Rose Marie Berger

Senior Associate Editor, Sojourners magazine
Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Rose, a native of the West Coast, lives in Washington, D.C. She has been on Sojourners staff since 1986.

For more than 25 years, Rose has rooted herself with Sojourners magazine and ministry. She is author of Drawn By God: A History of the Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries from 1967 to 1991 (with Janet Gottschalk, 2012) and Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood.

A native of the West Coast, Rose has lived in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. since the mid-1980s. In the course of a 30 plus-year career in faith-based activism, advocacy journalism, and pastoral leadership, she has proven to be a skilled organizer, exceptional writer, visionary pastoral leader, and innovative teacher of biblical literacy.

With Sojourners, Rose has worked as an organizer on peace and environmental issues, internship program director, liturgist, community pastor, poetry editor, and, currently, as a Senior Associate Editor of Sojourners magazine, where she writes a regular column on spirituality and justice. She is responsible for the Living the Word section, poetry, Bible studies, and interviews – and oversees the production of study guides, discussion guides, and the online bible study Preaching the Word. She is also a religion reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a Huffington Post commentator. Her work has appeared in Religion News Service, Radical Grace, The Merton Seasonal, U.S. Catholic, and elsewhere.

Rose has a veteran history in social justice activism, including: organizing inter-religious witness against the Keystone XL pipeline; educating and training groups in nonviolence; leading retreats in spirituality and justice; writing on topics as diverse as the “Spiritual Vision of Van Gogh, O'Keeffe, and Warhol,” the war in the Balkans, interviews with black activists Vincent Harding and Yvonne Delk, the Love Canal's Lois Gibbs, and Mexican archbishop Ruiz, cultural commentary on the Catholic church and the peace movement, reviews of movies, books, and music.

A founding member of a small creative writing group, Rose Berger has taught writing and poetry workshops for children and adults. She’s completed her MFA in poetry through the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Her poetry has been published in Sojourners, The Other Side, Radix and D.C. Poets Against the War.

Rose grew up in the Central Valley of California, located in the rich flood plains of the Sacramento and American rivers. Raised in radical Catholic communities heavily influenced by Franciscans and the Catholic Worker movement, she served for nine years on the pastoral team for Sojourners Community Church; five as its co-pastor. She directed Sojourners internship program from 1990-1999. She is currently Senior Associate Editor and Poetry Editor for Sojourners magazine.

She has traveled throughout the United States, and also in Israel/Palestine, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosova, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and El Salvador visiting primarily with faith communities working for peace in situations of conflict.

Rose’s articles include:

She co-owns a house with Sojourners Senior Associate Editor Julie Polter in the Southern Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and shares it with Rose’s retriever “Juba.”

Posts By This Author

An Abundance of Cultural Differences

by Rose Marie Berger 10-26-2016
Catholics from different parts of the world have widely divergent experiences and contrasting approaches to “just war.”
Awe Inspiring Images / Shutterstock.com

Awe Inspiring Images / Shutterstock.com

'WE CAN JOYFULLY anticipate an abundance of cultural differences and varied life experiences among the participants in the Rome Conference,” wrote Pope Francis in his welcome letter to the Nonviolence and Just Peace gathering in Rome, “and these will only enhance the exchanges and contribute to the renewal of the active witness of nonviolence as a ‘weapon’ to achieve peace.”

Nowhere were the “cultural differences” and “varied life experiences” more conspicuous than in the conversation about whether there is ever a Christian justification for armed force.

U.S. and Western European academics are thoroughly trained in the theory, theology, and application of just war theory. It’s taught in U.S. and European seminaries. It’s taught in all military academies. It provides a framework for international law.

In stark contrast, Catholics living in Iraq, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan, Syria, Congo, Sri Lanka, and other war-torn countries are not schooled in just war philosophy. It is not part of training for priests or academics or those in political life. When people from war-ravaged regions talk about “just war,” they speak from the experience of having been on the receiving end of “morally acceptable” drone strikes. They make a powerful argument for a paradigm shift away from just war thinking.

In regions of civil unrest, some said, where religious extremism is used as propaganda to advance partisan military and political objectives, even associating the language of “just war” with Catholicism can categorize Catholics as “combatants.”

In the case of Colombia’s brutal, 52-year-long civil war, Jesuit priest Francisco De Roux described how just war teaching misled Catholics into taking up arms. “In my Catholic country,” said De Roux, “our nuns and priests join the guerillas because of the just war paradigm. The Catholic paramilitaries pray to the Virgin before slaughtering people because of the just war paradigm.”

Game Changer?

by Rose Marie Berger 10-26-2016
What if 1.2 billion Catholics embraced gospel nonviolence?

“JUST WAR IS KILLING US! There is no just war.”

That proclamation by a Catholic sister from Iraq, and others like it, resounded at a Vatican gathering this spring and fell on surprisingly receptive ears.

Sister Nazik Matty, an Iraqi Dominican, joined others from around the world in Rome in April to wrestle with how the Catholic Church could “recommit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence.” She has watched members of her religious community die for lack of medical care during war.

“Which of the wars we have been in is a just war?” asked Sister Matty, who was driven from her home in Mosul by ISIS, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh. “In my country, there was no just war. War is the mother of ignorance, isolation, and poverty. Please tell the world there is no such thing as a just war. I say this as a daughter of war.”

The Rome gathering on Nonviolence and Just Peace was unprecedented, bringing together members of the church hierarchy with social scientists, theologians, practitioners of nonviolence, diplomats, and unarmed civilian peacekeepers to discuss Catholic nonviolence and whether in the contemporary world armed force can ever be justified.

Of course, with such diverse participants, there was not a common mind on whether just war theory, a doctrine of military ethics used by Catholic theologians, has outlived its usefulness as church teaching.

Some of the academics and diplomats—particularly from the United States and Western Europe—maintained that just war criteria, when properly applied, are useful when working within halls of power, from the Pentagon to the United Nations, for restraining excessive use of military force by a state. One participant cautioned against “broad condemnations of just war tradition, if it means closing off dialogue with our allies.” Another questioned how diplomacy could continue without the just war framework as its common language.

But Catholics who came to Rome from conflict zones—Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Colombia, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Uganda—brought a different perspective.

Piracy and Puritanism at Wells Fargo

by Rose Marie Berger 10-25-2016
Advent is a time to push back against “the data of despair,” a time to take actions that generate “narratives of hope.”
Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

I OPENED MY first savings account at Wells Fargo in Sacramento, Calif., when I was 8 years old. I remember the bronze stagecoach penny bank they gave me to help me practice saving. When I moved to Washington, D.C., I put my money into a D.C.-based bank, soon bought out by Wells Fargo. But it wasn’t the same Wells Fargo I’d grown up with.

In 2012, the Justice Department found Wells Fargo guilty of discriminating against both African-American and Latino borrowers during the subprime mortgage heist. It’s one of the top two banks invested in the Corrections Corporation of America, which is one of the largest for-profit prison companies in the U.S. In 2015, Wells Fargo was the world’s largest bank.

This fall, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who abruptly resigned in October, was called before a congressional investigative committee to answer accusations that thousands of Wells Fargo employees secretly opened 2 million fraudulent accounts without customers’ permission or knowledge, and were incentivized by the company to do so. Employees opened false banking and credit card accounts, transferred funds, and created phony access codes and email addresses. “The frauds violate federal and state statutes against bank fraud and identity theft,” William K. Black Jr., white-collar criminologist and cofounder of Bank Whistleblowers United, told Sojourners. Customers incurred charges and fines; in some cases, their credit ratings were damaged.

CEO Stumpf accepted “full responsibility for all unethical sales practices in our retail banking business.” (John Steinbeck once called this kind of thing a successful combination of “piracy and puritanism.”)

Wells Fargo claims that it has fired 5,300 people since 2011 related to these practices, but details are vague; the fraud investigators were hired by Wells Fargo. We don’t know how many were fired because they couldn’t fulfill the extortionate sales quotas.

A Prayer for Haiti

by Rose Marie Berger 10-12-2016

Photo provided by Ginette Thomas

As for us, Lord, we who are far away from the rubble and the flood,
from the sobbing and moans, but who hold them close in our hearts,
imbue us with the strength of Simon the Cyrene.

Mary Cosby, Cofounder of the Landmark Church of the Saviour, Dies at 93

by Rose Marie Berger 07-07-2016

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

Mary Campbell Cosby, cofounder of the Church of the Saviour movement she launched with her husband and partner Rev. N. Gordon Cosby in the 1940s, died this week in Washington, D.C. She was 93 years old.

News of her passing spread quickly on July 3. Kayla McClurg sent an email to family and friends saying, “I am writing to let you know that our dear Mary Cosby passed away very gently and suddenly this afternoon at Christ House.”

Making the Crooked Way Straight

by Rose Marie Berger 06-30-2016
Dan Berrigan spent a lifetime standing against the hubris of policymakers - and religious leaders - who had lost their way.
Bob Fitch / Stanford University Libraries

Bob Fitch / Stanford University Libraries

On April 30, 2016, Catholic peacemaker and activist Daniel Berrigan entered life eternal. He was a teacher and friend to many in the Sojourners community. Read more reflections on Dan's life and legacy in the August 2016 issue

"VIOLENCE ONLY EXISTS with the help of the lie!”

With these words Father Daniel Berrigan and I sealed our fate. It was summer 1995. August 6. We’d been invited to read at the Washington National Cathedral’s service commemorating the 50th year since the U.S. used atomic weapons on civilians in Japan.

The cathedral was full. I was supposed to read an adaptation from Thomas Merton’s scathing indictment of U.S. militarism, the poem “Original Child Bomb.” Dan was slated to read from Soviet-resister Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize lecture and from Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest who exchanged his life for a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz.

Minutes before the liturgy began, a member of the cathedral staff told us there was a change in the readings. Thomas Merton was too controversial; I should read from Deuteronomy. Dan should also read from scripture instead of from Solzhenitsyn and Kolbe.

Should I Care More When a Christian is Killed?

by Rose Marie Berger 06-07-2016
Religion is rarely the only issue involved in persecution.
Elena Dijour / Shutterstock

Elena Dijour / Shutterstock

THE BASILICA OF St. Bartholomew on the Island in Rome holds the bones of the apostle St. Bartholomew, who delivered the gospel of Matthew to India, southern Arabia, and Syria. Spreading the seditious good news eventually got him killed—crucified upside down in Baku, capital of modern Azerbaijan. Bartholomew proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus until the soldiers cut off his head.

In 1999, this church nestled on an island in the Tiber River was dedicated to modern Christian martyrs. Entering its cool interior, one can walk a global Via Dolorosa—each side altar is dedicated to parts of the world where Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox have been killed for their faith.

The relics include a letter from Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian farmer beheaded for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army, and the missal of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero left on the altar when he was assassinated during Mass in 1980.

Christians today fall out over Christian martyrs and persecution in a right/left divide. We fight about numbers. In 2015, Christian Freedom International released an often repeated statistic suggesting that Christians are “martyred for their faith every five minutes.” This has been widely debunked. But it raises questions about definitions, methodologies, and theological perspectives.

Thomas Schirrmacher directs the International Institute for Religious Freedom, which runs a research project with several universities to measure Christian persecution. He estimates that there are 7,000 to 8,000 Christian martyrs each year, a number that roughly matches the Open Doors World Watch List, which reported 7,106 Christians killed in 2015, an increase over previous years and far less than one Christian every five minutes.

The Catholicism That Made Pope Francis Possible

by Rose Marie Berger 05-05-2016

In 1963, this was the Catholicism I was baptized into: courageous, resistant, self-sacrificing, street-oriented, thoroughly immersed in the living public liturgy grounded in the experiences of those who suffer—especially those who suffer by the design of others. This is the 20th century Catholicism of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Thomas Merton, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, the Berrigans, Elizabeth McAlister, Antona Ebo, and many others. This is the Catholicism that helped make a person like Pope Francis possible.

Congolese Priest Fighting Coltan Mining Assassinated

by Rose Marie Berger 03-28-2016
Father Vincent Machozi

Father Vincent Machozi. Photo courtesy Augustinians of the Assumption.

Father Vincent Machozi, an Assumptionist Catholic priest who led the fight against the extractive industries and in support of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was assassinated on Sunday night, March 20, when members of Congolese military disrupted a peacemaking retreat at a village in Beni and murdered him in a hail of bullets. According to reports, onlookers said Fr. Machozi’s last words were: “Why are you killing me?”

Remembering Scenes from a Massacre as 'Butcher of Bosnia' Convicted of Genocide

by Rose Marie Berger 03-24-2016

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, his wife and bodyguard attend church services in Pale, Bosnia in 1993. Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

As I watched the presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon read the verdict — for a full 58 minutes — it all came back to me. In 1996 and in 1999, I traveled in and out of the war zones in Bosnia. The hand-dug graves in the soccer field. The reports of Muslim massacres; of whole villages forced into a school gym and burned alive; the small hotel where we stayed that was also housing skeletal refugees recently released from a Serb concentration camp; the dogs with blown-off paws; the underground bakery distributing bread at the risk of their lives. And most of all “Sniper Alley” in downtown Sarajevo and the Serb soldier who showed me his sniper nest on Serb-held Mt. Jajolina and pointed his rifle at the place where I was staying.

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