By Barb Arland-Fye
Father John Dear, a Jesuit priest who has been jailed for his efforts to end war and nuclear weapons proliferation, will receive the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award Oct. 31 in Davenport. Fr. Dear, who lives in New Mexico, said he is honored and humbled to be chosen for the award he will receive in Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
“It’s one of the greatest awards in the Catholic Church in the United States. I’ve known about it since I was 21,” the 50-year-old Fr. Dear told The Catholic Messenger. “A lot of people who have received the award are friends of mine. It’s a great honor. But it’s also an affirmation, an encouragement to keep working for peace. Like everyone else, I need all the encouragement I can get.
“I have spent my whole life since I was 21 talking every single day about Jesus, his nonviolence and his call to be blessed peacemakers and to love our enemies. And so every single day people tell me I’m crazy.”
Fr. Dear, a prolific writer and speaker, has spoken previously in the Quad-City area — at an event sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton, and at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., — where people asked if he was related to the John Deere who founded an agricultural implement empire in Moline, Ill.
This John Dear doesn’t build or design agricultural equipment, but he did attempt to “beat swords into plowshares” by hammering on an F15 nuclear fighter bomber at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C. He was arrested Dec. 7, 1993, for his actions and along with peace activist Phillip Berrigan spent eight months in North Carolina county jails.
Fr. Dear says he’s been arrested more than 75 times for actions stemming from his peace activism. He doesn’t expect everyone to follow his lead, but this is what he feels compelled to do. “What we did was a very nonviolent, silent act … I uphold and obey just laws. But I don’t obey unjust laws. I’m doing my part in God’s disarmament of the planet,” he explained.
“Everybody is for peace; we’re all huge fans of peace, but give me a break — our whole country is based on war. Half of the budget is for war … But now we’re in a culture of permanent war. I’m saying you can no longer be Catholic or a follower of the nonviolent Jesus and support war or killing in any form.
“Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Blessed are the war makers.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Kill your enemies.’ He says ‘Love your enemies and be peacemakers.’”
The Pacem in Terris award is named in honor of Pope John XXIII’s encyclical, “Pacem in Terris.” That encyclical raised an important question and challenge, Fr. Dear said: “Are we going to destroy the planet or get together, disarm and create a new world of peace?”
Kent Ferris, Social Action Director for the Diocese of Davenport, noted that Blessed John XXIII did not mince words in the encyclical. He said: “Nuclear weapons must be banned.” The pope “continued by acknowledging that even though the ‘monstrous powers of modern weapons’ act as a deterrent, there is reason to fear that the very testing of nuclear devices can ‘lead to serious danger for various forms of life on earth.’
“Fr. Dear has demonstrated a high level of commitment to the task of banning nuclear weapons. He reminds us that we must protect the right to life by finding more effective ways to prevent conflicts, ways that reach to our very souls and which require mutual trust and love. It seems most fitting to acknowledge his work with an award calling for peace on earth.”
Fr. Dear “is the peaceful presence that Jesus was,” said Sister Bea Snyder, CHM, a member of the Pacem in Terris Committee. “He carries a very strong message and he does it in a peaceful, nonviolent way. And his message is one that is about love of God and love of neighbor. When we call ourselves Christians that’s what we’re supposed to be about.”
Father Tom Stratman, a retired priest of the Davenport Diocese who has heard Fr. Dear speak several times, said others need to hear what he has to say. “He has a profound message of the dignity and worth of the human person. He is fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves for dignity, peace, justice.”
Keeping hope in the work for peace and justice is spiritual work which requires daily meditation and contemplative nonviolence, observes Fr. Dear. “The only way to survive is to take quality time with the God of peace who loves each one of us … and then sends us out to make peace.”
It’s also important to be a part of a community, and to be involved in a peace and justice campaign — which Fr. Dear does on a regular basis. In September, he’ll be standing trial for a protest in which he was involved on Holy Thursday a year ago at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. He’s hoping that his sentencing will be delayed until after he receives the Pacem in Terris Award. Following the award ceremony, he’ll head for Haiti to assist the people who remain in great need since January’s earthquake.
“The outcome is in God’s hands. I want to live a whole life of peacemaking,” Fr. Dear said. “That’s what is so unusual about the people on the incredible list of award winners — they were faithful to the struggle for peace and justice all of their lives. Most people walk away. But Dr. King, the Berrigans, Dorothy Day, they never gave up. That’s the Christian ideal.”
Previous Pacem in Terris award recipients include Siste Helen Prejean, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Lech Walesa, Father Daniel Berrigan and Msgr. Marvin Mottet.
What: Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award ceremony
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010
Where: Christ the King Chapel, St. Ambrose University, Davenport
Recipient: Father John Dear, SJ
Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award co-sponsors: Diocese of Davenport, St. Ambrose University, Augustana College, Churches United, Pax Christi, The Catholic Messenger, Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Sisters of St. Benedict, Muslim Community of the Quad Cities, Sisters of St. Francis
For more information about Fr. John Dear: visit www.fatherjohndear.org