Practicing Peace

Anthony Ray Hinton

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“I have too much to live for to allow a bunch of cowards to take my joy. I refuse to give them my joy.”

- Anthony Ray Hinton

Happy April!

Between the coming of Easter and return of spring, I hope this month is brimming with joy and hope for you all! We each have so much to be grateful for: cherry blossoms lining the Schuylkill River Trail (hello there, beautiful Philly!), warmer weather, and you can fill in the rest. The point here is that joy may be ever-present because joy is a choice. Life is messy and often painful, but joy is experienced in the wide valley of these challenges and not, as many would have it, in their absence.

Last week I had the great fortune (and I really cannot stress GREAT enough) of attending a speech delivered by Mr. Anthony Ray Hinton. For those of you who do not know about Anthony, let me attempt to fill you in on some of the pivotal moments of his life:

  • At the age of 29, Anthony was arrested in Alabama and charged with, “two capital murders based solely on the assertion that a revolver taken from his mother’s home was the gun used in both murders and in a third uncharged crime” (Equal Justice Initiative).

  • Although an overwhelming amount of evidence proved Anthony’s innocence, he would spend 27 years on Alabama’s death row for no reason other than being a black man without the resources to hire a proper attorney.

  • Anthony spent his first 3 years on death row completely silent - angry at the society and justice system that had failed him, angry with God, and disinterested in using a voice that couldn’t save him from this verdict.

  • After those first 3 years passed, Anthony experienced the wisest of all revelations that while Alabama had stripped him of his liberties to walk about as a free man, the state could not dictate how he would endure his sentence as an imprisoned man - he could choose to love, forgive, or to imagine himself enjoying tea with the Queen of England as he saw fit. These choices still belonged to him.

  • Following his release, Anthony published a book called The Sun Does Shine. The pages of his book reveal more about his experiences on the row, navigating the criminal justice system, and ultimately his insights through those many years.

I apologize for sharing this post later than the biweekly precedent I’ve set - but I am still mulling over everything that Anthony shared with the congregation last week. The thought of spending 27 years on death row - and for crimes he was innocent of - is incomprehensible. More than that, I am still dumbstruck by the kind of internal strength Anthony possesses to withstand that torture and speak of joy!

Sure, this blog is supposed to be about peace - but joy, hope and peace are not so distinct from one another. Wherever one persists, it seems as though it is a matter of time before the others are invited onto the same stage. So what, then, do the rest of us gain from this prolific man’s message about joy? Let me share just one more citation from his book before I wrap this post up:

What do you say to a person who is going to their death? Normally, we would just say, ‘Hang in there, keep your hope up,’ because there is hope until the very last second.

You can choose hope. You can choose joy. And for the love of Saint Rita, you can choose peace! These graces are at the ready for all who desire them, only they may not present themselves in the faces or circumstances you expect. Instead of praying to God in supplication for those gifts (though please, continue to pray for them!), have you considered asking where they may already exist? Ask and then open your eyes to the majesty around you.

Peace to you.

Kelsey Rode, Saint Rita Shrine Office Administrator

Source:

https://eji.org/anthony-ray-hinton-exonerated-from-alabama-death-row

"Woman with my Sleeves Rolled Up"

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I saw the suffering and I let myself feel it...I saw the injustice and was compelled to do something about it. I changed from being a nun who only prayed for the suffering world to a woman with my sleeves rolled up, living my prayer.

Hello there, peacemakers and friends!

How are you today? Lent begins this week, ushering in my favorite season in the liturgical year. Not that the rest of the year isn’t sacred in other ways, but the Lenten Season prepares us for the entire basis of our faith, hope, and redemption: the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Everything that we believe in and how we worship God relies upon this holy time.

But another reason why I favor Lent over Advent (not that I’m against caroling and all that jazz) is the great depth to which we contemplate Jesus’ triumph over death. Life is infused with suffering - that fact is unavoidable. This season challenges each of us to not only acknowledge our pain, but to transform it to bring about the greater glory of God. Jesus foresaw the indescribable pain awaiting Him and chose to endure it for our salvation. Easter is the greatest love story there has ever been and you and I each belong to this narrative

In order for suffering to be transformative, we must engage with and act upon it. Jesus did not evade the Garden of Gethsame or the cross and neither should we dodge our afflictions. Rather, we are called in our own ways to take up the fight and act. Want an example of a modern-day warrior? Allow me then to introduce to you, Sister Helen Prejean!

Sister Helen has been a member of the Congregation of Saint Joseph since 1957 and has served faithfully through her ministries of teaching high school, serving as a Religious Education Director, as well as a Formation Director. However, her mission detoured in 1982, when she moved into the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans. At that time, Sister Helen started corresponding with Patrick Sonnier - a man who was living his final days on death row for the murder of two teenagers. After witnessing Sonnier’s death and those that followed, she wrote her book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States to expose the realities of capital punishment.

At the time that her book was published, national support for the death penalty was hovering around 80% and closer to 90% in certain Southern States. Dead Man Walking launched a national debate over the death penalty and was even adapted into an Academy Award winning movie. Sister Helen has met with both Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis and as a result of each audience, the Catholic Church no longer tolerates the death penalty under any circumstances.

But for Sister Helen and the many who await their fates on death row, this fight is far from over. She continues to dedicate her time educating the public, campaigning against the death penalty, counseling death row inmates, and working with murder victims’ family members. Sister Helen is not satisfied merely praying for respect of human life, but recognizes the scourge capital punishment has left on our society and has planted herself among those who are fighting against this injustice. She is offering herself for those who cannot save themselves. Does this not ring of Christ’s love and the Lenten message?

As you progress through your Lenten journeys, what are those things that you wish to amend in your lives? Pray on them and then abandon yourself to the cause. Prayer is only complete when words are supplemented by action. Peace is accomplished in the same way.

Peace to you.

Kelsey Rode, Saint Rita Shrine Office Administrator

Sources:

https://www.sisterhelen.org/biography/

https://www.sisterhelen.org/the-imperative-to-speak-out/

Friends Without Borders

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Hello!

Welcome back to Saint Rita’s blog about present-day peacemakers! May you continue to find inspiration through the story behind our newly-featured group! For this edition, I thought it might be important to highlight people who have found relatively simple (compared to our last piece on MLK, that is) ways of sparking monumental peace efforts. So without further adieu, let me introduce to you the amazing movement that is Friends Without Borders!

In the early 2000’s, John Silliphant and Mark Peters traveled to India for service work, but were forced to leave the country when there arose complications with their visas. While en route to Pakistan, they came up with the idea of launching a massive letter writing campaign between the children of India and Pakistan. The Kashmir Conflict between these countries has persisted since the partition of India in 1947, which leads us to one (of many) large and grueling questions: how on Earth do we forge peace, despite histories of war and conflict? Silliphant and Peters looked to future generations and surmised that if Indian and Pakistani children could befriend one another, then they would grow into adults concerned about reconciling differences between the nations. Silliphant described the project in this way:

When those two kids connect, a connection is made that is going to be lasting. And so, if you connect a whole generation then when they grow up the world is replaced by kids with a whole different mindset…The children of India believe that [India and Pakistan] are fighting over the past, and the past is gone. We need to look out for the future.

Within a few weeks’ time, Silliphant and Peters collected more than 10,000 letters to deliver between the nations. The response has been overwhelming: children from India once wrote a love letter to the children of Pakistan measuring 319 feet by 233 feet, to which Pakistani children replied, “we love the children of India and we want peace.” What’s more, this campaign has become the largest peace effort in the histories of both India and Pakistan. Friends Without Borders is a beautiful model of how basic human connection, through simple means, can effectively bring about peace in our world.

So often we reflect upon larger-than-life figures like the great Dr. King and while they provide us with examples of hope and strength, how many among us question our own abilities to move mountains? But let me remind you, our marvelous faith-filled community you, that we are told in 1 Peter:

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9-10

In your own ways, grand and small, you members of a “chosen race” have more power than you realize to create waves in this world. Is your resounding question still “how”? Here’s the first step: know that without the hand of God in our lives, we are powerless. Our gifts, abilities, ideas, and truly everything that is good and lacking in each of us, are all according to His design. You are not alone in your efforts and to the extent which we believe in the sanctity of all life, so too do we believe that all people are imbued with a purpose and calling. Yes - you are graced with purpose. And yes - all of the graces bestowed upon Dr. King, Silliphant, and Peters are available to you as well.

Mountains are moved stone-by-stone. Do not complicate your efforts at making peace, simply look to the One who is its source.

Discussion Question:

1) Where and how would you work towards peace, if you did not doubt your abilities to do so?

Peace to you. 

-Kelsey Rode, Saint Rita Shrine Office Administrator

Practicing Peace

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Hello! On behalf of everyone at the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia, allow me to welcome you to our community and blog, “Practicing Peace”!

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called
sons [and daughters] of God.”
Matthew 5:9

In tribute to our wonderful patroness, Saint Rita of Cascia, our motto at the Shrine is to “Make Peace. Find Peace.” Throughout her life, Saint Rita was regarded as an exemplary peacemaker and is remembered today as the Patron Saint of Impossible Causes. We hope to honor Saint Rita’s legacy with this blog series by illuminating the stories of present-day individuals and groups, who are similarly devoted to finding peace in our world.

As a Christian community, we are called to be emissaries of peace by no other than our Lord and Savior. During the Sermon on the Mount, we are told, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons [and daughters] of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Saint Paul elaborated on this message in his letter to the Colossians, instructing the addressed (and us) to behave in this way:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful…. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:12-17

What does this mean for followers of Jesus Christ now? What does this mean in our Roman Catholic tradition? These passages contain more than pleasant ideas about becoming instruments of peace: this is our inheritance and the Scripture directly challenges each of us to forge peace in our world. Peace is fully realized and appreciated only when we have experienced its absence, so that word “challenge” is used deliberately. Make no mistake, it takes work to be a missionary!

As you pursue this end, this blog is intended to encourage and inspire you in your efforts. May you read about these contemporary peacemakers and be comforted in the knowledge that they are ordinary people who, in the face of great adversity and despair, accomplished extraordinary things. May their stories also remind you that you are not alone on this path: you have neighbors, all of us at the Shrine, and the Kingdom of Heaven supporting you in your endeavoring towards peace.

As a closing thought, I will leave you with this sustenance for your journey:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” - John 14:27

Peace to you. You are in our prayers, always.

-Kelsey Rode, Saint Rita Shrine Office Administrator