Catholic Peace Fellowship 2005 Retreat

posted by Mike on November 5th, 2005

On October 29, 2005, I attended the Catholic Peace Fellowship conference in South Bend, Indiana. This was the end of a week of travel for me, so I was fatigued and didn’t take good notes. But I have happy memories.

The day was organized around four speakers, each talking about a different prophet. The talks were followed by discussion.

The first speaker of the day was Paul Keim from the Mennonite Goshen College. He spoke on the Old Testament prophets and Ezekiel. Next was activist Kathy Kelly who spoke about John the Baptist and Jesus, using lots of examples from her life growing up in Chicago and later doing humanitarian work in Iraq in violation of sanctions. At one point she said something like, “The world sees the Catholic Workers living happily like songbirds.” A couple CWers discussed this with me afterwards, and we all agreed that KK seems happy like a songbird, but many CWers are grouchy or tired a lot of the time.

Jesuit activist and writer Father Daniel Berrigan spoke about Isaiah, focusing on chapter 11.

I think Isaiah would have us believe idolatry never stops short of the sanctuary.

The Catholic Peace Fellowship gave Berrigan an award, and Rayniel Rufino did a counter-recruitment rap as part of the ceremony. Fr Berrigan has been an activist for decades, even making the cover of TIME magazine after napalming draft files to protest the Vietnam War as part of the Catonsville Nine.

Romanian Catholic Bishop John Michael Botean commented on Jeremiah. He went through this litany of things that had happened to Jeremiah, and said that not everyone is called to have these things happen to them. “Not everyone is called to be cast into a cistern,” etc. Then he looked at the audience, and said: “But you are.”

He also talked about preparing for the trip to Indiana:

I found in my closet an old sweatshirt someone gave me which said, Relax: God is in charge. And I thought: whoever made that sweatshirt never read the prophets. For if he did read the prophets he would have a very different idea of what God being “in charge” really means.

The Bishop is notable not only for being the bishop for Romanian Catholics in the U.S. (who are an Eastern Rite united with Rome and under the pope), but because he told those in his diocese to refuse to fight the war in Iraq, as it would be a grave sin.

The conference was held at St. Joseph Church, and at the end of the day the Bishop concelebrated Saturday evening mass. The readings were from Malachi, 1 Thessalonians, and Matthew. You will recall that they include such great lines as this one from Malachi:

And now, O priests, this commandment is for you: If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse. You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction; you have made void the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts. I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all the people, since you do not keep my ways, but show partiality in your decisions.

And from Matthew, the words of Jesus:

The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.

Botean gave the homily, and let me tell you, a Romanian Catholic bishop has a pretty sweet outfit. His homily played on the irony of an extravagantly-attired church leader speaking on Bible passages that attack extravagant attire and church leaders.

Attending a parish mass was a great way to end the day. We exited the comfy little world of Catholic peace activists and reconnected with the larger Church.

After mass was dinner, and after that Rayniel did some more rapping, and Joshua Casteel gave a reading. Joshua is a former Abu Ghraib interrogator turned conscientious objector and playwright.

At any conference, the best part is talking to people between the sessions. The attendees were a great group of people. For example, while standing in line for dinner I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Griffith, author of A Good War Is Hard to Find. He writes:

My book will be the first book published by Soft Skull dealing with political and cultural issues from a Christian position.

(Dave has also been blogging about the CPF retreat. Here’s a sample chapter from the upcoming book.)

Joshua Casteel had lots of interesting stuff to say, both in his public speeches and in conversation. He was a cadet at West Point with now-Capt. Ian Fishback, the officer who wrote a letter to Sen. John McCain about his confusion over how Iraqi detainees were to be treated, speaking about “a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Fishback was also “the officer” interviewed for a Human Rights Watch report on detainee torture. In this interview, he stated: “It’s almost infuriating to me. It is infuriating to me that officers are not lined up to accept responsibility for what happened. It blows my mind that officers are not. ”

Casteel had been under the impression that West Pointers take their Cadet Honor Code seriously. It states: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” In light of Fishback’s revelations, Casteel has been frustrated that no West Point grads are speaking out. If Fishback is lying about widespread abuses and torture, then their silence is “tolerating a liar”; they should be confronting his lies with their own testimony. If, as seems the case, Fishback’s revelations are true, then they should be confronting those who’ve accused Fishback of lying, and take public responsibility as officers for possible crimes committed under their command. Instead, they’ve been silent.

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