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November-December 2011

Vol. 36, No. 6


Maryknoll works for peace

From their founding 100 years ago, Maryknoll missioners have encountered violence and its aftermath. In China, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Hawaii and other Pacific Islands they knew the horror of repression and war. At times the violence was local or national. At other times, it seemed to be part of a regional or even global conflagration. From El Salvador to East Timor, Sudan and Chile to Cambodia, Guatemala, Vietnam, Peru and on and on, Maryknoll missioners accompanied the survivors and often knew the consequences of violence themselves. They have seen close at hand the tremendous importance of making and sustaining peace as an essential expression of their missionary vocation.

Faith grounds and shapes the work of Maryknoll for peace. They have tapped well the spiritual energies in our own tradition. A small community of contemplative Maryknoll sisters lived for years in the midst of war in Sudan. Their mission and that of other Maryknoll contemplative communities – to pray for a just peace – has been a powerful witness to peace that surpasses all understanding.

Maryknollers have accompanied communities torn apart by violence and have worked to prevent or to stop war, to close the School of the Americas, eliminate trafficking in small arms, minimize trade in weapons, ban the use of landmines and cluster bombs, end the production and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, shift budget priorities from preparations for war to support for life, and on and on.

Orbis Books, such as the recently published Catholic Peacebuilding and Ambassadors of Reconciliation; Maryknoll videos like "Gods of Metal" and "Arms for the Poor"; Maryknoll advocacy and public witness; and the Maryknoll Mission Institute's research on grassroots peacemaking have contributed significantly to Maryknoll's work for peace.

In Kenya, Maryknoll sisters facilitate multi-ethnic conversations as a way to move beyond the inter-community clashes that plague that country. In the Middle East, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, they have accompanied communities in grave danger as members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. In Brazil, Maryknoll lay missioners work to protect the rights of women in prison and to incorporate the practice of restorative justice into the official justice system. In many countries, Maryknollers promote self-esteem and affirm the dignity of women caught in cycles of violence. At the UN, they support an increased role for women in peace negotiations, disarmament, transitional justice and reconciliation efforts.

But perhaps the most significant peacemaking role Maryknoll missioners play is that of neighbor. Theirs is a long term presence in communities struggling for survival and peace, giving witness to the great value they place on people and their culture. Father Bob McCahill and other Maryknollers have lived very simply in predominantly Muslim and Hindu Bangladesh for most of 35 years. When asked by Bangladeshis why he was there, he would say, "I am here to serve seriously sick persons who are poor. Your religion and mine teach that those who serve the poor serve Allah. I respect your Islamic faith. It is good. My Christian faith is also good. You fulfill your faith, and I will fulfill mine. We shall meet again in paradise."

To the pursuit of just peace and inclusive global security, Maryknollers bring many useful lessons. They have traditionally lived in places far from their places of birth. They have learned new languages and appreciate different cultures. They have seen poverty and violence, but also have discovered the treasure of respected traditions. This experience of crossing borders to encounter and be enriched by the "other" continues to encourage Maryknoll's celebration of diversity in a world consumed by violence-inducing fear.

This is the basis of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns' Sustainable Pathways to Peace and Inclusive Security work. It is significantly influenced by Maryknoll's increasing consciousness of the great diversity and inherent relationality in the universe. Our planet with so much life and wonder is surely made for peace by its Creator. Lasting peace for the human community will only be found in harmony with these great cosmic patterns and relationships.

With this in mind, Maryknoll's work for peace remains deep and wide, including the pursuit of "right" relationships among humans – personal and community relationships that celebrate the gift of diversity and encourage the celebration of cross-cultural, interreligious, intergenerational encounter and collaboration; international relationships that emphasize cooperation, hospitality and the common good, not military and economic prowess; and a deep commitment to respecting the integrity of the natural world.

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