Every year we greet the opening of the academic year with the International Lasallian Days for Peace (ILDP)—this year’s theme is “I Choose Peace!” Even if one of the unchanging aspirations of our educational mission is to address the root causes for the lack and loss of peace in our communities and in the larger society, this call could hardly be more timely.
One of the greatest affronts to human dignity is racial injustice. The systemic nature of racial injustice continues to bring violence to Black lives in American society. It’s a four century-old story that begs for an ending and a new story of peace. To choose peace is to choose to deconstruct the attitudes, traditions and structures that dehumanize and to choose to write a story faithful to Jesus’ vision.
One of the hallmarks of RELAN educational communities is dialogue. We can take our starting point from the Declaration on the Lasallian Educational Mission: “To educate for peace is to educate for justice and solidarity” (p. 122). Well before these days dedicated to peace, we have been blessed with leadership from the colleges and universities in the Region. For example, colloquies have been convened to dig beneath the storylines and to plan initiatives for the advancement of justice on campuses. AXIS, the Journal of Lasallian Higher Education recently published a series of provocative articles investigating the intersection of Lasallian higher education and justice (Vol 11, No. 1). Dialogues have been held at the national and international level to shed light on the persistent racism that is embedded within many societies in order to inform concrete actions for the Lasallian educational community.
One of the hallmarks of RELAN educational communities is service. It’s an education that transcends words and brings youth and young adults into personal encounters with those who suffer from injustice. It’s how we encourage “awareness of the roots of poverty and social injustice in order to combat them,” and how we “promote the rights of children, social justice, human dignity and solidarity” (Identity Criteria for the Vitality of Lasallian Educational Ministries, no. 4, Promotion of Just Citizenship). Even though we are restricted from most of these service activities during the pandemic, there are creative online responses, such as the retreat offered by the Br. David Darst Center this summer. The vitality of the twinning program with Lwanga District schools is one of the ways we deepen our sense that we are called to service. Our educational and District communities are engaging in critical conversations to ask the often unasked questions: Are we faithful to our core principle that no one is excluded and all are honored in the community? How are our attitudes, traditions and structures oppressive and doing violence to human dignity?
We might turn to the living example of Mahatma Gandhi to help us see how dialogue and service are at the service of peace. One day he stepped aboard a train as it started to move, and one of his shoes slipped off and dropped on the tracks. Unable to retrieve it, he calmly took off his other shoe and threw it back along the track to land close to the first. When an amazed passenger asked why he had done that, Gandhi smiled and said, “The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use”(Donald McCullough in Say Please, Say Thank You).
Gandhi’s simple action echoes a dynamic aspect of the Lasallian imagination, namely, the spiritual instinct to see the unseen, especially those who suffer, and then to complete what is missing. My choice for peace, then, is a choice to acknowledge what is missing—and what I may be doing to foster that—and then to complete what is missing. Put another way, embedded in this imagination is a call to oppose the iniquity of dehumanization and an obligation to promote equity for all.
I have never doubted the convictions underlying our thirst for justice and our hope for peace. What I believe the Young Lasallians who are sponsoring these days are calling us to is the courage to live those convictions. Choosing peace is courageous work. Not everyone’s courage will look the same. It takes courage to be an activist, it takes courage to be active. Let us ask God for the gift of courage, and may we strive to be that gift for one another.
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC