By Barb Arland-Fye
Jesuit Father John Dear, sick with the flu, nonetheless delivered a passionate, spiritual speech on peace and nonviolence after receiving the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award Oct. 31 in Davenport.
“Life is the Pacem in Terris journey,” Fr. Dear said, referring to the encyclical letter Pope John XXIII wrote in 1963, exhorting all people to secure peace among nations. The award, whose past recipients include John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day, honors the pope and commemorates his encyclical.
Fr. Dear, the award’s 40th recipient, paid tribute to his predecessors and said he felt humbled to be counted among them. The 50-year-old priest has been walking the Pacem in Terris journey for 30 years, exhorting people to secure peace within themselves and toward each other.
“Dare we make peace within ourselves, to go within the depths of our souls to the peace within,” he urged the audience of about 300 people gathered inside Christ the King Chapel on the St. Ambrose University campus. Peacemaking begins, he said, without a trace of desire to retaliate.
“War is not the will of God; war is never blessed by God. War just doesn’t work; it never leads to peace,” Fr. Dear said, speaking extemporaneously about peace and poverty, violence and nonviolence. Christians have lost their understanding of the nonviolence of Jesus and need to embrace that message, he said. “We need to reflect on the nonviolence of God.”
Fr. Dear spoke of striving to live Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount message, a commitment he made in 1982 while reflecting on the beatitudes and watching in horror as military jets roared over the Sea of Galilee.
He’s been arrested more than 75 times for actions stemming from his peace activism and spent time in jail for attempting to “beat swords into plowshares” by hammering on an F15 nuclear fighter bomber. Just 46 days before receiving the Pacem in Terris award from Bishop Martin Amos, Fr. Dear was on trial in Las Vegas on trespassing charges. He’d been arrested with 13 others in April 2009 for protesting at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. They were demonstrating against the U.S. military’s use of drones because drones kill a disproportionate number of civilians.The judge delayed the verdict until Jan. 27, 2011.
“So I’m very happy to be here,” Fr. Dear told his audience; most were unaware that he almost got sidelined because of the flu.
“ … You have provided countless people the challenge of bringing peace into their own lives and in turn to our world,” Bishop Amos said as he presented the Pacem in Terris award to Fr. Dear. Created in 1964 by the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council, the award has been presented since 1978 by the Quad City Pacem in Terris Coalition of which the Davenport Diocese and St. Ambrose are members.
Fr. Dear, who receives hate mail on a nearly daily basis, urged peace activists to not despair in striving to achieve peace through nonviolence. He’s hoping some day they’ll be able to announce the abolition of war, poverty, starvation and injustice.
“Everything from him is spiritually grounded, and that’s so important,” observed Michael Gayman, who presented a brief biography of Fr. Dear during the award ceremony.
Retired St. Ambrose professor Father Ed Dunn described Fr. Dear’s message as powerful. “He talked about what Pacem in Terris is all about — from the heart and from his experiences,” added Fr. Dunn, administrator of St. Mary Parish in Oxford and St. Peter Parish in Cosgrove.
“He’s full of fire and he passes it on to us and gives us fresh hope and belief in ourselves,” said Franciscan Sister Mary Smith of Clinton.
“He’s preaching the Gospel and he’s prophetic,” said Msgr. Marvin Mottet, the 2008 Pacem in Terris Award winner.
“I am so happy our school is involved with this tradition,” said Sarah Wurst, a St. Ambrose senior and peace activist who was one of two students lighting candles in honor of previous recipients.