Nine bishops, one abbot, dine and dialogue with peace activists

Tony Magliano
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During the recent U.S. Catholic bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore, several bishops and one abbot, decided to skip dinner at the downtown Marriott Waterfront hotel, and walked several blocks to an inner city parish to share a simple meal with about 30 peace activists – myself included.

In the basement of historic St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, during the evening of Nov. 17, Archbishop Joseph Tobin, Bishop John Michael Botean, Bishop Anthony Taylor, Bishop Frank Dewane, Bishop Mark Seitz, Bishop John Stowe, Bishop Richard Pates, Bishop Michael Warfel, Bishop Peter Baldacchino and Abbot Nicholas Zachariadis shared soup and bread together with members of Pax Christi, the Catholic Worker and Sant’Egidio, as we discussed how followers of the nonviolent Jesus should respond to calls to war.

Highlighting the discussion was a talk given by Kristi Casteel, mother of the late Joshua Casteel (famous among Christian peace activists).

She said, “War will always exist where love is absent.” This is what Joshua came to understand in the twists and turns of his life.

Casteel said Joshua was as a non-commissioned Arabic trained interrogator in Iraq.

“Joshua knew that most Iraqi detainees were simply fathers, imams, and young men caught up in sweeps by American soldiers, or were men turned in by fellow Iraqis in an attempt to earn money from the coalition,” Casteel explained.

In a later taped explanation, Joshua Casteel revealed that during the interrogation of a young, very calm Jihadist detainee, he was morally confronted by the detainee who called him a very strange man. He said to Joshua you call yourself a Christian, but you do not follow the teachings of Christ who said you are to love your enemies, to pray for those who persecute you, to turn the other cheek.

Joshua said he thought to himself, now this is an ironic moment: Here you are sitting across the table from a declared jihadist who is giving you a lesson about the Sermon on the Mount.

Kristi Casteel, said her son Joshua shared with the jihadist that he agreed that he wasn’t following those nonviolent teachings of Christ. And that in military uniform he was not free to live as he believed he should as a Christian.

To see and hear Joshua Casteel tell this powerful and inspiring story go to http://bit.ly/1SZKVc6.

Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock shared with us his dismay regarding the growing political mood to deny refugee status to Syrians who are fleeing for their lives.

Speaking for his diocese, he firmly said “We will accept Syrian refugees!”

In solidarity with our persecuted Syrian brothers and sisters please go to the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns website to send a message to your governor and congressional delegation (http://bit.ly/1QPVQG2).

Kristi Casteel said that during her son’s interrogation — which turned into a conversation — with the jihadist detainee, Joshua said to him that there were other ways to deal with conflict than the way they had both chosen. And he asked him to consider what it might look like in different circumstances for them to meet and talk — learning about each other’s lives and beliefs with the potential of bringing about mutual trust.

Kristi said her son left the “interrogation” room “a changed man, but more importantly a free man, on the inside where it counts.”

Wow! Now that’s Christian conversion! The kind of conversion we all need. The kind of conversion the world needs.

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist.