A Peace Retreat

My brain is on overload. It’s 3:38am on September 12, 2015 and I’m wide awake. Wide awake and processing on the events of the week. With yesterday as the 14th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the events of this week were especially relevant.

This past Sunday I traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin for a two day peace retreat. This was organized through an organization I’ve been involved with for several years, BOSCO. To tell you the absolute truth, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, or how the whole event was going to come together and the impact it would have on me. This was one of those events I’m sure to remember forever and my hope is this will have ripples in the water for a long time.

The retreat and associated events were held at a hotel, restaurant and the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin. This was a small and intimate affair of about 30 attendees. The diverse mix of participants was a definite strength, leading to a deep dialog about race, faith, and poverty. Participants included a Ugandan Catholic Archbishop, Palestinian human rights activists, Israeli peace activists, community organizers from Baltimore and Ferguson, community outreach and peacebuilders from South Bend, Indiana, teachers, legal justice advocates, a former mayor, clergy, academics and even a community gardener. It’s this blend of thought and perspective that made for such a fascinating mix of ideas around peace and reconciliation.

One particular individual attending caught my attention. His name is Bassem Tamini, a Palestinian peace activist and organizer fighting against Israeli settlements in the West Bank. An interesting aside, a few weeks prior to the retreat, I had come across some images on my social media channels showing an Israeli soldier wrestling a young Palestinian boy with a broken arm, into a headlock. The young boy in the photos is Bassem Tamini’s 11 year old son Mohammed. These images and videos went viral on the Internet and are bringing renewed focus and additional visibility on the settler situation in the West Bank.

Though the dialog centered on peace and reconciliation, with topics such as race relations in the United States to peace building in northern Uganda to Palestinian-Israeli relations in the Middle East….so many of the conversations were so deeply personal and touching, that I prefer not to share them here. But know this, it seems at every impasse or solution, we focused on common ground and our collective and shared humanity. We are all brothers and sisters on this big blue ball hurling through space, and I think if we can all focus on our shared humanity we may all just get along a little better.
I learned a lot about forgiveness and the enormous capacity for human beings to forgive violence and deep pain and suffering on a scale I could never imagine. As we watch the greatest migrant crisis of our time unfold in Syria, what does this, and our collective response mean – as brothers and sisters?

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