'God in a World of Violence'
At right, Sister Esther Piñeda, CSJ, presents the program, "God in a World of Violence" through the Interactive Television Network."
On Oct. 6, 2006, a gunman entered a classroom in an Amish community in Pennsylvania and gunned down five school girls, all under age 15, and injured five others, before killing himself.
The response of the Amish community provided an example that touched the world, explained Sister Esther Piñeda, CSJ, who presented, “God in a World of Violence” Sept. 9, 12 and 13 to Diocese of Dodge City Catechist Formation classes.
“Members of the [Amish] community went to visit the parents of the murderer [Charles Roberts IV], to let them know that they had forgiven him, and they also wanted to comfort the parents and the widow,” Sister Esther said. “One Amish man is reported to have held Roberts’s sobbing father in his arms trying to comfort him. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’s funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of the victims.”
In a letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace and mercy, Marie Roberts wrote: “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately needed. Gifts you have given us touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached our family beyond our community and is changing the world. And for this we sincerely thank you.”
“We can’t separate conflict from our lives,” Sister Esther said. “It’s part of being human. What needs to change is how we deal with this conflict. …It is in our nature as human beings to relate to others with compassion in a loving manner.
“What happens to cause us to disconnect from that compassionate nature, leading us to behave in violent ways?” she asked those gathered across the diocese for the session, which was taught through the Interactive Television Network. “What causes violence?”
Sister Esther, of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Concordia, serves as coordinator of her community’s justice and peace center in Salina. She explained that “any adequate definition of violence must include physical, verbal, psychological and other displays of hostility and hatred. It includes verbal attacks which demean and humiliate others, as well as acts that evoke fear and hostility, whether globally, or in our own little corner of the world.”
But she also stressed that the definition of violence also includes omissions – doing nothing.
“It reminds me of our penitential rite during Mass: ‘I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.’
“Violence is that which harms another, directly or indirectly,” she said.
“I like to imagine that Jesus dreamed of world where people would be gentle and merciful and tender with one another,” Sister Esther added, “a world where people would dry one another’s tears and heal one another’s wounds. And in the process create a community of peace and forgiving love. Jesus extends healing to the rejected and the untouchable of that world. In so doing, he demonstrates that no one should be outside the circles of well being.”
Sister Esther said it’s not enough to avoid violent behavior, but one must act non-violently, which she said should not be perceived as passivity or indifference.
On the contrary, behaving non-violently means “taking an active opposition to acts and attitudes that demean and distrust another.” She said that acting non-violently means being actively supportive “of expressions that foster human life to its fullest.
“Nonviolence is looking for truth and justice amid hatred and destruction.
“What are we talking about here?” she asked. “We’re talking about a lifestyle built on commitment, compassion, humility, non-retaliation, forgiveness, truth seeking, reconciliation, and love of others, including one’s enemies. We see here the principals of a community totally given to the God of life.”
Sister Esther said that non-violence is the “most natural response” from Jesus and anyone deeply committed to the “inclusive love of God and love of neighbor. By the way he responded to the violence around him -- to the violence done to him -- he was able to challenge the practices of his day.
“Jesus is condemned, punched, spat upon, blindfolded, hit in the face, and mocked -- all without striking back. Even in agony, he did not resort to the same violence used against him. He is betrayed, denied by friends, scourged, stripped, and nailed to the cross. And yet he responds with pure non-violence.”
Sister Esther also spoke of the language of violence, the words people use that can cause harm. She encouraged everyone in attendance to commit to one of “46 ways of non-violence” each day, such as showing gratitude, patience and kindness, forgiving, serving others, and being aware of violent language, including jokes or remarks that show disrespect toward ethnic groups, women or men, classes of people, religious groups, gays or lesbians. “Be considerate of every person’s dignity, and choose not to participate in disrespectful conversation.”