I have been looking over my photographs from my trip to Egypt and was reminded of an important episode.
My tour guide, a highly educated Cairo native, was a walking encyclopedia for Egyptian history and present day politics. She was quite progressive compared to many of her peers. She often traveled alone throughout the country. Her modern sensibilities and independent outlook were just two reasons I was shocked when she turned to me one night and asked: “Is it true that the Jews control the American government?” I was too shocked to put together a cogent answer.
My tour guide was not alone in that thinking: a political cartoon in Egypt’s newspaper that ran in June, while I visited, depicted Israelis as monsters in bed with Uncle Sam. The conspiracy theories, the fear and distrust are reminiscent of a dark era in world history.
This weekend I watched two films about that dark era: Sister Rose’s Passionand Schindler’s List. The first is a documentary about Sr. Rose Thering, a Dominican sister whose work with Jewish-Catholic relations inspired a generation of interfaith work. Thering worked on her dissertation in the 1950s. Her subject was the Catholic Church’s teachings on Jews and other non-Catholics. She was appalled at the hatred she found in Catholic children’s books. Her research helped to inspire the Vatican II document on the relationship of Catholics to those of other religions, Nostra Aetate. As a result of this movement, I can attest that I have never heard anti-Semitic claims from my Church.
After the documentary on Thering, I watched Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg’s film about Oskar Schindler, a businessman and member of the Nazi party who eventually lost all his wealth in an attempt to purchase the security of 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust. Schindler was a reluctant savior, who, in his words, “could have got more.” But he did something.
The work of Sr. Rose Thering, and Rev. Patrick Desbois, who works in Ukraine to document the deaths of Jews by Nazis, is less dramatic than Schindler’s because the violence their labors prevent can never be measured. Similarly, the letter of outreach from Muslim leaders to the Vatican is substantial because of the wars it may avert. These peacemakers recognized looming injustice and made a decision to do something about it.
Rev. Jim Wallis spoke at my May 2007 graduation from Georgetown. In his address, he spoke about the impetus that moves peacemakers to act:
“Something gets our attention, something goes deeper than it has before and hooks us in the places we call the heart, the soul, the spirit. And once we’ve crossed over to really seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting the injustice we can never really look back again. It is now unacceptable to us.
What we see now offends us, offends our understanding of the sanctity and dignity of life, offends our notions of fairness and justice, offends our most basic values; violates our idea of the common good, and starts to tug at our deepest places. We cross the line of unacceptability. We become intolerant of the injustice.”
Then we become “specific about what needs to change.”
In our interconnected age, we can read about suffering on the remote corners of the world. Then what? What is no longer tolerable? What has now become unacceptable to you?
Image courtesy of Festival of Faiths