'Free At Last' Christian Peacemakers Freed
Sojomail - March 23, 2006
The staff of Sojourners rejoices at the news that Jim Loney, Harmeet Sooden, and Norman Kember - members of Christian Peacemaker Teams who have been held captive in Iraq for nearly four months - have been freed today.
We also now enter fully into our grief for fourth team member Tom Fox, who was found dead near Baghdad on March 10.
As we celebrate the freedom of our brothers and pray for their return to health and life, we pledge to continue working on behalf of the unnamed tens of thousands of Iraqi dead, disappeared, detained, and tortured. Christ is present in their suffering (Matthew 25).
- The Editors
CPT rejoices in the rescue of our peacemakersby Doug Pritchard and Carol Rose
Our hearts are filled with joy today as we heard that Harmeet Singh Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember have been safely released in Baghdad. Christian Peacemaker Teams rejoices with their families and friends at the expectation of their return to their loved ones and community. Together we have endured uncertainty, hope, fear, grief and now joy during the four months since they were abducted in Baghdad.
We rejoice in the return of Harmeet Sooden. He has been willing to put his life on the line to promote justice in Iraq and Palestine as a young man newly committed to active peacemaking.
We rejoice in the return of Jim Loney. He has cared for the marginalized and oppressed since childhood, and his gentle, passionate spirit has been an inspiration to people near and far.
We rejoice in the return of Norman Kember. He is a faithful man, an elder and mentor to many in his 50 years of peacemaking, a man prepared to pay the cost.
We remember with tears Tom Fox, whose body was found in Baghdad on March 9, 2006, after three months of captivity with his fellow peacemakers. We had longed for the day when all four men would be released together. Our gladness today is made bittersweet by the fact that Tom is not alive to join in the celebration. However, we are confident that his spirit is very much present in each reunion.
Harmeet, Jim and Norman and Tom were in Iraq to learn of the struggles facing the people in that country. They went, motivated by a passion for justice and peace to live out a nonviolent alternative in a nation wracked by armed conflict. They knew that their only protection was in the power of the love of God and of their Iraqi and international co-workers. We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq. The occupation must end.
Today, in the face of this joyful news, our faith compels us to love our enemies even when they have committed acts which caused great hardship to our friends and sorrow to their families. In the spirit of the prophetic nonviolence that motivated Jim, Norman, Harmeet and Tom to go to Iraq, we refuse to yield to a spirit of vengeance. We give thanks for the compassionate God who granted our friends courage and who sustained their spirits over the past months. We pray for strength and courage for ourselves so that, together, we can continue the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace.
Throughout these difficult months, we have been heartened by messages of concern for our four colleagues from all over the world. We have been especially moved by the gracious outpouring of support from Muslim brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Europe, and North America. That support continues to come to us day after day. We pray that Christians throughout the world will, in the same spirit, call for justice and for respect for the human rights of the thousands of Iraqis who are being detained illegally by the U.S. and British forces occupying Iraq.
During these past months, we have tasted of the pain that has been the daily bread of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Why have our loved ones been taken? Where are they being held? Under what conditions? How are they? Will they be released? When?
With Tom's death, we felt the grief of losing a beloved friend. Today, we rejoice in the release of our friends Harmeet, Jim and Norman. We continue to pray for a swift and joyful homecoming for the many Iraqis and internationals who long to be reunited with their families. We renew our commitment to work for an end to the war and the occupation of Iraq as a way to continue the witness of Tom Fox. We trust in God's compassionate love to show us the way.
Living through the many emotions of this day, we remain committed to the words of Jim Loney, who wrote:
"With God's abiding kindness, we will love even our enemies.
With the love of Christ, we will resist all evil.
With God's unending faithfulness, we will work to build the beloved community."
Doug Pritchard and Carol Rose are co-directors of Christian Peacemaker Teams.
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'Free at Last'by Rose Marie Berger
I woke at 5:30 a.m. to the news on the BBC that the remaining three Christian Peacemakers held captive in Iraq and finally been released. I knelt by the side of my bed and wept - with the joy of liberation and the grief of the suffering these brothers have endured for the sake of the cross.
For nearly four months, as a global community, we have prayed our way down this via dolorosa. We have prayed for Jim Loney, Norman Kember, Harmeet Sooden, and Tom Fox's safety and protection. We have prayed for the state of the soul of their captors. We have mourned and cried out to God when Tom's broken body was found on the airport road in Baghdad. We have prayed and labored for the thousands of detained, disappeared, kidnapped, abused and tortured Iraqis. And now, we break our Lenten fast from the resurrection word, and say "Alleluia! Alleluia! Our brothers are free at last!"
As the news of their experience unfolds it will no doubt be controversial that the release of these pacifists was catalyzed by a multi-national military force. No doubt, some will use it as proof that Christian nonviolence and unarmed peacemaking are a fool's errand. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Christian Peacemaker Teams have done more to advance "liberty and justice for all" without ever wielding a weapon than all our "shock and awe" campaigns.
Every Christian is charged with resisting evil, but none are given the right to kill. Jesus did not kill anyone, nor threaten to kill anyone if they didn't follow his command. His strength and persuasion were in his spiritual authority, not in the weapon.
The "peace" that comes through military action is a weak creature that develops through submission and fear, not the deep peace of Christ rooted in righteousness and justice. Conversely, "sword of righteousness" wielded by the Christian peacemaker is a metaphor for the Word of God that cuts through the gauze of worldly custom; a sword to prick the conscience; a choice that must be made to take up the cross of Christ.
We pray for the soldiers who risked their lives to free Jim, Norman, and Harmeet. We give thanks to God that, through excellent intelligence work and skilled operations, they manifested an unprecedented respect for CPT's commitment to nonviolence by rescuing them without a shot being fired and without injury to any parties. Like the soldier in Matthew 8: 5-13, they too were able to participate in the moment of God's liberation. We pray that they will be convicted by the spiritual authority of these brave Christian peacemakers and with the wisdom and knowledge of Christ who said "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
It would be easy to pit the peacemaker against the soldier - but it would be wrong to do so. There are soldiers who serve "the least of these" in Iraq. It was an unknown American soldier who decided to drape Tom Fox's casket with a flag to honor his sacrifice. And there are peacemakers who thrive more on their own anger, self-righteousness, and personal purity, than on authentic deeply rooted sacrificial love.
"In the Exodus-Sinai tradition," writes black liberation theologian James Cone, "Yahweh is disclosed as the God of history, whose revelation is identical with [God's] power to liberate the oppressed. There is no knowledge of Yahweh except through [God's] political activity on behalf of the weak and the helpless of the land."
We rejoice that our brothers have been "brought out" of and liberated from their captivity by the God of history - working through our human capacities. We celebrate with their families, loved ones, and colleagues around the world. We give thanks for all those who risked their lives to speak out on behalf of the Christian peacemakers - especially those in the Muslim world. Now, also, we are free to grieve completely for Tom Fox, who laid down his life for his friends.
We revel in our knowledge of a God who "acts on behalf of the weak and the helpless of the land" - a living God of history. It is this living God that gives us the strength and commitment to continue advocating for the the estimated 14,000 Iraqis held in prison by Coalition, Multi-National and Iraqi forces, of whom, according to Coalition intelligence officers, "between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake."
Jim, Harmeet, and Norman: Welcome home.
Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor of Sojourners, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.
Breaking reports on the CPT release
Details are still coming in, here's what is known so far:
*All three men are in relatively good condition.
*They were freed in an intelligence-led operation spearheaded by British troops.
*The operation to free the captives was based on information from a man captured by U.S. forces only three hours earlier.
*None of the captors were present, no shots were fired and no one was injured.
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