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Come on out!

Well, here we go. The Democratic Convention is less than a week away. And by the end of it, we should have a pretty clear sense of how strong the Kerry-Edwards ticket will be. The big question: whether party leaders are so afraid of offending anybody that the campaign will be little more than centrist mush. If that's the case, we can start preparing now for four more years of Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ashcroft.

            The signs so far are not encouraging --- the Kerry-Edwards war votes and subsequent explanations, for starters. And now there's the hiding-behind-States-Rights on same-sex marriage. I can understand fundamentalist Christians who oppose same-sex marriage because of religious beliefs and who also oppose a constitutional amendment on the basis of States Rights.

            But it's simply beyond me how you can support equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation, and oppose gay marriage. That's the stand Kerry and Edwards have taken, and it is deeply, deeply troubling. I don't know which is worse: holding that conviction sincerely (meaning that they haven't come to terms with their own homophobia) or cynically taking that stand.

            Kerry and Edwards are clinging to the States Rights argument. Lordy, lordy; I remember that kind of dodging from my growing-up in the South.

            Maybe they'll find their conscience before they get to the podium next week in Boston. If not, I hope some convention speaker does. It is time for truth. And courage. And leadership.

            And it's way the heck past time for justice.

Paths to peace

I wonder sometimes how anti-war activists muster the energy to press on --- and to search for new ways to get the message out. But a group of Rochester-area Catholics has been doing just that this summer.

            Among their activities: holding two June conferences, one in Rochester and one in Geneva, on the topic "Seeking Peace: Catholics, as Followers of Christ, Respond to the On-going War in Iraq."

            The events, the initiative of the Social Justice Ministry Committee of Corpus ChristiChurch in Rochester, were an attempt "to bring the issue to the forefront," says committee member Jan Bezila, "to get it discussed and get it on the agenda of our local churches."

            Catholics, like Americans of other faiths, aren't at all united on the issue of US action in Iraq. While Pope John Paul II has spoken out repeatedly against the war, many people of deep faith are convinced that the US has done the right thing.

            "We did not approach this from a political angle," says Bezila. "We approached it from a faith angle. The talk was: What does Jesus preach? How do we as Christians respond?"

            Bezila and other conference organizers have compiled a list of possible actions suggested by those at the conferences. Among them: in their homilies, pastors could discuss "the teaching of Jesus and the early church regarding Christian participation in warfare." Parishes could bring in guest speakers --- people who "have traveled to Iraq and other war-torn countries or lived through war as civilian peacemakers."

            Parishes could hold seminars, retreats, and study groups on nonviolence. They could affiliate with the Pax Christi USA organization. They could educate young people on peacemaking, and discuss issues such as the draft and conscientious objection. They could "provide access to alternative and balanced information": videos from Pax Christi, for example. They could disseminate "statistical information on the dead and wounded on both sides."

            Parishes could say prayers for peace at each mass; they could pray for "Christian ability to love our neighbor and do good to our enemies." They could establish prayer groups for peace and hold "services of commitment and mourning." They could issue public statements calling for an end to hostilities and adherence to international law.

            The conference organizers have sent their suggestions to Bishop Matthew Clark and are discussing how they might disseminate their material more widely. Overall, it's a small action by a small segment of the large American Catholic community. But the statement of concerns and convictions of those in attendance at the Rochester conference, compiled after the event, is a powerful one. And it has the potential to prick consciences and generate action.

            Here's the statement:

            "War is never the way of Jesus. As the heinous aspects of the current US war in Iraq become more apparent daily, our consciences can no longer bear what is being enacted in our names.

            "These are dark times in which Christians must speak out. It is our responsibility to do so.

            "Church talk of justified war leads to the inevitable evil of giving credence to a theory which has never been accepted as doctrine at the highest level of Church teaching, and which is, in fact, in opposition to Jesus' command of unconditional love of enemies, as well as in opposition to His requirement of returning only good for evil.

            "Jesus' life showed a continual preference for the poor and lowly. Yet our waging of war reverses the works of mercy and drains resources so desperately needed by the poor for survival. As followers of Christ, we stand in solidarity with all who have suffered losses and who continue to suffer as the result of this military action.

            "We call for an immediate end to the use of military force, and for a return of political and economic sovereignty to the Iraqi people, as stipulated under international law.

            "As Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has continually voiced his opposition to this US war on Iraq, we call on Church leaders and teachers --- particularly we entreat our bishop and priests --- to speak out continually, faithfully, and boldly in opposition to this and to all wars."