LAUDATO SI’ AND ITS CALL TO A NON-VIOLENT REVOLUTION
“Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism”. Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth. –Pope Francis, in the encyclical Laudato Si’ #92
A reflection from Fr. Jacek on Tent of Nations
in the context of the Bible and Laudato Si’:
The Judeo-Christian tradition speaks of God’s desire for abundant life for earth and all its people. The ancient prophets of Israel held up a vision of shalom: peace with God; peace with the land; peace for all the people that live therein. Prophet Isaiah, for example, conjures up a vision of God’s holy mountain where old enemies are reconciled. "The wolf will live with the lamb", he wrote, "and the infant will play near the hole of the cobra". Isaiah 11:6-9
Similarly, the prophet Micah describes a vision of “the mountain of the Lord where God “will settle disputes among nations and where they would beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks". The prophet points to a future where “every person will be able to sit under one’s own vine tree and no one will make him or her afraid”. Micah 4:2-4.
This ancient vision of justice, renewal of the human community and healing of the earth is most beautifully expressed in the life and mission of Jesus. Named the Prince of Peace, born in a little town of Bethlehem, he came to preach the good news to the poor, liberty to captives and proclaim the Jubilee. The latter refers to a call for a radical renewal wherein the Jewish people were summoned to restorative justice, healing and peacemaking with fellow human beings, with the land and, ultimately, with God.
To become bearers of the ancient dreams and prophecies of hope, we often need signs. And here is one that comes to us from the Tent of Nations.
As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”. Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ #9
The Tent of Nations is a peace project established in 2001 by the Palestinian Christian Nassar family on a portion of their 100-acres of land about six miles southwest of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The land, purchased by their family in 1916, has been cultivated for over 100 years, passing down responsibility from generation to generation. Tent of Nations is now surrounded nearly from all sides by the illegal settlements.
For the Nassar family, the land is sacred and not for sale. For over 18 years, Daoud (Arabic for David) has been involved in a David and Goliath struggle to hold on to the land through active non-violent means and resisting multiple attempts to dispose of them. Many people of good will around the world and lovers of justice –including some Jewish groups from around the world– have joined them in their struggle for dignity and justice. They have been helping to cultivate the land, providing some financial means for legal defense, organizing peace camps for the local children, and carrying out programs of service and empowerment to Muslim women in the nearby village.
Cultivating the land at the Tent of Nations has been made extremely difficult. Though there is no doubt that the land belongs to them, the Nassar family is not allowed to have access to running water or to dig wells. They are prohibited from collecting rain water, having access to the electric grid, or building any structures above the ground. (The Tent of Nations already has over 30 demolition orders from the Israeli government.) In spite of all the obstacles, the farm is now almost 85% cultivated, planted with grape, apple, olive, almond and fig trees.
A few years ago, when the Tent of Nations faced an imminent threat of demolition, the Franciscans of Holy Name Province were among the institutions whose timely and decisive advocacy with high-ranking government officials appeared to forestall the likely harm to the Tent of Nations.
Amidst the volatile political situation, Tent of Nations has become a sacrament of communion. It manifests the power of active non-violence and human solidarity. In the face of deep, historical wounds, injustice, violence and mistrust between people, it courageously declares: “We refuse to be enemies”.
Here, one can hear an echo of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Daoud Nassar and his family, along with the international community of people of good will who support them incarnate in a beautiful, holistic and tangible way, live out the Gospel message of love and empowerment.
This message expresses a profound respect for land and for dignity of every human person, hospitality, non-violence, justice and peace, solidarity and healing.
“The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ #84
The Book of Revelation invokes a vision of a city of God coming down onto a mountaintop. The river of the water of life flows from it. The tree of life planted on each side of the river, yields fruit that will nourish the people; the leaves of the tree serve for the healing of the nations.
We live in a world that is at a crossroads. We can continue on the same destructive path, leading humanity towards a cliff of unprecedented ecological, social and political disasters, or we can embark on a less-traveled path of conversion towards a holistic and integrated vision of what it means to be truly human. Pope Francis refers to that path as a Revolution of Tenderness. It is a radical, beautiful vision - ever ancient, ever new. To move steadily and faster on that path – before it’s too late - the world needs compelling, real-life examples. We need examples that could inspire and empower us to overcome apathy, cynicism, despair and move us on the path to solidarity.
The example of the Tent of Nations teaches us the power and efficacy of non-violence as a form of the social DNA of the Kingdom of God project, essential to the Laudato Si’ Revolution to which Pope Francis calls us. Tent of Nations teaches us how to confront even the most daunting challenges confronting us in a life-affirming way - with non-violence, determination and acts of solidarity. The living witness of the Nassar family and the international circle of support built around them serve as a bridge toward the preferred future for our humanity in the grip of its social, political and climate crises. The Tent of Nations weaves in justice and ecology, struggle for human dignity of the oppressed and steadfast refusal to be an enemy, healing of the land and the reconciliation between those considered to be historical adversaries.
Fr. Jacek and a number of Immaculate Conception parishioners have visited Tent of Nations and supported its peacemaking project.
Tent of Nations as a living parable of
the Kingdom of God
By helping the Tent of Nations (TON) survive and thrive, one will contribute to the possibility of the deep transformation needed in the Holy Land. Could it be that the greatest common enemy of Israel, Palestine, the United States and other countries might be, in fact, the insanity and moral blindness of the current status quo, which leads towards environmental catastrophe and violent social and political escalation?
TON offers an alternative vision of the future. Mindful of the biblical adage, “Without a vision, people perish,” one could argue that the Tent of Nation can have immense value to the State of Israel – to its security and survival. The Tent of Nations is also very much needed for Palestinians. It empowers the occupied people to seek a positive change by planting little seeds of hope, solidarity and non-violent resistance. It offers the Palestinians – both Muslims and Christians – a path towards rediscovering their deepest spiritual roots in God’s compassion, in their love and care for the land, in their common humanity.
There is much more to Daoud Nassar’s farm than just planting trees. The family has chosen to be a good model for the surrounding Palestinian farms, working with other local farmers on “best practices” that are needed in order to meet today’s needs. For those who have farmed the land in the same way for generations, this is very important to the survival of farming as a way of life and for making a living. It also helps guarantee that those other farmers will not have to give up their land if they do not cultivate at least 75% of it before the Israeli courts can confiscate it for their own use.
How to help?
Daoud Nassar talks about his Tent of Nations family farm and the "Fourth Way", building a community of nonviolence whose slogan is "We refuse to be enemies."