Panelists air personal feelings on war, peace - Catholic Courier

Panelists air personal feelings on war, peace

The Catholic Church generally denounces violence, as exemplified by Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek, love your enemies and hold blessed the peacemakers.

On the other hand, church leaders also allow for the possibility of "just war." A 1993 statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace," notes: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic rights of whole populations."

How does one sort through these ideals and come to a definitive stance on war? Not very easily, said Teresa Jesionowski, who observed that well-intentioned Catholics can end up on varying sides of this issue.

"Some people follow their conscience and go with the just-war theory. Others follow their conscience and go with Christian nonviolence," said Jesionowski, who stated that she is a pacifist. In fact, the U.S bishops’ 1993 reflection acknowledges the "diverse perspectives within our church on the validity of the use of force. Many believe just-war thinking remains valid because it recognizes that force may be necessary in a sinful world … (while) others object in principle to the use of force."

Yet differing stances don’t have to result in standing apart, as proven through a panel discussion that took place Jan. 25 at Ithaca’s St. Catherine of Siena Church.

Approximately 35 people came together to share their feelings surrounding faith, conscience, war and peace. The format emphasized open dialogue and avoiding political arguments in an effort to attain better understanding and respect.

Highlighting the event was a panel of people with close ties to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, presenting views of having either opposed or supported those wars. The panel comprised a local peace activist; a Marine officer candidate; two Iraq War veterans including one who filed for — and received — conscientious objector status; and two mothers of men currently serving in the Navy. In addition, Sister Mary O’Brien, CSJ, parish pastoral associate, read aloud a letter from three Navy members who are currently aboard a ship in the Middle East.

Presentations lasted for approximately an hour, then a 30-minute question-and-answer session followed. Yet another half-hour was taken up by "a lot of one-on-one conversations. I also heard that several people had plans for later, to continue their conversation," Jesionowski said. She described this final, unplanned segment as the most rewarding for her, because it showed that friction doesn’t always have to take center stage when pro-war and pro-peace factions meet.

"Everyone was really respectful. I had a fear that (the event) might become volatile," said Jesionowski, a member of St. Catherine of Siena’s peace-and-justice committee who originated the idea for the forum. "It more than met my expectations. It was amazing."

Jesionowski observed that participants were guided by their commonness as Catholics. She noted that one audience member expressed "that we were all acting from love," and another person later told her "that we were all responding to God’s love."

Jesionowski said St. Catherine’s peace-and-justice committee hasn’t decided whether a follow-up forum will occur, but that one attendee has already asked to be on the next presenters’ list. She also said a weeklong set of activities commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will occur later this year in Ithaca. The city is a frequent site for demonstrations, debates and activism related to war and other social-justice issues.

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