Dec. 18, 2015: Six years later, message for peace is still strong, by Sarah Jenkins

December 18, 2015 by

Sarah Jenkins

Sarah Jenkins

As we near the end of 2015, we will also end the sixth full year of these Year of Peace columns in the Blade-Empire.

They actually started a few months earlier, on Sept. 25, 2009, when Sister Carolyn Teter launched the effort with these words:

“Peace is more than the absence of war. Peace is a set of values, attitudes and behaviors: It means respect for others regardless of race, gender, age, nationality, class, sexuality, appearance, political or religious belief, physical or mental ability. This respect requires a great empathy for others — a willingness to understand their views from their standpoint.”

And in the 183 columns that followed — or 184, if you count today’s — people from throughout Concordia have explored that “willingness to understand.”

Frankly, it’s been tough sometimes.

Six years ago none of us had heard of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and we thought there could never be a more brutal organization than al-Qaeda.

Six years ago, few of us could have found Ferguson on a Missouri map. Nor would we have known what Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice and Laquan McDonald had in common.

Six years ago, if we thought about the immigration, it was in terms of the U.S.-Mexico border and not of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children trying to find refuge from the violence of Syria, Afghanistan and north Africa.

Six years ago, we knew about “mass shootings” because of Columbine and Virginia Tech, but we would never have imaged that in our sixth full Year of Peace the phrase would be almost commonplace in the wake of Aurora, Newtown, Tucson, the Washington Navy Yard, Charleston, Chattanooga, Roseburg, Colorado Springs and San Bernadino.

Yet, as Sister Carolyn wrote six years ago, “Peace will ask of us to believe that positive changes can be made by individuals and groups of people.”

To do that, I have only to look at other news since September 2009:

As 2009 ended, UNICEF reported that child mortality rates had dropped 27 percent worldwide since 1990. For children age 5 and younger, that continued an even more positive trend: Death rates for the youngest children worldwide have dropped 60 percent since 1960.

During the summer of 2010, billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet launched the “Giving Pledge” — and when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife made their pledge last month, they brought the number of signers to 138. These are some of the wealthiest families and individuals from 14 countries who have joined in a commitment to give away the majority of their wealth to charitable causes before they die.

In December 2011, three women — two Liberians and one Yemeni — shared that year’s Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights.” The three are among only 15 women ever to win the Peace Prize.

In 2012, India had its first polio-free year — and $1 billion and 23 years of volunteer work donated by Rotary Club members worldwide had made the dream a reality. The incidence of infection plunged during that time from 350,000 cases in 1988 to fewer than 1,000 cases in 2010.

In April 2013, the Vatican Conclave named Pope Francis to lead the Roman Catholic Church, and within hours it was clear he intended to transform the global view of the papacy. In his visit to the United States this fall, he continued to show humility in his role as church leader and call for dedicated service toward the weakest among us.

In July 2013, Pakistani Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 16th birthday by delivering an impassioned speech at the United Nations, calling on all countries to recognize the rights of all children to get an education. Less than a year after being shot by Taliban militants, she showed us the true meaning of courage as she healed her own wounds and vowed to continue trying to heal her nation’s illiteracy.

This year on Malala’s 18th birthday, she issued a broader challenge: “Today on my first day as an adult, on behalf of the world’s children, I demand of leaders we must invest in books instead of bullets,” she said.

Closer to home, the investment was in community: In April 2014, more than 900 volunteers came together in Concordia to create Cloudville in City Park.

There are many more examples, of course — both of the violence that is too often pervasive and of the acts of courage and commitment that continue to give me hope.

On Sept. 25, 2009, Sister Carolyn ended her column this way:

“Building a culture of peace will entail developing on a daily basis the values, attitudes and behavior that are in keeping with respect, tolerance, equality, sharing and generosity.”

Six years and 184 columns later, I’ll just ask that you read that concluding sentence one more time. And then keep working on it.

 

— Sarah Jenkins is the communications director for the Sisters of St. Joseph. She also serves as the coordinator for the Year of Peace column, which will continue to be published on the first and third Fridays of each month.

 

 

 

 

 

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