By Kate Marlowe and Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — The annual Lenten Peace Soup series kicked off Feb. 20 in Prince of Peace Parish Hall. This year’s programs draw inspiration from the “Hate Has No Home Here” campaign of the Sisters of St. Francis. They co-sponsor the series with the parish’s Pax Christi Committee.
The Peace Soup planning committee combined the campaign’s mantra with the well-known prayer that begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” to form the theme of the five Peace Soup programs.
Organizers hoped that participants would have an opportunity to “step back to look at our culture, look at our own perceptions, and our own behaviors and look at them with different eyes and with a different heart,” said Gabriella Egging, a Pax Christi Committee member. She facilitated the first Peace Soup session.
In that session, titled “Where there is hatred, let me sow love,” Egging pointed out some of the factors that lead to hate and hate crimes, explained how hate becomes normalized, and offered some constructive responses to increase understanding and empathy.
After her presentation, attendees began discussions peppered with pauses for reflection and a request that participants raise questions only to clarify what had been said. Talking sticks were used to ensure equity in speaking and to emphasize the importance of listening. “I liked that the discussions were just at the tables instead of the whole room,” said Mary Bartels of Clinton, attending Peace Soup for the first time. “I will definitely be back.”
The second Peace Soup event, Feb. 28, featured the theme “Where there is injury, pardon.” Sue Peters, a retired minister at Unity Center in Clinton, and Deacon Art Donart, a retired deacon and retired chaplain for Clinton County Jail and Mercy Hospital, led the presentation and discussion.
Peters presented three stories of forgiveness pertaining to the biblical Joseph and his coat of many colors, Nelson Mandela, and Jameel McGee. Joseph forgave his 11 brothers despite their harsh treatment of him. Mandela spent 27 years in prison in South Africa for his actions as an apartheid revolutionist but chose forgiveness after his release and led his country away from a civil war. McGee, a young man wrongly convicted of selling narcotics, spent three years in jail. Rather than seeking revenge on the police officer, McGee befriended him.
“Joseph had no resentment and said, ‘you meant harm but God meant it for good,’” Peters said. “In South Africa Nelson Mandela and Bishop (Desmond) Tutu started the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Jameel — who would have thought they would become friends?”
Deacon Donart talked about “sowing seeds of peace.” He shared a story of the five years he spent living and working in Thailand. He taught English at a school in an impoverished area that was half-Buddhist and half-Muslim. He translated the Prayer of St. Francis into Thai and observed that his students embraced the prayer’s concepts. He said he was able to build a workshop next to the school to give students the opportunity to learn welding and air conditioning repair. Recently, he returned to Thailand. The workshop was still being used by students. People in his Peace Soup audience had helped make his work in Thailand possible. It represented an expression of love “that sows peace.”
Participant Bill Foley remarked that “You can’t change the minds of everybody in the world. It’s hard to pray for the Taliban, but that’s what we have to do.” Bea Dehner reflected on the closing ceremony of the Olympics: “All those countries were present and no one was telling anyone else their opinions. If they lost, they cheered them on anyway. Why can’t the world be like that?”
The next Peace Soup event, March 13, will focus on hope and despair. The March 20 program will focus on the phrase, “Grant that I may not so much seek … to be understood as to understand.” There is no charge, but a free-will donation will be accepted to benefit the Vinson H. Jetter Community Center of Clinton. For more information call the Sisters of St. Francis at (563) 242-7611.