Category Archives: Activism

Passing of Thay Thich Nhat Hanh

By Joe Byrne

Thich Nhat Hanh, the famed Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk and peacemaker, passed to the ultimate dimension on January 22, 2022. He was 95 years old.

Thay – his honorary title – became well known in the 1960s for his opposition to the Vietnam War. During that time, he urged his fellow monks and Buddhist practitioners in Vietnam to do war relief. This was the basis of what he would later call “engaged buddhism.” In 1966 he came to the United States to lobby the U.S. government for peace. Because of his refusal to take sides in the conflict, both the South Vietnamese government, and later the communist regime, refused to let Thich Nhat Hanh return to Vietnam. However, at the end of his life, after a debilitating stroke, the Vietnamese government allowed him to return to the monastery in Hue where he took his vows. And that is where he died, on January 22.

In the 1970s, Thay began to teach mindfulness to Vietnamese and Western practitioners. Initially, this movement attracted mostly anti-war activists, and indeed Thay emphasized that mindfulness was a practice for people to find inner peace to sustain them in the work for social justice. The mindfulness movement has long since gone mainstream.

Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan in the 1960s

In the 1960s, Thay was a friend to many peacemakers, most particularly Martin Luther King, Jr.; Daniel Berrigan, S.J.; and Thomas Merton. Martin Luther King nominated Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize. Merton wrote a famous essay entitled “Nhat Hanh is My Brother.” Berrigan co-wrote a book with Thay called The Raft is Not the Shore.

Echoing his teacher Gautama Buddha, Thay always said that he would live on his teachings, and in his students. He also lives on on the internet, in the form of dharma talks in written, audio and video formats; and in the teachings of his students, monastic and lay. There are all manner of such materials on the website of Plum Village, a monastic center he founded in France, and where he lived for many years.

I conclude with a poem written by Thich Nhat Hanh which is often recited at memorial services.

Contemplation of No-Coming, No-Going

This body is not me,
I am not limited by this body.

I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born, and I have never died.

Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
Manifestations from my wondrous true mind.

Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.

So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye, to meet again soon.

We meet today,
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

Free Jess Reznicek!

In 2016, Jessica Reznicek of the Des Moines Catholic Worker, after years of participating in various water protection actions led by Native American activists, and after exhausting all legal remedies, took direct action to stop the construction of Dakota Access Pipeline. She dismantled construction equipment and pipeline valves, taking particular care not to injure anyone. She pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to damage the pipeline. In 2021 she was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Jessica should have been sentenced to only 37 months but, at the behest of federal prosecutors, Judge Rebecca Goodgame applied a domestic terrorism enhancement to Jessica’s case, to supposedly deter others from following Jessica’s lead. The terrorism enhancement nearly tripled Jessica’s sentence to 96 months.

This is nothing less than the criminalization of environmental protection and presents frightening consequences for anyone seeking to protect the environment from corporate destruction. The Dakota Access Pipeline is just one of many such oil and gas pipeline projects that have been fiercely resisted, particularly by those whose lands are being traversed by oil pipelines. These pipelines have a horrendous record of accidents and present a clear and present danger to all, in the form of carbon dioxide pollution, leading to global warming.

As NASA Climate Scientist Peter Kalmus put it, “Jessica was sentenced to 8 years for protecting all of us from climate and ecological breakdown. She acted from necessity and from love. She is a hero, not a terrorist.” She bravely acted to protect all of us, in this and future generations, and countless other beings.

The real terrorists are those who threaten the very life of the planet by digging up, and transporting, petrochemicals that need to remain in the ground if we are to have any hope of surviving climate change.

Follow the links below to read more about Jessica’s case, contact her in prison, and most importantly to sign the petition to have Jessica’s domestic terrorism enhancement removed.

Free Jessica Reznicek Face Book page:

Free Jessica Reznicek Web Page

Jess Reznicek postings (Frank Cordaro’s website)

Jessica Reznicek # 19293-030
FCI Waseca
PO Box 1731
Waseca, MN 56093

Jonah House – Statement Against Police Brutality and Impunity

Jonah House Supports Demonstrations Against Police Brutality and Impunity

We at Jonah House support those protesting the racist police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other African-Americans in just the past few years. We also note and deplore the increasingly brutal and militarized tactics employed by police to suppress the right of the people to express their grievances with their governors. Police have followed up the street execution of George Floyd with even more repression towards African-Americans and those that support them. We amplify the call to defund abusive police departments—at least enough to prevent the purchase of military hardware such as tanks, riot gear, tear gas, and “flash-bang” weapons, and to cut off funding for training police officers to use these weapons.

Fifty-two years ago the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. decried the evil triplets of racism, capitalism, and militarism (which now must include militarized police). These three forms of systemic and institutionalized violence are very much connected, as we here at Jonah House, in West Baltimore, see every day. These evil triplets need to be disarmed and transformed, and one of the best ways to do this is for the people to take to the streets and demand justice. Only then will those in power listen and make the necessary changes.

If it takes a militant, non-violent revolution to end rampant police brutality towards African-Americans, so be it.

In Solidarity,

Jonah House

Ash Wednesday 2020

By Joe Byrne

Once again, this year Jonah House was able to send representatives to the Ash Wednesday gathering at the White House in Washington, DC, organized by Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, and other associated peace organizations. Paul Magno and myself were those representatives.

For one thing, we usually attend because Jonah House is usually responsible for bringing the ashes from one of our wood-burning stoves. Also, I usually cantor some of the songs.

The service contained readings, both biblical and contemporary, along with prayers for peace and justice. After readings and songs, Fr. Joe Nangle of the Assisi Community in Washington, DC, blessed the ashes. The ashes were sent around and each participant was anointed with ashes, and anointed the forehead of someone else with ashes.

Then participants were invited to draw symbols on Pennsylvania Avenue, such as crosses and peace signs, with the ashes Jonah House brought.

Paul was inspired to kneel and pray before the entrance gate to the White House, but was not bothered (or arrested) by the police.

I was inspired to create ash “shadows” of people to signify the shadow outlines created when people are incinerated by nuclear bombs.

Unfortunately, they more resemble snow angels!

The halo was not my idea. Nor was the missing (or “achilles”) heal. The latter seems much more appropriate than the former.

Kings Bay Plowshares Update

On October 24, 2019, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 were all found guilty of all four counts. They await sentencing, date to be announced.

The Kings Bay Plowshares continue to get attention in the media. Below are links to two articles about the Kings Bay Plowshares, and a Baltimore radio interview with Jonah House co-founder Liz McAlister, about her participation in the action.

On November 25, 2019, Tom Hall, of the Midday program on Baltimore’s WYPR, broadcast an interview with Liz McAlister:

On November 26, 2019, Sam Husseini published this article in Counterpunch:

On November 19, Paul Elie published an article in The New Yorker:

Pope Francis Calls for World Without Nuclear Weapons

Story in The Guardian
Video of Pope Francis’s Remarks
Full text of the Pope Francis’s Remarks:

The following is the official translation of the full text of a message Pope Francis delivered November 23, 2019, in an address in Nagasaki.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another. The damaged cross and statue of Our Lady recently discovered in the Cathedral of Nagasaki remind us once more of the unspeakable horror suffered in the flesh by the victims of the bombing and their families.

One of the deepest longings of the human heart is for security, peace and stability. The possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is not the answer to this desire; indeed they seem always to thwart it. Our world is marked by a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue.

Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation. They can be achieved only on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family of today and tomorrow.

Here in this city which witnessed the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of a nuclear attack, our attempts to speak out against the arms race will never be enough. The arms race wastes precious resources that could be better used to benefit the integral development of peoples and to protect the natural environment. In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance and sale of ever more destructive weapons, are an affront crying out to heaven.

A world of peace, free from nuclear weapons, is the aspiration of millions of men and women everywhere. To make this ideal a reality calls for involvement on the part of all: individuals, religious communities and civil society, countries that possess nuclear weapons and those that do not, the military and private sectors, and international organizations. Our response to the threat of nuclear weapons must be joint and concerted, inspired by the arduous yet constant effort to build mutual trust and thus surmount the current climate of distrust. In 1963, Saint John XXIII, writing in his Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris, in addition to urging the prohibition of atomic weapons (cf. No. 112), stated that authentic and lasting international peace cannot rest on a balance of military power, but only upon mutual trust (cf. No. 113).

There is a need to break down the climate of distrust that risks leading to a dismantling of the international arms control framework. We are witnessing an erosion of multilateralism which is all the more serious in light of the growth of new forms of military technology. Such an approach seems highly incongruous in today’s context of interconnectedness; it represents a situation that urgently calls for the attention and commitment of all leaders.

For her part, the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to promoting peace between peoples and nations. This is a duty to which the Church feels bound before God and every man and woman in our world. We must never grow weary of working to support the principal international legal instruments of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including the Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Last July, the bishops of Japan launched an appeal for the abolition of nuclear arms, and each August the Church in Japan holds a 10-day prayer meeting for peace. May prayer, tireless work in support of agreements and insistence on dialogue be the most powerful “weapons” in which we put our trust and the inspiration of our efforts to build a world of justice and solidarity that can offer an authentic assurance of peace.

Convinced as I am that a world without nuclear weapons is possible and necessary, I ask political leaders not to forget that these weapons cannot protect us from current threats to national and international security. We need to ponder the catastrophic impact of their deployment, especially from a humanitarian and environmental standpoint, and reject heightening a climate of fear, mistrust and hostility fomented by nuclear doctrines. The current state of our planet requires a serious reflection on how its resources can be employed in light of the complex and difficult implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in order to achieve the goal of an integrated human development. Saint Paul VI suggested as much in 1964, when he proposed the establishment of a Global Fund to assist those most impoverished peoples, drawn partially from military expenditures (cf. Declaration to Journalists, 4 December 1964; Populorum Progressio, 51).

All of this necessarily calls for the creation of tools for ensuring trust and reciprocal development, and counts on leaders capable of rising to these occasions. It is a task that concerns and challenges every one of us. No one can be indifferent to the pain of millions of men and women whose sufferings trouble our consciences today. No one can turn a deaf ear to the plea of our brothers and sisters in need. No one can turn a blind eye to the ruin caused by a culture incapable of dialogue.

I ask you to join in praying each day for the conversion of hearts and for the triumph of a culture of life, reconciliation and fraternity. A fraternity that can recognize and respect diversity in the quest for a common destiny.

I know that some here are not Catholics, but I am certain that we can all make our own the prayer for peace attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

In this striking place of remembrance that stirs us from our indifference, it is all the more meaningful that we turn to God with trust, asking him to teach us to be effective instruments of peace and to make every effort not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

May you and your families, and this entire nation, know the blessings of prosperity and social harmony!

Baltimore Sun story on Liz McAlister in Jail

As most of you know, our dear sister Liz, co-founder and member of Jonah House community, is currently in jail for her role in the King’s Bay Plowshares. On Sunday, the Baltimore Sun published an op-ed on Liz. Here is the link:

Liz McAlister with her husband Phil Berrigan.