WASHINGTON - After President Bush announced his State of the Union address, emphasizing his reasons for moving towards war with Iraq, women from a wide range of religious faiths gathered to launch a prayer-based peace movement.
"The Global Peace Initiative of Women" gathered Catholic and Buddhist nuns, rabbis, ministers, teachers and lay members in an effort to overcome conflict. The crowd, numbering over 200 launched the meeting in Washington on Jan. 29.
Several dozen people lead the crowd in song, chant and prayer. Among them, Mercy Sister Kathy Thornton, director of network for a Catholic social justice lobby group asked the conveners to "get to know the Iraqi people as your brothers and sisters, not as the enemy."
She explained her recent experience in Iraq as a discovery of our "family in Iraq ... our sisters and brothers ... hospitable, friendly people."
"I join with those who say, 'Do not make this war in my name,'" said Sister Thornton.
Traditional Buddhist, Islamic, Shinto, Native American, Sufi and Hindu prayers and songs alternated with reflections on the power of prayer.
Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, invited participants to events in Washington Feb. 11-12 to challenge Congress and the administration to protect existing social programs.
"Let us pray in times of war and poverty that we will think of the children," said Edelman. "Budget cuts to programs that address nutritional and educational needs of millions of children will do more to tear down the United States in the long run than will wars elsewhere," she continued.
"We need not spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defend our country from without when we're destroying it from within," she said.
Franciscan Sister Mary Motte in illustrating the need to a peaceful approach to resolving global conflicts told a story of a monk who drove to town to buy groceries. He came across a group of boys who threw rocks at his car; the Monk got out of the car and asked the leader of the group to accompany him to the store. The boy helped the monk, and there were no further conflicts.
"Voices for justice cry out for a new way of relationship," Motte said.
One of the founders of the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows noted the prayers used by the 19 hijackers in create havoc.
The men "used prayer and their imaginations to accomplish great destruction."
However, through greater prayer and greater imagination, she said, "the people of the world can accomplish a much greater good."
This event included representatives from dozens of nations and faiths. Members of Congress and other political representatives also joined in the initiative.
Two California Democratic members of Congress : Diane Watson and Anna Eshoo, praised the group for taking the "traditional women's approach" to problems by seeking a "peaceful resolution."
Eschoo continued, saying that those making the decisions should undertake methods taught by mothers, such as "Don't hit," and "talk to each other, work it out."
"Somehow, somewhere, we start to lose the art of talking to each other," Eshoo said. "Perhaps that's why we come back to prayer, to ask our Creator how to speak to each other."
The Global Peace Initiative grew out of the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations in August 2000. The women in the delegation of women built together a network of religious and spiritual leaders working to eliminate the causes of conflict.
By Pauline C.