One Family in God
Y2K: Have No Fear
issue carries an
imprimatur from the
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
by Eileen Egan
John Paul II calls on us to prepare for the new millennium by focusing
on God’s unconditional love for all human beings. The example
of two great women of this century can spur us to imitate God’s love
for all in times of peace and even in war.
of homeless people in New York City was particularly tragic in the
Depression years of the early 1930's. There were never enough shelters,
and people killed themselves in despair when all doors were shut to
Day told me the story of two women who used to take part in the community
meal when the Catholic Worker was in its beginning stages on New York’s
Lower East Side. The women were welcome at the free meal, consisting
of soup and bread and whatever else people contributed. One evening
the women asked if they could stay the night. Dorothy explained that
the apartment, actually the home of her younger brother and his family,
was absolutely filled. A few nights later, one of the women appeared
for dinner, and Dorothy asked about her companion. "After we left
you that night we went to the subway station," the woman replied.
"My friend threw herself under the train."
few dollars she happened to have, Dorothy rented an apartment in a
nearby basement. It was soon sheltering homeless women. It was a small
beginning—but it was the forerunner of scores of Catholic Worker centers
organized by laypeople nationwide. Today, volunteers continue to offer
shelter and food to needy persons at more than 100 Catholic Worker
houses in the United States.
Seeing Christ in disguise
the homeless person was the homeless Christ, the hungry person was
Christ hungering. "If we hadn’t got Christ’s word for it," she said,
"it would be raving lunacy to believe that if I offer a bed and food
and hospitality to some man or woman or child...that my guest is Christ."
Dorothy explained further, "He made heaven hinge on the way we act
towards him in his disguise of commonplace, frail, ordinary humanity."
later and half a world away, in another great city, Calcutta, I saw
human beings carried into Mother Teresa’s Hostel for the Dying. The
filth of the street was on them; they were famished and almost inconsolable
in their abandonment. Yet a faint glimmer of a smile sometimes appeared
as they were washed by an attendant and as a younger woman in a white
sari fed them patiently, spoonful by spoonful. In answer to my query,
Mother Teresa explained, "Our work calls for us to see Jesus in everyone.
He has told us that he is the hungry one, the naked one, the thirsty
one. He is the one without a home. Each one is Jesus in a distressing
Day and Mother Teresa saw all human beings in the light of the Incarnation,
brothers and sisters to the Son of God. In New York, the person who
comes for help or shelter can be of any race, color or nationality.
Nothing can annul the unalterable reality, the basic identity of membership
in one family, the family of God. In Calcutta, the divisions among
human beings are erased as they are received with the gentleness and
care due to a bearer of the divine nature, due to a son or daughter
of the Most High.
practiced what most Christians profess to believe—that all human beings,
imaging the Creator, are members of one family under God. They break
through all the false barriers that divide human beings; they do it
in situations wherever human beings are helpless before conditions
that grind them to an almost inhuman level.
Seeing Christ even in our enemy
even Christians are tempted to see the opposition as less than human,
as other than full children of God. Enemies—those people declared
enemies by our nation—are the ones we can starve, maim or kill in
good conscience. The most impenetrable disguise of Christ is Christ
in the enemy. What leads us to the mindset that sanctions maiming
and killing is nationalism. This is the exaggerated and intense adherence
to a belief that our national identity is greater in value than other
Teresa and Dorothy Day rejected war in favor of active peacemaking.
In 1993, while leaders were preparing for the Persian Gulf War, Mother
Teresa wrote a personal letter to Saddam Hussein and President George
Bush begging them not to fight because God’s poor would be the ultimate
sufferers. After she entered the Catholic Church, Dorothy Day opposed
every war that occurred. At the outbreak of World War II she announced
that the manifesto of the Catholic Worker would be the Sermon on the
Mount in which Jesus calls his followers to love their enemies and
pray for their persecutors.
tragedy of history has been the fact that Christians have been dragooned
into every side of every war. Once corralled into military obedience,
Christians are expected to obey all military orders without questioning.
At a recent peace meeting a Catholic posed the question: How can it
be that (during World War II) Catholic Germans who may have partaken
of the life-giving bread and the saving cup obeyed orders to kill
French Catholics who had also been at the table of the Lord? One reason
is that each side claimed it was fighting a just war. (Doesn’t every
nation that declares a war assert that it is waging a just war?)
soldier-citizens are urged to perform their patriotic duty without
question. If they do question the means to prosecute the war, or in
conscience refuse to carry them out, they may be condemned to death.
In the particular case of France and Germany, in both world wars there
was no provision for the right of conscientious objection to war and
Vatican II and war
Second Vatican Council the world’s bishops specifically supported
the right of conscientious objection. In addition, the calm, peaceful
witness of gospel nonviolence as an alternative to war service was
affirmed. The question of the means used in modern warfare was included
in The Church in the Modern World: "Every act of war directed
to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with
their inhabitants is a crime against God and humanity, which merits
firm and unequivocal condemnation" (article 80).
photos and video of NATO strikes over Kosovo and Belgrade showing
destroyed bridges, power plants, hospitals and refugee convoys reveal
that those who launched the bombs or fired the missiles did not intend
to strike some of those targets. The harm done to civilians and to
the infrastructures of civilian life is referred to in military parlance
as collateral damage. The fact is that modern war, even with the aid
of computers, can end up being indiscriminate. The enormous power
of the weapons available—and, in air strikes, the distance from the
objective—defeats any claim to perfect accuracy.
In my work
with Catholic Relief Services after the Second World War, I saw the
destroyed houses, villages and towns with human remains still entombed
in bombed-out homes. Compassion did not return when the fighting stopped.
Human hearts had hardened. The victorious allies decided at Yalta
that over 12 million people of German ethnic origin should be expelled
from their homes in various areas of Eastern Europe and driven into
a destroyed and truncated Western Germany. We had to increase our
relief programs to meet the needs of the victims of ethnic cleansing.
Works of mercy reversed
needs to assert a moral assessment of war from the teaching of Jesus.
In the parable of the Last Judgment he identifies with the hungry,
the thirsty, the stranger, the naked and the imprisoned, and commends
the righteous people who have come to his aid. They are surprised
to find out that in helping the least of humankind, they helped the
Son of Man. In like manner, others are surprised to learn that when
they had refused mercy to the hungry, thirsty, unsheltered and imprisoned,
they had refused Christ. Could not an enemy who was starved, who was
naked and whose shelter was destroyed, be Christ? And could not Christ
in the enemy who had been treated without mercy be an accusing Christ?
in war-affected areas in Asia as well as in Europe revealed to me
that every work of mercy is reversed in war. An example is the food
blockade of an enemy which directly affects the civilian population,
the vulnerable old and the children, because the army gets first call
on all supplies. Thirst is brought to the many, as in Germany, where—for
one example—a proud achievement was the bombing of a reservoir in
Frankfurt serving the city and communities around it. Factories producing
clothing are destroyed in war, along with countless homes. A theology
of war should take into account the reversal of the works of mercy
in modern war.
The Lord’s Prayer as peace prayer
There are many people
who pray that the Church will conclusively distance itself from war
during the new millennium, and will support the ever greater numbers
of Catholics who espouse nonviolence in the solution of all conflicts.
We may come to understand the Lord’s Prayer as a peace prayer. First
of all, when we dare to say "Our Father" we are daring to call him
"Dad," "Abba" of all. The almost unutterable tragedy is the spectacle
of Christians daring to say "our" while lining up against each other
under separate banners of unrelenting nationalism.
come" has profound implications for peace. The messianic kingdom is
the glorious end to which Christ the redeemer pointed. "Your will
be done on earth as in heaven" is the key to the kingdom and the key
to peace. Our allegiance to the kingdom of God calls for a kingdom
of wills turned to God. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer as a peace prayer
by millions of the followers of Jesus becomes a cry to God the Father
from his threatened and endangered children.
article is concerned, above all, with the oneness of God’s human family,
it is good to keep in mind the powerful statement in the 1983 pastoral
letter of the bishops of the United States, The Challenge of Peace:
God’s Promise and Our Response. They wrote, "We are the first
generation since Genesis with the power to virtually destroy God’s
creation." Since any war in the nuclear age may, by accident or design,
involve the use of nuclear weapons, should not Church leaders protect
God’s creation by deciding against participation in war?
the followers of Jesus, stained with the blood of so many wars, are
ready for such a decision. It would call for them to place their faith
not in the human power of destruction but rather in the limitless
power of an all-loving God.*
Egan is a founder of Pax Christi USA and a longtime staff member of
Catholic Relief Services. She has just published Peace Be With
You: Justified Warfare or the Way of Nonviolence (Orbis Books).
Douglas "Pete" Peterson converted to Catholicism several decades
ago, he was not just dutifully embracing his wife’s faith. In
the Catholic Church he found what he had long been seeking.
But he had no way of knowing that his faith would be so thoroughly
tested—or so soon.
a few years he was serving his country in Southeast Asia as
a young fighter pilot and commander for the U.S. Air Force in
the Vietnam War. Then, in 1966, he was shot down by antiaircraft
fire while on a bombing run, his 67th mission. Captured by local
militiamen, he spent the next six and a half years in various
Vietnamese prisons. Daily he struggled to cope with the ordeals
of imprisonment, including torture. He turned to prayer, as
best he could, for strength.
he spends his days serving his country in Southeast Asia, now
as the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam based in Hanoi. Since his
1997 appointment the former Congressman (D-Fla.) has worked
to improve relations between his country and that of his former
captors. He has been called "a walking billboard" for Vietnamese-American
Mr. Peterson, 64, the transition from POW to ambassador has
been, literally, a matter of faith.
a large degree it was my faith that got me out of Vietnam alive,"
he told Millennium Monthly in a telephone interview.
"If I’m serious about my faith, forgiveness is a major part
of it." Although he acknowledges that reconciliation came slowly—"it’s
not a switch on the wall you simply turn on"—he is now at peace.
"What benefit is it to me to live in the past?" he reflected.
"What does it add to my life if I am totally engulfed in what
happened years ago?" For him, it is important to "shuck off
the burden, move on and make an asset" out of his earlier life
He regularly urges groups he addresses "to attempt in their
own hearts and minds to find ways to reconcile." He is also
committed to using the tools of diplomacy and negotiation.
in 1995, Ambassador Peterson was remarried last year in Hanoi’s
Catholic Cathedral. His bride was the Vietnamese-born Vi Le.
In that moment, as in so many others before, Ambassador Peterson
felt "the hand of God" on his shoulder. "God guides me to do
what he wants of me. I’m not in charge, God is."*
by Judy Ball
Y2K: Have No Fear
is the best way for Christians to prepare for and respond to
the so-called Y2K problem that may occur at the start of the
year 2000, when computers presently programmed to read "99"
as 1999 may incorrectly read "00" as 1900? According to experts,
Y2K disruptions could have an impact on electrical power grids,
water utilities, transportation, food processing, etc. Minor
disruptions are assumed. Major ones are possible.
to the rescue. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has
created a task force and a Web site (http://www.elca.org/dcs/ad2k/)
to help its own members and any other interested persons respond
to the Y2K issue in faith rather than fear. This includes trusting
in the abiding presence of the God who alone knows what is ahead.
"Despite all the uncertainty," AD2K officials say, "we are certain
that God is sovereign. God will never leave us or forsake us."
AD2K Web site offers concrete ideas for individual Christians
and for congregations to prepare for Y2K as peacemakers at what
could be a time of crisis. Also included is information to help
nonprofits become Y2K-compliant, ideas about what others are
doing and recommended resources.*