September 30, 2011
from The Tidings
Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala, bishop president of Pax Christi USA, summed up best what happened at the Catholic peace and justice organization’s Southern California Regional Assembly 2011 — whose theme was “Connecting the Dots of Peacemaking: War, Economy and Environment.”
“Connecting the dots is peacemaking,” pointed out the bishop of the San Gabriel Pastoral Region. “And it’s all about war and violence. The war abroad and the wars that we’re fighting in different countries. What captured a lot of the news this week was Troy Davis being murdered by the state. We have war at home and the violence that is perpetuated by our government in different ways.”
Bishop Zavala said there is a war on the poor as well as a war on people of color, especially in regards to the continuing hot-button issue of immigration. And, moreover, he noted there was a war on creation itself, the environment, with the devastation of God’s work — not only for ourselves, but for future generations.
“And we can go on and on and on,” he said. “So you spent your time today connecting the dots in all these areas, and how important that kind of work that you do is. You are leaven, hopefully, as you go out to your parishes and your communities and your families and continue this important message to all the people that you know.”
At the Sept. 24 regional assembly of Pax Christi at Mount St. Mary’s Doheny campus, the keynote morning address was given by Sister of Social Service Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, the national movement of people challenged by the Gospel, Catholic social teaching and earth principles. For more than 30 years, it has been influential in lobbying Congress in favor of peace and justice.
The day-long convention also featured presentations by Jeanne Woodford, the new director of Death Penalty Focus, which advocates the ban of capital punishment, and Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Donna Gibbs on creation and the environment. Sister Campbell also spoke on the economy.
In addition, there were breakout classroom discussions on these issues led by the speakers plus an overall feedback general session on “connecting the dots.”
In today’s polarized nation, it’s even a challenge to identify the dots, Sister Campbell stressed. In Washington, where she directs NETWORK, there is “very little sense” of the truth and no such thing as a fact anymore, she said.
The major dots, she noted, are perpetual war, especially on terrorism, the environment and poverty.
“At the heart of all these struggles, I really do think that in many ways this is the struggle for the soul of our nation and who we are as a nation in the world,” she observed. “And while as individuals we just want to close the door and hide out, I think we really need to return to our Constitution and to the insights of our founders. The concept of ‘we the people’ is where we need to come.
“The very thing of dividing and conquering is at work in our nation. And somehow we have to come together as a people to talk about what really matters. Because when we are together, we are our best selves.”
Sister Campbell stressed that Americans need to build the common good, which brings to the table corporations, healthcare providers, the military, the government and advocates of peace and justice like Pax Christi.
“So when you connect these dots, what I think you find is it’s in that centered place where the Gospel and life come together,” she said. “And if we can reduce fear, if we can increase engagement and improve dialogue for the common good, we might be better off.”
The executive director of Death Penalty Focus said the death penalty represents peoples’ fear and need to feel that a problem has been solved as well as a belief that to have justice there must be an equally horrific response to any terrible crime. Then she talked about the recent execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, the 42-year-old man who was convicted of murdering a Savannah police officer 22 years ago — even though there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime and that seven out of nine witnesses recanted their testimony against him.
Troy Davis execution
“It’s hard to find the application of justice in any aspect of Troy Davis’ case,” Jeanne Woodford pointed out. “There is so much doubt in this case, that it is beyond belief that Mr. Davis has been executed. Yet he was, all in the name of justice.”
Under Woodford’s watch as warden of San Quentin Prison from 1999 to 2004, four inmates were executed. From personal experience, she said executions bring out the worst in people, the worst in the legal system and the worst in the government.
“We must end capital punishment if we are to restore justice,” she stressed. “The death penalty allows us to believe that vengeance and retribution are public goals for criminal justice in our society. This belief that the death penalty permeates all aspects of criminal justice and beyond: It’s led to the war in Iraq. It’s led to the United States locking up more people in our jails and prisons than any other industrialized progressive nation.”
The former warden finished her riveting talk by noting that “Troy Davis’ last words really connected the dots for all of us when he declared, ‘The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who come after.’”
Sister Donna Gibbs asked attendees to really think about how they are leaving the earth for their great-great-grandchildren. The science teacher noted that we think of our planet as a collection of resources: the air, water, land, plants and animals, and oil. And many believe it’s OK to use — and even abuse — them because they’re just resources.
“Earth doesn’t think that,” she said. “Earth doesn’t perceive things as resources. What if we had an understanding in the core of our bone marrow that we are earth? What if we measured our well-being as individuals, as a society, as a culture by the health of our families, the health of our community, and, of course, the health of our natural environment?”
Sister Gibbs pointed out that while most people today have a “throw-away” mentality, they also realize that a healthy earth means a healthy life for its inhabitants.
“We instinctively know that this means clean air, lush and healthy forests, thriving species of all kinds and pure water are good for us,” she said. “We cannot separate ourselves from these things. They’re not resources. We’re one with them.”