John Dear was 23, fresh out of Duke University and hiking through Israel.
“I wanted to see where Jesus had lived,” he says. “I was camped out on the Sea of Galilee, illegally, all by myself, in the summer of 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon.”
At the very moment he was reading the Sermon on the Mount, he saw jets swoop down and drop bombs on the Lebanon border.
“If you saw war at the Sea of Galilee, you would feel a responsibility to end war,” he says.
And in that very moment, Dear, now 53, found his passion in life: Peace. And in the intervening years, he hasn’t deviated from the path. He has become an internationally known voice for peace and nonviolence.
The Jesuit priest will speak on “Spirituality, Nonviolence and Public Life” in the Spring Peace Forum of the Lancaster Interchurch Peace Witness group at First Presbyterian Church, 140 E. Orange St., at 3 p.m. March 17.
He will arrive in Lancaster from Oslo, where he and Martin Sheen were the headliners on the closing night of a weeklong international conference sponsored by the government of Norway on abolishing nuclear weapons.
“I’m flying with Martin,” Dear says. “We’ve been good friends for 30 years. When you work for peace, you meet the greatest people.”
Dear has spent his life teaching peace and nonviolence and helping people make the connection between religion and spirituality and war and injustice and nuclear weapons.
“To be a Christian is to be a peacemaker,” he says. “We’re all called to be peacemakers. I believe war is obsolete. War is just useless, illegal, immoral and downright impractical. War is a mortal sin.
“The God of peace doesn’t want us to kill anyone, no matter how noble the cause. So we have to learn how to resolve international, global conflicts nonviolently and non-militarily. And this is possible. We all have to become nonviolent peacemakers,” he says.
He noted there are 30 wars around the world, 1 billion people starving, 20,000 nuclear weapons and catastrophic climate change threatening the whole planet.
Citing Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who believed everyone had to become nonviolent, he says, “I think they were right, but nobody is talking about this.”
Dear envisions a whole new way of life: “No more handguns, no more joining the military, no more beating up your spouse or children–and really becoming nonviolent people.”
He says about 150 million civilians have been killed in war in the last century.
“That has to stop. That’s insanity,” he says. “We are all participating in global insanity. Our leaders are all world criminals. Churches should be supporting peace. We need to end the drones, nuclear weapons and handguns — all forms of violence.
“The times are so grave. I just want to encourage everybody to do everything they can to build up a stronger movement for peace. That means challenging President Obama, the churches and all the forces of war in our country,” he says.
“We all have to continue to work for peace for the rest of our lives, every one of us. We’re called to be peacemakers, not war-makers, every one of us.”
Dear grew up Washington, D.C., where his father, David Dear, was a leader of the National Press Club and his uncle, Joe Dear, was NPC president.
He was raised Roman Catholic but said he had problems with the church because he “was always sensitive to peace.” But when King and Bobby Kennedy where assassinated, he decided that “life is short” and he wanted to help humanity.
Dear is the author/editor of 25 books, including his autobiography, “A Persistent Peace.” His latest release is “Lazarus Come Forth: How Jesus Confronts the Culture of Death and invites us into the New Life of Peace.” He writes a weekly column for the National Catholic Reporter.
He has been arrested for civil disobedience more than 75 times and spent about eight months in jail in North Carolina. He has lived briefly in El Salvador and Guatemala and a year in Derry, Northern Ireland, while working for peace.
In 1999, he led a Nobel Peace Laureate delegation to Iraq. He has also traveled to the Middle Easter to meet with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, he served as a volunteer Red Cross chaplain in the city.
In 2005, he made a pilgrimage to India with Arun Gandhi, Gandhi’s grandson. In 2006, he journey to Colombia on a peace pilgrimage.
In 2011, he received the “William Sloane Coffin Award” and the “St. Marguerite d’Youville Humanitarian Award.” He received the “Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award” in 2010, joining a group of recipients that includes John F. Kennedy, King, Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day.
In 2008, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated Dear for the Nobel Peace Prize.
From 1998-2000, he served as the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the largest interfaith peace organization in the United States. See: www.johndear.org