Catholic cleric and activist Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit has spent most of his adult years promoting peace - a cause that is as relevant today as ever with the war in Iraq.
"Jesus simply rejected violence. He forbade his disciples from using it even to protect himself," said Bishop Gumbleton, who will speak Thursday at Heidelberg College in Tiffin. "His whole message was rejection of war, rejection of violence, and transforming the world through acts of love and compassion."
The 74-year-old bishop, a native of Detroit who was ordained to the priesthood in 1956, has visited Iraq eight times in the last 10 years, most recently in January.
"I suppose it gives you a much more personal view when you see the suffering the people are undergoing," Bishop Gumbleton said in an interview this week. "If you have any compassion, it affects you. Their suffering is dramatic in so many ways."
A soft-spoken cleric with a passion for humanitarian causes, Bishop Gumbleton has been arrested numerous times for acts of civil disobedience, protesting nuclear weapons programs, military campaigns, and the like.
"The Bish," as he is called by friends, founded the Catholic peace organization Pax Christi USA in 1972 and has visited many troublespots over the decades including Vietnam, Colombia, and Afghanistan.
In addition, he is pastor of St. Leo's Church, an inner-city parish where he sleeps on a mattress on the boiler-room floor, and he serves as vicar general for the Detroit Catholic Archdiocese.
Bishop Gumbleton said the war in Iraq is just the latest in a series of tremendous hardships the Iraqi people have endured over the last few decades.
The nation of 23 million people fought a ferocious war with Iran in the 1980s, was pummeled by the Persian Gulf War of 1991, experienced eight years of international sanctions, and has been targeted again by U.S. forces since last year.
"The first bombing [in 1991] destroyed the whole infrastructure and made the whole country unable to function," Bishop Gumbleton said. "Even before the first Persian Gulf War we were involved in, they had eight terrible years of war with Iran, and the international sanctions.
"They've had almost 25 years of constant warfare. The people are dying of starvation and radiation sickness. People are being born with deformities," he said. "It's just overwhelming."
Bishop Gumbleton said the Iraqi people had freedom of religion even under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
"There have been Christians in Iraq for 1,800 years at least, and they were doing very well," he said. "Nuns ran hospitals and taught in schools. The Christian church was probably flourishing more in Iraq than anywhere else in the Middle East."
He said Iraq was more advanced than many other countries.
"Before the war, it had one of the best medical systems in any country, with free health care for everybody," Bishop Gumbleton said. "There was free education, from kindergarten to university, and no discrimination against women, unlike in Iran and Afghanistan, where the morality police will arrest a woman who goes out in public alone."
As for the threat to America by terrorism, the bishop said it would be more effective to address the causes of terrorism than to try to wage war against it.
"Terrorism is not a war," he said. "It's a tactic. You have to try to figure out who's doing the terrorism and try to find out the root causes. That's what Pope John Paul II is talking about - fight it on a more humanitarian level.
"It takes a lot of anger to become a suicide bomber. There has to be some profound outrage and anger," Bishop Gumbleton said. "I don't know all that causes it, but it certainly is not going to end just by trying to bring more violence to bear on the situation."
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton will speak on "The Iraq Crisis: A Moral Perspective" at 7 p.m. Thursday in Rickley Chapel, College Hall, Heidelberg College, 310 East Market St., Tiffin. A question-and-session will follow. Admission is free. Information: 419-332-2318.
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