In the 3 September 2021 edition of the Catholic Free Press, the front page included a prayerful reflection by Bishop McManus on the anniversary of September 11, and an article describing the ongoing mission of the organization ‘September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.’ Reading these articles invites us to look more deeply at the mission and values of Anna Maria. Both pieces together shine a light on a distinctively Christian understanding of peace, and describe what it takes to build peace in the midst of ongoing interpersonal and collective violence, anger, fear and grief. Christian peacemaking offers a beautiful and practical vision which runs counter to so many typical and historical responses to horrific violence.
In his reflection, Bishop McManus underscores the importance of remembering those who have died, including because of wars or terrorism. The Bishop also calls on Christians to remember that it is the light of Christ that brings comfort and hope, and that fosters an imagination and courage which can create just alternatives to violence and war:
… violence is not the answer. Pray that each one of us will be a light in the world, especially when we are challenged to respond to injustice with the darkness of anger or revenge.
We read in the Gospel according to St. Luke that Christians are called to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” These are challenging manifestations of love, yet ones that are sustained by prayer, worship, solidarity, community and assumption of personal responsibility.
Colleen Kelly has dedicated her life to fostering peace, justice, solidarity and accountability. She co-founded the organization ‘September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows’ in the weeks after her brother Bill died in the World Trade Center. Her Catholic faith has sustained her over two decades of work for peace and justice, and led her to recognize the folly of violence, even when enacted in response to hostility and aggression. A core part of her work is motivated by a desire to bring healing and to alleviate the suffering of others. Kelly’s witness profoundly echoes the Christian understanding that each person is created in God’s image and likeness: “Whether it’s my brother’s life, whether it’s the life of an Afghan citizen or an Iraqi or one of the 9/11 accused, the value and dignity of every person, we have to uphold that.”
One of the mission-related values of Anna Maria similarly focuses on peace and justice:
Acknowledging our place within the world, the College emboldens students to identify injustices and to contribute peaceful solutions to them.
In the Catholic intellectual tradition, peace and justice are not vague terms or shallow ‘feel good’ concepts. Instead, peace and justice have a depth and precision of meaning rooted in the life of Jesus and the Gospel. They can be seen throughout the Bible and in the lives of countless saints and Christian disciples, and have been described in a number of Catholic teaching documents. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict, violence, and war, but is positively characterized in Scripture by love, justice, truth, patience, forbearance, good relations between neighbors and between enemies, freedom of worship, abundance, prosperity, enjoyment of the good, and safety and well-being among all peoples.
In a 2015 speech at a 9/11 memorial held in NYC, Pope Francis reminded his listeners that
we can experience a world of peace … This can only happen if we uproot from our hearts all feelings of hatred, vengeance and resentment. We know that that is only possible as a gift from heaven … In this way, the lives of our dear ones will not be lives which will one day be forgotten. Instead, they will be present whenever we strive to be prophets not of tearing down but of building up, prophets of reconciliation, prophets of peace.
By striving to remove vengeance from our hearts and minds, we can begin to see and live out more authentic approaches to peace.
The reflection by Bishop McManus, the example of Colleen Kelly and the teaching of Pope Francis remind us that peacemaking is not only a personal effort but can and should be carried out by Christians collectively. Churches and parishes are in a good position to act together as peacemakers in new and distinct ways. Pope Francis highlights the “shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world.”
Inspired by the words and example of Jesus, Christians visit those in prison, feed the hungry, teach, counsel, comfort and forgive. Christians united in community can live out their shared faith in the face of violence and promote peace within families, schools, neighborhoods and organizations; and help to rebuild peace within conflict areas at home and abroad through restorative justice projects, training in nonviolence and conflict resolution, mediation, education, advocacy and charitable efforts, and bearing witness to and sharing in the suffering of others.
For a role model of a Christian peacemaker who called for reconciliation, we need look no further than our own college. The foundress of the Sisters of St. Anne, Mother Marie Anne, lived through long periods of personal persecution by forgiving without restriction, convinced that “there is more happiness in forgiving than in revenge.” This is a lesson echoed in the very mission and values of Anna Maria.
Marc Tumeinski, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Theology & Program Director of Graduate Theology