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Network for Peace through Dialogue

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November 8, 2012

Women as Peacebuilders Series - Session 2

Kathleen Kanet, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary

There are occasions in life when we feel a strong pull to act in a particular way. Deep inside us we experience a motivating force that some describe as a call from God and others intuition, a kind of inner knowing.

In this Living Room Dialogue such experiences became a theme for the 12 women who attended after Kathleen Kanet's short talk about turning points in her life. Kathleen opened her remarks by stating her core beliefs: There is a God who loves us no matter what and who wants us to love one another. Following from that, God calls us to form relationships, some informal and interpersonal, some determined by social structures. Through seeking "right" relationships, we build a more just and peaceful world. We treat others as we would wish to be treated and create societies where all have their basic needs met.

God's call presented itself to Kathleen at several significant turning points. The first was her decision at age 22 to enter the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, an act that was opposed by her family and which ruptured her relationships with them. The congregation at that time was semi-cloistered so that members were not allowed to go home or eat with other people. Permission was required to do anything. Despite all the negatives, Kathleen felt that it was something she had to do.

Not long after her entry in 1962, however, doors began to open after the Vatican II council was convened by Pope John XXIII. Kathleen embraced the changes as her religious congregation evolved. In 1966 she was teaching 5th graders when parishioners invited her to read and discuss documents related to the Council. She welcomed the opportunity to participate with the whole church community.

In 1971 she was challenged by the statement drawn up by the World Conference of Bishops calling for Catholics to "act on behalf of justice and to participate in the transformation of the world." This call inspired her to co-found The Intercommunity Center for Justice and Peace, a coalition made up of representatives of several religious congregations. Focusing on peace education, along with five religious sisters, she presented workshops in over 50 dioceses in the U.S.

While doing this work, she was invited by a German colleague to expand her horizon globally. With a third colleague from the Philippines, they organized workshops that brought together people from the global north and global south. Representatives from countries invited to a workshop in the Philippines considered the quality of life that results when U.S. bases are located in other people's homelands; another workshop in Berlin considered German fascism; one in the U.S. investigated economic conversion and human need, and one in Nicaragua took a look at religious fundamentalism and its effect on human freedom.

She continued peace education work here in New York though Center of International Learning, the organization that later became Network for Peace through Dialogue.

Leaving the Intercommunity Center in 1989 Kathleen found a different kind of work, something she had not done before. A call came again leading her to provide service to victims of social injustice through the Incarcerated Mothers Program. At times we are forced to adapt ourselves in ways we never expected, she said.

Now in her Jubilee year as a member of RSHM, Kathleen sums up her life-long learnings this way: "All life is relationship."

After Kathleen's presentation, all participants in the dialogue had an opportunity to respond. Kathleen's theme of a call from God reminded a few in the group of somewhat mystical experiences. One woman reported changing the direction of her life after reflecting on a dream in which she was being nailed into a coffin while still alive. Another told of hearing the voice of her beloved deceased husband calling to her and having a vision of him in his wheelchair ascending toward a brilliant white light. The experience has led to her being less judgmental of other people and more loving. A third shared what she learned from reading a Newsweek article in which a brain surgeon described an out-of-body meeting while in a coma with a kind and welcoming God. A fourth spoke of a vision she had at age 4 of a large angel and dancing Egyptians that she is still trying to interpret.

Other women in the group spoke of less ethereal but no less compelling influences on their lives. One spoke of a desire to emulate her mother who was helping out people in need in her community. Another who had turned away from the Catholic church was drawn back into it by changes she saw as a result of Vatican II.

One sister who experienced an inner direction to work with the poor left a job working in a private girls' school for one in a city jail. She had to work hard to get that job. Another was changed by meeting poor people while working in infirmary as a nurse.

Next the dialogue facilitator asked participants for what they saw as commonalities among the people present. Some comments were:

  • Don't discount yourself if you are not doing what the world says you are supposed to be doing. Pay attention to your deep knowing - "Be true to the best that's in you."
  • Show up. Ask yourself "what do I contribute?" Be persistent.
  • Follow the spirit deep inside you. We need to get more in touch with that.
  • Follow the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
  • Desire to make the world a just place for all. Cultivate compassion, not judging. Try to see others as they see themselves.
  • We should be more like the nomadic people of the Kalahari who have rituals for sharing the meat from killed animals so that each person divides their portion with another.
  • All imbalances are taken care of.
  • Everyone has the right to life.

Finally the facilitator asked participants what they would want to take away with them from the discussion. Some comments were:

  • I am encouraged never to lose hope.
  • People need to help each other more.
  • If nations took the pursuit of peace seriously, women would always be included. We need to make things more just between the sexes.
  • I am mourning the structure of my church. I am in disagreement with the church's position on rights and don't know what to do.
  • We are the church in this room.
  • We will never have peace without justice.

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