August 7, 2004

Prayer, Protest and Party


By Wren Propp, Albuquerque Journal

Mary Rutkovsky of Santa Fe wanted to honor the dead of Hiroshima , Japan , with dignity on Friday.

After spending part of the 59th anniversary of the bombing of the Japanese city during World War II in Los Alamos, participating in a prayer vigil, she returned to Santa Fe and sat quietly in a corner of the Plaza while sixth annual Peace Day activities swirled around her.

"I'm just trying to spend it in a way to observe the dignity of those whose died 59 years ago," she said, while preparing to listen to outspoken Jesuit priest John Dear.

Part party, part protest, this year's events on the Plaza included energetic drummers, a group of older women who sang rousing political parodies, Dear and Santa Fe Police Chief Beverly Lennen.

At the event's height on Friday afternoon, more than 250 people packed the Plaza. Long garlands of colorful, folded paper cranes- each one a symbol of a wish for peace- were draped from a new gazebo.

In a keynote speech, Dear urged those in the audience to take a more active role in bringing peace to northern New Mexico , the United States and the globe.

"We can no longer just be nice people with all this evil in our backyard.... It's no good to be silent anymore. We have to speak out," Dear said. For example, he asked that all those who know someone who works at Los Alamos National Laboratory urge their friends to quit. The weapons of mass destruction that President Bush has been looking for in Iraq are in Los Alamos , Dear said.

"War is not the will of God... War is demonic," he told the crowd.

Until recently, Dear had been a pastor with the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe and had spoken out repeatedly against war in Iraq . He recently stepped down from his post as pastor in northern New Mexico . He now works with a Christian peace group called Pax Christi.

"He's our champion," said Rutkovsky, before Dear spoke.

Also winning applause was Lennen, whose decision last year to work with protesters for peaceful, nonviolent demonstrations brought national attention. She had been approached by activists involved in the Department of Peace Initiative in Santa Fe after an incident at a local high school. The department is an organization seeking official status in state and national government. Dialogue sessions between police officers and peace activists helped establish common ground because people in both groups said they were working to improve their communities, she said. Officers who initially balked at attending dialogue sessions later said they felt less cynical about their community, Lennen said.

For example, a Santa Fe police officer corrected a Secret Service agent who, during a visit by President Bush last year, was offended by a protester's sign and took it away from her.
"The officer told him that that's not the way we do things around here and gave her sign back," Lennen said.

Deborah Oliver, representing the Department of Peace Initiative, told the crowd that the dialogue process, which continues, is aimed at establishing peace in the community. "We find that peace is not just an absence of conflict; it's the resolution of conflict," Oliver said.



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