July 2005 v.p. Euro Trip Report p. 4
For the past eight years, the European CW communities have held a retreat and they traditionally ask CWers from the United States to join them as their guest. This year I was honored to be the USA CW guest at the May Euro CW gathering. I followed in the foot steps of Brian Terrell and Betsy Keenan, Art Laffin, Ed Loring and Murphy Davis, Jeanette Noel and Bernie Connaughton, Carmen Trotta, Chuck Trapkus and Phil Runkel, previous USA CW guests to Euro CW gatherings. I turned the invite to the four day gathering into an extended three week speaking tour of different Euro CW Communities. Below is a timeline and running commentary from my trip.
May 7 – 13 -Dortmund Germany
(Photo – News Paper account with photo)
Bernd Buscher, a founding member of the Dortmund CW community and Michael Porzgen, picked me up at Dusseldorf Airport and we drove to Dortmund. Michael had lived and worked at the DMCW in 1989 & 1990, so seeing him was a big surprise for me. He stayed with us in Dortmund a couple days, and I stayed on with Bernd and his family.
Sunday, May 8th, was the 60th Anniversary of the end of WWII and the three of us participated in a Walk of Remembrance, which was organized by a anti-Fascist, anti-far right coalition of local peace and justice groups. Germans are very wary of the rise of far right nationalist political parties in Germany. We began the walk in downtown Dortmund at the site where the Jews were shipped off to concentration camps, during WWII, and ended at the old SS Prison where many Germans were tortured and killed.
I was given an opportunity to speak at one of the stops during the walk. Mindful that Dortmund was one of the heavily bombed cities during WWII, along with all major cities in Germany and Japan, I spoke to the sins of the WWII victors and of the unacknowledged war crimes committed by the Allies. My message was short but clear. There were no good sides in WWII; the victors were neither noble nor just. WWII was a human failure all around. In the end, we victors took the god-awful by-product of our “victory”, nuclear weapons, and spawned the Nuclear Arms Race, the Cold War and the now the War on Terrorism, blindly killing millions and threatening the planet.
I was also asked to speak at the Kana Soup Kitchen, the wonderful site of the work done by the Dortmund Catholic Worker community. Once a center of world steel production and a nationally known brewery town, today both industries no longer exists in Dortmund. Dortmund has the highest unemployment in Germany, outside of East Germany. I have visited three times now, and each visit I find the Kana soup kitchen is bigger and better. Their current kitchen and dinner room is a great place to serve meals. Many a CW community would envy their cooking and storage space! The day I helped serve the meal the local auxiliary Catholic bishop helped serve also, along with two diocesan priests assigned to work with homeless in Dortmund. I was very humbled by the experience. The guests were served with CW love and dignity and I felt greatly blessed to be with CW family.
May 13 – 17 – Ninmegen Netherlands & CW Gathering
(Photo – Group Photo)
From Dortmund our group traveled to Ninmegen, Netherlands, for the 4-day Euro CW Gathering. This year the Amsterdam CWs hosted the gathering, which was held at the “De Refter” in Ninmegen. The De Refter is an Old Catholic Sisters Convent and Girls School that looks more like a castle than a convent and school. Abandoned in 1974, the property exchanged hands several times, until a Housing Collective bought the property. It’s a real funky place now with over 100 people living and working in the place, most of them left leaning artists, musicians, teachers and social workers.
Ninmegen is just a few miles from the German boarder. A city with a 2,000 year history, it was once the furthest northern garrison in the Roman Empire. Ninmegen is also a city which was accidentally bomb during WWII by the Allies.
The gathering was great fun for me. I felt like I was a distant cousin visiting and warmly received by extended family. CWers from Dortmund, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Oxford and London attended. English was spoken at all sessions. Over the four day gathering a total of 35 CWs attended. Everyone took their turns cooking, cleaning and leading workshops and liturgies. I really enjoyed the session when everyone introduced themselves and their communities.
I got to lead two group sessions. In the first, I told the story of the Des Moines CWer. In the second, I told my personal story, how I got involved with the CW movement, the trials and blessings that came my way and the lessons learned after 30 years in the movement. I knew for sure I was at a real CW gathering when, after my second workshop, there was an informal sharing of the “Guest from hell” stories.
For me, the most interesting workshop I attended was a discussion of what it’s like to be
CWers in a European setting. We talked about the differences between doing hospitality in the USA versus Europe, where the social welfare state takes much better care of the poor and needy. This is one of the reasons that Euro CWs are often involved with refugee work; they are the one group of people most neglected. However, there were also many similarities we discussed, the primary one being that we all live in First World Nations of great privilege and wealth, a fact which we agreed makes all of us appreciate the unique combination of faith, radical Christianity, political discourse, community, personalism, the works of mercy and simple living that the CW movement encompasses.
On the last night of the gathering we had a Cabaret celebration. Every community performed a skit. I got to tell my 1979 Ash Spilling at the White House story. A good time was had by all.
May 17 – 21 – Dublin Catholic Worker
(Photo of Ciaron O’Reilly)
From the Euro Gathering I flew to Dublin, Ireland, to visit my friend Ciaron O’Reilly and the Dublin Catholic Workers. While in Dublin I stayed with the CWers in a house they rent for the community.
Ciaron O’Reilly is the most internationally well known CW. Born and raised in Australia, Ciaron holds dual citizenship in Australia and Ireland. Attracted to the Catholic Worker in the 1980’s, he helped start a CW community in Australia. In the late 80’s Ciaron came to the United States to visit different CW communities. While here, he met and was influenced by Phil Berrigan and the folks at Jonah House. Ciaron is the only plowshares activist in the world to do a plowshares witness on three different continents.
In January, 1991, just prior to the first Gulf War, he participated in his first Plowshares Witness on a B-52 bomber at Griffiss AFB, in upstate New York. He served 13 months in jail and added months of INS detention before being deported from the USA for life.
He then returned home to Australia, where he participated in the Jabiluka Plowshares, in 1999, his second plowshares witness. There he helped disable uranium mine equipment at the Jabiluka Uranium mine, in Kabadu National Park, Northern Territory, in Australia. He did a five month jail term for that effort.
In the late 90’s, Ciaron relocated to England and Ireland, in hopes of starting a CW community. He helped form CW communities in Liverpool and London before moving to Dublin to help start the CW there. In February, 2003, Ciaron participated in his third plowshares witness – the Pit Stop Plowshares. Four CW activists made their way into Shannon Airport, outside Dublin, and non-violently disarmed a US Navy warplane. After long delays, the activists were brought to trial this Spring. A week into the trial, the Judge declared a mistrial. They are rescheduled to be tried in October.
While in Dublin I had two more opportunities to speak. The first was a shared presentation with Michael Birmingham entitled “Resisting the War On Iraq”. Michael is a Dublin peace activist who lived for 2 years in Iraq while it was under US sanctions and during the US invasion. The second was a workshop on the subject of the Plowshares movement.
While in Ireland, Ciaron took me to three important sightseeing spots. The first was a
visit to Kilmainham Gaol – the Dublin prison operated between 1796 and 1924. This is a unique prison in Ireland’s political history. Its story documents the major struggles for Irish independence from England, and provides an extraordinary view of Irish national history. I highly recommend it.
Then we were off to the Dublin General Post Office, the headquarters of the 1916 Irish uprising against the British. This Post Office has wall paintings that tell the whole bloody story of the uprising which led to the first successful gorilla war and partial freedom from England, the division of Ireland, and a civil war, which was fought over that division.
Our third stop was at “Bru na Boinne Co. Meath”, which is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites. There the monuments date back 5,000 years.
All and all, I had a great time in Dublin. My heart goes out to the Pit Stop Plowshares activists. Its been 2 ½ years since their witness and they are still waiting for their day in court. I was especially grateful to spend time with my friend Ciaron O’Reilly, ever mindful that I must leave the USA to be with him.
May 21 – 23 – London
From Dublin, I flew to London, Saturday morning, May 21, where I was met by Fr Martin Newell, with whom I stayed while in London. Fr Martin is the Passionist Priest, part of the London CW community, whom I met the last time I was in London. He took part in his first act of ‘civil responsibility’, which led to his arrest with eight Timorese, on the airfield at BAE Wharton, England. He also participated in Jubilee Ploughshares, the disarming of a nuclear weapons convoy vehicle at RAF Wittering. Fr. Martin served six months for his efforts.
After participating a plowshares action, it became clear to him through his bishop that
he needed to find another way to remain a priest, especially if he wanted to work full time with the poor and do resistance. He sought out a religious order whom he believed might support his efforts. Luckily, the Passionists in England took him in, and are willing to support him in his life with the poor and resistance efforts.
Fr Martin is currently awaiting trial for a direct action he participated in on December 28th, 2004, the Feast of Holy Innocents. He and a couple other Catholic Workers dug graves on the lawn of the British Military Headquarters in London.
When I arrived in London, It was a real foot race from the airport to the Passionist
Headquarters in London, where my first, of three, speaking engagements took place.
After 3 trains 2 bus rides, we arrived only 20 minutes late for the two session conference they had asked me to lead. The subject of the conference was “Following Jesus, the Non-violent Resister, a Call For A Resistance Church”. Twenty people attended.
The following day was Trinity Sunday, which found me preaching the homily at
Sunday morning Mass at St John’s On Bethnal Green parish. St John’s is located in a poor neighborhood in East London. It is an Anglo-Catholic community, part of the Church of England. After Mass we did a walking tour of the local market area and I was treated to lunch at an Indian restaurant by Angela Broome, a London CW and member of St John’s parish.
On Monday, May 23, the last day of my Euro trip, I gave a talk to a Senior Religion class at a Catholic HS in London. Right after the talk I went by train to the airport and started my journey home.