“War should belong to the tragic past, to history”
-St. John Paul II’s words have helped inform and inspire a generation. That is always good to have the words of saints like St. Paul close at hand. But the message of church requires more voices than just our clergy to deliver it. While John Pauls ministry will continue to shape the faiths of many, we should keep our ears open to prophets in our midst.
This post will be my fourth in a series of posts designed to spread the wisdom of a few “Everyday Austin Saints.” Non-celibate people living right here in the Hill Country, who I believe are walking examples of living saintly lives. If you know someone who meets this description you’d like me to write about please email me at Henrichson.Trenton@gmail.com. For this post I have chosen Mary Berwick from St. Austin parish.
Near the end of the 1970’s the United States foreign policy was designed to prevent the spread of Communism and protect human rights. This policy included 5 million dollars in military aid to the government of El Salvador. In 1980 president Jimmy Carter received a letter from then Archbishop of El Salvador Oscar Romero urging no more aid be sent to the government of his country. Unsurprisingly the president Carter decided not to adapt our policies based on warnings from Archbishops. In march of 1980 Romero was assassinated. His assassins had been educated in the School of the America’s in Georgia. Human rights where all but ignored in the long civil war that fallowed.
I reiterate the story of El Salvador once more to make two points. First, when you allow fear to turn to hate you often get the opposite of what you intend. America had sent aid to El Salvador in order to fight communists. Had American voters known their tax dollars would be spent supporting a military that was raping catechists and murdering priests they would have reacted differently. We had been blinded by our fear and hate. We were looking at our brothers and seeing enemies.
Second, peace can not be achieved by a few outspoken saints. If we depend on a handful of archbishops to be the churches soul voices of peace their cries will be ignored. Our leaders will only be swayed by a collective voice. For that we need peacemakers in every Diocese all over the world. And that’s why here in Austin we should thank God for the voice of Mary Berwick.
Mary Berwick began her peace making work two years after Archbishop Romero was assassinated. In 1982 scientists and activists at the university of Texas made a presentation to the Austin community on what would occur if our city where grounds zero of a nuclear attack. Mary was one of 60 people in attendance. Mary started to inquire with her contacts in the diocese what organizations the diocese had devoted to peacemaking. She didn’t find many organized efforts in place but she did others making the same inquiry. Together they co-founded the Pax Christi Austin (PCA).
PCA is dedicated to nurturing a spirituality of nonviolence in Austin Texas. PCA promotes disarmament, demilitarization, and reconciliation. PCA believes in order to have a true lasting peace (Christ’s Peace) it must rest on a foundation of human rights and justice. To this end, PCA works to promote economic and interracial justice, human rights and global restoration. PCA is the Austin chapter of
Pax Christi USA and Pax Christi International.
Mary Berwick also founded the Austin Peace and Justice Coalition. Mary has been a long time member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Texas Coalition to abolish the Death Penalty. She has worked to raise funds for clearing minefields and works for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.
Mary admits that too many people see religion as more a cause of violence in our world than a solution. To fix this Catholics must better understand our own tradition. Many Catholics believe that because the ‘Just War’ Doctrine appears in our Catechism the Magisterium has fully accepted that modern warfare can be justified. In reality the Just War Doctrine simply sets conditions that *must* be met, church leaders remain divided over weather these conditions actually *can* be met. Consider statement by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2005-
“… given the new weapons …, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ’just war’.”
One necessary condition for a just war is that the use of arms does not produce an evil greater than the evil to be eliminated. This was never an easy condition to meet but in light of current weapons our current Pope has questioned if this is still possible. Another necessary condition of the Just War Doctrine is that all means of peaceful resolution have been proven impractical. Before you make a judgment about all means of resolution you should speak to Mary Berwick. Mary encourages all Catholics to study the Catholic tradition of nonviolence. Mary suggests read Thomas Merton watch the movie Ghandi. To meet the conditions of a ‘just war’ one must willfully consider the means laid out by Merton, Day, King, Mandela and Ghandi and prove them all impractical. This is a fools errand.
And then Mary Berwick challenges you to attempt the most potent tactic of all. Love your enemy. First, stop withhold judgment and take the time to really see them. If we had taken the time understand the people of El Salvador before we condemned them Oscar Romero may never have been assassinated. So Mary’s challenge to you is to see our ‘enemies’ as are images and likenesses of our God and love what you see.
Our world is a fallen violent place, that we can see. Jesus came to bring us peace, of that we are sure. Jesus calls us all to build this truth, that we should hear. In Austin saints like Mary Berwick have heard the call and for that we give thanks!