Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s Church, Stockton, CA
Special to Bilingual Weekly
I’m writing from a picturesque island in Puget Sound called “Vashon”, just west of Seattle, where I’ve been re-uniting with a very important group of friends. Just over thirty years ago, we launched our 7,000-mile walk called the “Bethlehem Peace Pilgrimage”. The Trident Nuclear Submarine Base in Bangor, Washington marked our beginning point, and in the United States we landed ten months later the day the Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated. Beginning again in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, we crossed the border to the North on Good Friday and eventually reached Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, by Christmas Eve. All told, thousands of people would join us at one point or another. But only twelve that began from Bangor actually completed the walk together.
Here, in the same kind of rain that drenched us in Washington State and in Ireland in 1982 and 1983, we twelve, with other walkers, and a flock of children from seven to twenty-seven, are celebrating the difference this Walk made in our lives and in so many others. We had preached with our feet and our presence in so many broken and conflicted places to the need for peace in every dimension of our lives. The world had looked so bleak when we began. And it would be in worse shape by the time we finished.
But we had been changed. All of us have carried on our commitment to justice, to reconciliation, to compassion and to life in all of its stages and expressions. The children with us come from a variety of ethnic groups and worship in a variety of faiths. As we shared our stories from the past three decades, we were all deeply moved by the hand of God at work in having brought us together, moved us with a common purpose, and carried us along in our respective journeys of faith.
Our senior member, Fr. George Zabelka, died ten years ago. He had been the Catholic Chaplain who blessed the bombing missions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki on those two fateful days of August 6th and 9th, 1945. When he visited the devastated cities afterwards, his life had changed forever. At 67, he suffered a great deal on the walk, but considered this a small price to pay in order to witness to a better world, a more humane way of being than war upon war, and the unending threat of destruction.
Soon, I’ll be in Poland. Several dozen priests from around the world will gather for a reteat. Before that concludes, and four of us head for Vienna, and then I, alone, for Croatia, we will all visit Auschwitz. There, untold thousands of innocent human beings were worked to death or simply executed and burned to cinders for the sake of a madman’s lunatic ambitions.
I know the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, indirectly, a consequence of Hitler’s demonic aspirations and the unholy alliances he forged with Italy and Japan. We knew that as we walked across the United States and heard, again and again, that the Soviet Union was poised to strike. None of us have stopped working for a better world, despite all the reasons people put forward against our vision. But three things are certain: the world remains in very bad shape, the solution is far beyond our powers, and in spite of this, each one of us still has our part to play in the redemption of the world. God has so ordained things that the fate of the world depends, strangely, on whether or not we cooperate with His plan for our redemption.