experience of the early church. The key goal is to outlaw war, not to legitimise or refine the criteria of war by using or teaching just war theory. Just peace is about a vision and praxis is where peace is built up as well the prevention, or defusing, and healing the damage of violence. It’s a commitment to human dignity and thriving relationships. The goal of nonviolent resistance to injustice is to awaken humanity in every person. We spoke not only about war but about the presence of an alternative. It was neither fight, flight nor accommodation but relationships that lead to reconciliation with an oppressor. Just war criteria assume that a strategically applied use of violence under the right conditions will end violence, creating the possibility of peace.

We contribute to peace by recommitting to the centrality of gospel nonviolence and developing practices of nonviolence and just peace. Our contribution involves speaking about and promoting nonviolent resistance to injustice and violence; to resist the waste of military spending; to humanise or illuminate the dignity of our enemies. Jesus showed us a different way: the reign of God where we work to build an inclusive community, which includes so-called enemies, by using the power of nonviolent loving, willing-to-risk-suffering action. He called for open inclusion, not narrow exclusiveness.

The final statement of the Rome conference, ‘An appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence’, called on the Catholic Church to commit in doctrine and practice to the central importance of «the Gospel of non-violence. We cannot justify or legitimatise military violence. We have wonderful resources in the WCC and Laudato Si’ that recognise that violence done to human communities is accompanied by devastating environmental destruction. Can we hear the ‘cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ (LS 49). Where there is a lack of connection with the environment which is a form of violence and contributes to the activity of war, ours is to emphasise the protection of life (human and otherwise, including creation) not to destroy it. Instead of thinking as the world thinks or doing what the world does, Jesus says ‘try it my way’ and I pray that we will remember that: As peacemakers let remind the world that violence only perpetuates an endless cycle of violence and that we must not be silent. That, solving problems using the world’s logic doesn’t really solve anything. May we have the courage to not hide our light and not blend into the darkness.

I just want to conclude with the quote from Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination: ‘….real criticism begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the visceral announcement that things are not right. Only in the empire are we invited to pretend that things are all right … And as long as the Empire can keep the pretense alive that things are all right, there will be no real grieving and no real criticism…’

Our Stories, Peace Spirituality

Nurturing spirituality to achieve sustainable peace

by Maggie Galley and Claude Mostowik, msc
Pax Christi Australia

Not since 2005 has Pax Christi had a consultation in this region. The last was in Pattaya in Thailand. This conference came out of calls from the region and with the generous support of Pax Christi International to look at the issues of peace that we face but also to seek a way of responding that is in accord with the spirituality of the region, of Indigenous people, the gospel and Pax Christi itself.

Four Australian delegates attended. Mr Caesar de Mello and Rev Valentina Satvedi (Pax Christi Victoria) and Ms Maggie Galley and Father Claude Mostowik msc (Pax Christi Australia NSW). Three of us were beautifully met and welcomed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport with cold water and the typically tasty sweet cakes. It was wonderful to meet again with old friends from past gatherings and some new ones. The Asia Pacific Consultation Manila was a humbling experience for us as we found ourselves in the presence of such a broad range of amazing people who are committed to working for peace in our world. This is the beauty of Pax
Christi as an international group of committed people.

The delegates from New South Wales came to the consultation with the intention or aim of attempting to develop or forge stronger ties with people in the region – to know what each is doing and in some way being supportive where possible. This has been the aim of previous consultations and with the Facilitation Group that was set up at the end of the consultation it is hoped that this aim will be achieved.

The first day of the consultation began with a Pecha Kucha which is an exercise in storytelling. Each group
from Aotearoa-New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Burma, contributed to the Pecha Kucha by telling us who they were and what they were doing in their respective regions either in song, dance, poetry, narrative. Each day, after many sessions focusing on ‘Building Peace on the Ground’ we had a number of Sacred Circles to enable us in groups to reflect and share on what we had heard, how we felt about it, how we were touched by what was said, and what we could do.

After conducting an activity called Roadblocks to Peace there was a summing up of the Vision of Peace for Asia Pacific and the Obstacles to Achieving It. This led to what became the bulk of the time together where participants (two per panel) presented on the theme of Building Peace on the Ground: Sharing of Good Practices.

It began with Nurturing Indigenous Spirituality with Rangi Davis, a Maori woman from Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand and Father Neles Tebay from (West) Papua. This was followed by another panel Challenging Affluence, Overcoming Poverty with Father Stephen Fernandes of India and Caesar de Mello from Victoria. The next panel was called Living in Harmony with the Earth: Combating Climate Change and Ensuring Sustainable Use of Natural Resources.

Despite the tranquility and hospitality of the Filipino people we were made very aware of the violence that plagues this beautiful people and the country. On day 3 of the consultation an exposure trip to a number of locations of significance in Manila was organised.

Our first stop was at a parish church in Manila. We were told that this one parish had up to the time of the December visit lost 81 parishioners. The church was huge and could have been a cathedral. After being ushered down a number of flights of stairs to a meeting room we were brought into the presence of women and men and children who had come to share their stories of how their loved ones were murdered.

The parish secretary then introduced us to the program strategies that had been put in place for people who had come to the church to seek support. We were introduced to how a parish – one of many – responds to a most unjust and traumatic situation: extrajudicial killings. This evidence based work was not just about the killings but also support for families left behind-the widows, the orphans, the loss of bread winners. One powerful impression amidst all the pain and suffering that was shared was that the solidarity with these people who are being victimised included ‘sitting at the table with the enemy’. We marveled at the commitment of the parish people to engaging with people who have been affected by the drug war that has been instigated by President Duterte. Though the numbers of people killed is unknown except that it was at the time at least 3,000. Nevertheless there is a culture of violence and a culture of fear. We heard what was being done for these people, who have seen, at times, a loved one killed in front of their houses for being or just suspected of being a drug user or drug trafficker. The priests, sisters and many lay people have opened their parish and their hearts to these people who have suffered by accompanying them to provide safety, establishing drug rehabilitation centres and support for families that have lost loved one or have someone in prison.

As people shared their pain and anger, it was not always possible to understand what they were saying but it was possible to feel their pain and suffering and anger at this institutionalised violence. The connection with these people who have suffered so much and lost so much was at times overwhelming.

It is important for us as members of Pax Christi to reiterate that the gospel call to love the enemy was also in place: the priests showed us through their example, as, difficult as it is that to be peacemakers we have to sit with the ‘enemy’, the abuser or the murderer, to ‘love one’s enemy’.

The first speaker, a mother who witnessed the murder of her daughter before the family dwelling, shared a
most heartfelt and moving story: the unimaginable experience of witnessing her child being shot before her. It was difficult to know how we could cope with such a moment and beyond.

A number of us found ourselves deeply affected as she described that terrible time in great detail. As this
mother related her story through tears there was strength in her resolve to seek justice and respect for her daughter. Other stories followed.

It seemed that it was not always clear who the persons were who had murdered their loved ones. They could have been police or drug dealers. This was the lot of poor families who had members who were either addicted to drugs or sold drugs to survive – and bearing the brunt of these extra-judicial killings.

There was no sense that an orderly legal process was going to follow for the person identified as addicted or connected to drugs. Police would often take bodies to holding areas where the families were forced to pay huge amounts to retrieve the bodies for burial. Clearly the police were collaborating with holding area owners to profit from these crimes.

The parish community in response to cry of the poor in this situation established an amazing number of strategies to respond to this horrible way in which the government under the new President Duterte was dealing with the drug situation. The needs of families affected by these extrajudicial killings varied and the parish community approached these needs in a very strategic and systematic way under the guidance of the parish priest and a priest from another area of Manila that was affected by these killings. This included taking into account all of the areas of need. These needs were divided into three groupings – patient care, family care and community care. It was impressive to say the least to see just how organised this parish was dealing with this crisis. The parish priest said a number of times that people need to be treated – not killed.

Church leaders and members and other members of civil community concerned about human rights were directly responding to these extrajudicial killings. When there were offers for those who were drug-addicted or involved with drugs to surrender to the police for rehabilitation there was suspicion and lack of trust as there were many stories of people who had surrendered to police being killed. This situation called for assistance from the priests when approached by those who were affected by drugs wanting to surrender but were unsure as to what would happen to them. The priests would organise a meeting with the police with the goal of getting an agreement from the police that the people who surrendered would not be harmed. The priests and parish workers had also been intimidated by unknown people.

One priest who has worked in the Philippines for 18 years revealed that this was a most difficult task for him. Sitting across a table in a room with a number of police officers who were undoubtedly responsible
for killing people was the hardest part of this negotiation. He spoke of having to do this task in order to
obtain an agreement from the police that those who surrendered would not come to harm. The limited
agreement was they would not be harmed for six months which was enough time to set up the rehabilitation process for those who had surrendered.

Interestingly, a large drug rehabilitation centre was funded by the Chinese government but was only half full. According to the priests the most effective drug rehabilitation program was one that operated within the community because it was based on personal care and developing relationships and inclusive of families.

Later in the day, we also visited a museum that depicted in photos mostly of the martial law era under President Ferdinand Marcos. Many hundreds of people, young and not so young, bishops, priests, nuns, and lay people in all professions were tortured and murdered in this era under the brutal regime of President Marcos. As we traversed each of the rooms with the many photos, I was aware of the rivers of blood and the
violence that has swept through the lives of this beautiful people and their country beginning with the
Spanish, then the USA, the Japanese, the USA again, Marcos and now Duterte. Yet, in looking at the faces of young students and many other people, I saw also that parallel to this blood and violence is a river of courage and resistance that was depicted on the T-Shirts that were for sale at the museum – ‘Never forget, Never again’. That courage is seen if we dare look in the lives of peasant farmers, indigenous people, and their supporters who have paid the price for their solidarity against the government corruption, mining corporations that devastate the land and peoples’ lives and corporations that oppress the people in so many ways.

The next day two more panels were held: Promoting Peaceful Societies: Towards a World without War with Father Paul Lansu, Belgium and Pax Christi International and Father Nandana Manatunga of Sri Lanka. The final panel was called Promoting Gender Equality and Human Rights for All with Sister Filo Hirota of Japan, and Father Emmanuel Yousaf of Pakistan.

It was gratifying that the consultation reflected the concerns of some in the region that we not only dealt
with conflict, though it is ever present, but to search for further threats to peace in our relationships with women, Indigenous people, the Earth. The range of topics covered in the panel presentations tried to address this issue.

These panel presentations were followed up by presentations and sharing on Achieving Sustainable Development Goals through Our Work on the Ground. This was necessary and important but somewhat difficult to engage with after the panel presentations and the experience of the exposure day.

Maggie Galley is the secretary of Pax Christi Australia National Council She became an active member of Pax Christi just prior to the illegal Iraq invasion in 2003 She works part time as an Accounts Officer at Sydney Alliance, a non-profit organisation. Claude Mostowik is a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart ordained in 1976. From 1977 to 1981 he worked in the Northern Territory in various aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities. He has been promoter for justice and peace in Australia for his congregation since 1999. He became Convener of Pax Christi Australia (NSW) in 2001 and also National President in 2009.

Advent, Peace Spirituality

ADVENT 2017: A reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent, 10 December

by Rev. Claude Mostowik
Pax Christi Australia

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 | Psalm 85:9-14 | 2 Peter 3:8-14 | Mark 1:1-18

We are all invited to proclaim a message of hope to our world. In a world of war and terrorism, of poverty and injustice, of dishonesty and manipulation of the truth, and of political expediency, and the effects of climate change, we are invited to be like a ‘flea’ or a ‘mosquito’ and practice our faith in the spirit of the great prophets and address issues of justice, peace, and genuine human development for all God’s people. Last week, Mark exhorted us to stay alert, to stay awake. And we need people who will stir us into waking up to what is happening around us, to remind us that there are people around us who are hurting and suffering and unjustly treated, that our Earth is suffering; to remind us that God is present in each situation of hurt, suffering and devastation.

A journalist once founded an award called ‘The Giraffe Project’ to honour people who courageously advocated for others, raised their voices, and stood in solidarity with people to promote human dignity. In South Africa, during the apartheid regime, there were many such people, but now, very few remain prophetic voices as the churches go to bed with the government. Prophetic exceptions exist such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu who, like giraffes, stick their necks out to advocate for those on the lowest rung; those unfairly treated and vilified by church and state.

John the Baptist could also have been a contender for such an award as he appeared when there were few prophetic voices. Like him there are people who encourage and stand with people who lived on Manus Island (where asylum-seekers are being detained by Australia) and were caught in cold-hearted rules and systems more intent on keeping people out rather than welcoming them as asylum seekers and refugees; people who advocate for children, youth, women and men or work to prevent the various forms of modern slavery; people who promote workers’ rights and rights for people living with disabilities; people who struggle for equality and liberation for gay people, women and minority people. These bring to life the dream expressed in the psalm of ‘kindness and truth meeting, justice and peace kissing, truth springing out of the earth while justice looks down from heaven’. This image of ‘kissing’ in the psalm assumes an intimacy, a willingness to be vulnerable [‘able to be wounded’] and a commitment to be in solidarity. Yet, often, the steadfast love and faithfulness still have not met, and righteousness and peace still do not hold hands – let alone kiss.

There is a deep sense of passion and care for people expressed in Isaiah and John. They express God’s heartbeat and passion for humanity as their words and actions touch our hearts with the offer of reassurance and comfort: ‘Comfort, my people. Comfort them!’ John the Baptist was speaking – not unlike in our time – when many so-called prophets were silent. We see in the gospel how people rather than heading for the Temple in the city went to the wilderness to hear him speak of God’s concern for their oppression and need for justice. Archbishop Oscar Romero became the ‘voice of those without voice’ in El Salvador, as did the prophets of our faith [Isaiah, Micah, Ezekiel] and contemporary prophets [Mohammed, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan, Desmond Tutu and Rigoberta Menchu].

Many unlikely people among us have become ‘prophets’ when they day after day confronted our immigration system and particularly the harsh treatment of innocent people on Manus Island. In so many ways they have been present and spoken out against systemic injustices and evil at great personal and social cost. They were vilified, their professionalism questioned, labeled as unpatriotic and even lost friends. But they tried to wake us up or confront people who were lulled in a position of comfort in the face of the evil we do and the evil that is done on our behalf by a Government pretending to look after our interests. They reminded us of the humanity of people made faceless and anonymous. They gave us the hope that change is possible and does happen. They reminded us that our humanity is bound up with the way we engage with the most vulnerable and that if we look into their faces, we might see our faces.

Isaiah imagines the equivalent of a superhighway. But let’s remember that we are called to be peacemakers. Too often we can do more harm than good by trying to force change and growth when ‘the ground’ has not been prepared. This superhighway should not come about with dynamite and bulldozers but with small implements such as a shovel and a bucket of water.  Recently in Germany, I was made aware of the fall of the Berlin wall. Its fall seemed like a superhighway had been built to reunify Germany but how many more walls have been erected in our world (Gaza, Arizona), not to mention the walls in our minds and hearts against asylum seekers, Muslims, other minority groups, to divide and exclude people? Ordinary people accomplished great things that seemed impossible because they dreamed and acted, planned and believed.

Like the people in Babylon, the people in detention centres, the people of Gaza, and the people in our urban ghettos who are addicted in some way or homeless, want to know who will raise their voices on their behalf.

Advent calls us to wake up, pay attention, find the glimmers of light in the overwhelming darkness, and find hints of progress, to take courage, and realise that God is at work among us and through us. Each reading today communicates the same thing: Ours is a God who comes to be in our midst. God comes through evil and trials and in prayer, no matter how feeble that may be. God comes to us through the life of another in whom we can see beauty and truth. God comes in the love of one who loves us so deeply and unconditionally that our loveableness is difficult to accept. There is no limit to the ways in which God comes, and for that reason, every juncture of our lives can be a place of encounter with the divine.

As we saw last week, Advent calls us to be on the lookout for the presence of Christ who inhabits our every loss, who is present in each devastation, who is present even in our betrayals and infidelities, and gathers us up when our world has shattered and offers healing now. Mark’s opening words announce a ‘beginning’ (as Genesis did, ‘In the beginning…’). Mark is saying that God is doing something new with the coming of Jesus – a new era, a new covenant and a new people are beginning. The world that was and is stuck in its old, sinful and destructive patterns can be made new and alive.

John and Mary are always calling out that a new spirit and a new time is coming. So we do not go back to Bethlehem, but forward, for Bethlehem is to be found in a new and unknown time.


Listening to the stories of struggle

By Fr. Claude Mostowik, msc
Pax Christi Australia

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

I feel somewhat inadequate in addressing some of these questions because we do not face the conflict, violence and war that exists in other parts of the world. I first got involved in Pax Christi in 1998 towards the tail end of the Indonesian presence in East Timor, after its 1975 invasion, and the violence perpetrated by militias that were sympathetic to the Indonesians which created immense violence and destruction. At the time as East Timorese people engaged in hunger strikes in Sydney to call on the Australian government to send peace keepers to the country, Pax Christi joined the hunger strikers in solidarity outside the UN offices in Sydney by having a Eucharist (sometimes ecumenical) on the footpath each afternoon as people finished work and passed by to draw attention to the plight of East Timor. The intention was to continue this action until the government capitulated and sent peacekeepers to East Timor – which it finally did. This continued for some months as other organisations rallied for the same reasons.

In recent times, though personally involved with refugees and asylum seekers for 43 years, I have joined a movement called Love Makes a Way where people of different faiths gather non-violently at the office of a Government minister or the Prime Minister to protest the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers in this country and detention of children, women and men in overseas detention centres. I have now engaged in six of these since April 2014. Four times, we were arrested for resisting these inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action. The last time was in November and we now have to face court. We were arrested for ‘breach of the peace’. This movement operates throughout the country. The aim was to draw attention to the plight of children in detention but also to seek through prayer and witness to the challenges of Pope Francis and the Australian Catholic Bishops, the Uniting Church leadership and other denominations of the harm (violence) being perpetrated in our name. The publicity and support has been phenomenal. In all, Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Uniting Church, and Metropolitan Community Church denominations were represented in these sit-ins of prayer and song. Some may question such actions but these make up a long tradition of civil disobedience when it becomes imperative to standing again injustice in the community or in the church. It is not possible to just talk, and write but also somehow put one’s own body on the line and risk arrest. In recent weeks, the sanctuary movement has been revived by many churches to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers…

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