It may have been an unusually chilly day, but spirits were still high Friday at the 16th annual Kateri Interfaith Peace Conference.
The conference at the National St. Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda was started by John Amidon as a way to raise consciousness about issues dealing with war and militarization and to bring people together to build a world that values non-violence and peace.
Amidon was a Marine from 1965-69, and though he never saw combat, the culture at boot camp led him to believe violent behavior is never the solution.
After his 40th birthday, he went to Belize and Guatemala to visit Mayan ruins, fell in love with the people and culture in Guatemala and would return as often as he could during the winter. In 1995, he met a group of women in Guatemala who had been affected by the country’s civil war. He still remembers one particular story the women told him of a village of around 220 people that was reduced overnight to just 80. The Guatemalan government at the time of the civil war rounded up people in the village and took them to a church, which they proceeded to bomb, he was told.
He said the experience opened his eyes to how the United States, like many superpowers, including the Soviet Union at the time, would support right-wing governments that suppressed the rights of the people.
On Friday, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit led a retreat at the shrine, which included a prayer service and time to reflect. Gumbleton was born and raised in Detroit and has been a Catholic priest since 1956 and a bishop since 1968. During the Vietnam War, he experienced a personal awakening, he said, and became a part of the anti-war movement.
His parish was next to Wayne State University, where through the campus ministry he met with young people who refused to serve in the military. They were conscientious objectors to the war and would ask Gumbleton to help them prove their case to the draft board. It was his job to testify on their behalf and explain the person’s reasons for not fighting were genuine and consistent with Catholic teaching.
Gumbleton continued to oppose war, even visiting El Salvador during its own civil war in the 1980s. That war another example of war being brutal and unable to solve problems, he said.
Paki Wieland of Northampton, Massachusetts, grew up in New Orleans during the segregation era. Although she is white, she was raised Catholic and saw priests and nuns during the civil rights era fighting against discriminatory laws.
“I discovered the value of community,” she said about that era.
Today, there will be panels to discuss peaceful ways of dealing with the world’s problems.