Blessed are the peacemakers
by Fr Graham Pugin SJ
By now most of you know that I was shot on Monday afternoon. I was standing, empty-handed in the gates of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Braamfontein, where I am the parish priest and university chaplain.
I had throughout that day and the days before been exercising my priestly ministry by opening the church as a place of sanctuary, a safe and sacred space where dialogue and conversation might happen. Students had fled to Trinity after violence erupted again on campus. During the course of the day the police drove armed vehicles around Braamfontein. I had already prevented an armed vehicle travelling at high speed, from the entering church property endangering vulnerable students and street people, and had previously been shot with a rubber bullet. I had consistently prevented students who were carrying sticks or stones from entering church property, until they put down their weapons.
Let me be clear, there is no cause in which I can accept or condone the use of violence. I have been a lifelong pacifist, and my actions on Monday are congruent with the choices I have made my whole life in pursuit of peace. When I was 21 in 1979 I was court martialled by the South African Defence Force for refusing to kill people. My decision not to allow sticks, stones, home-made bombs, guns or armoured trucks onto Church property consummates my crusade for peace. Both times my decision has been costly to me. Earnestly to seek after peace is a costly endeavour. Yet the alternative is even more ghastly. I am profoundly humbled that I have been allowed to bear witness to the truth.
My interpretation of the Gospel is non-violent, for Christ himself embraced non-violence as a principle. As a priest my calling is to seek that justice which is requisite to peace. The church should be a place for peace, for dialogue between differing perspectives. The church is not owned by any faction. Those who recognise the intrinsic dignity of the other, however disparate their opinions, are welcome. For me the recognition of this inherent dignity rests at the heart of my non-violence. Therefore I had carried water to the policeman at the other gate, shortly before being shot.
Our parish has joyfully fed the hungry, street people and students alike, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked and visited the sick. Joyfully we offer liberation to the captives, and when necessary we bury the dead.
As I have said before St Ignatius believed in free quality education and so do I. Though I cannot condone violence and coercion from any side in the current conflict, by firmly putting it on the political agenda students are doing a service to us all. It is not just good for students, in the long term a highly educated society is good for everyone.
The University cannot give us free education, only the government can. All parties to the conflict know this. This should be the basis of a genuine dialogue not violence.