Peace Train Sounding Louder

Actor Martin Sheen on the USD campus.


Peace is a precious commodity. Especially in a time of war and conflict, an act of peace — even on the smallest scale — brings a sense of hope.

“The mandate is to change the world, and that begins with ourselves. If we can change one individual, to make peace with them, it’s very contagious. Once you become comfortable as a peacemaker, it becomes something instinctual because we know very clearly what the alternative is. We see it every day in our streets. What would it be like if gang members could learn to apply conflict resolution without using guns and knives and drive-by killings?”

Martin Sheen, a veteran film and television actor and activist, spoke these words shortly after his appearance at the Oct. 17 inauguration of the University of San Diego’s newest school, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies. Sheen, through an invitation from USD President Mary E. Lyons, brought Hollywood star power to a ceremony featuring the school’s dean, Father William Headley, and Catholic Relief Services President Ken Hackett.

Sheen passionately recited St. Francis of Assisi’s Prayer for Peace, then made note of those who influenced his own activism. The distinguished list included Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker organization; President John F. Kennedy; poet-philosopher Rabindranath Tagore; and spiritual and political leader Mahatma Gandhi. He also condemned the Bush administration’s handling of foreign affairs.

“We’ve moved from legitimate protection to paranoia.” Sheen hastened to add that while those in foreign countries may take issue with the current administration, they don’t transfer those negative feelings to the American people. “I can assure you, they do not look at us the same way they do our government, and that’s a good thing. The more we raise our voices in dissent about what the real American ideal is, against this horrific business coming out of Washington, I think we have a real chance to make changes.”

The estate of the late Joan B. Kroc provided USD with a $50 million gift to create its sixth official school on campus. That gift, however, provides only a foundation for what is truly at stake.

“Peace is too important to be left to international diplomats and presidents negotiating at a mahogany table,” Headley said. “Peace is not a spectator sport. It’s every person’s business.” Since arriving in August, the dean has been inundated with inquiries from people interested in teaching peace-building.

“The potential when something like this goes public is that it generates even more energy,” Headley said. “We can now get down to work. The party’s over. We’re finally here, and now we have to really begin to build this program.”

Hackett, whose organization reaches 99 countries, said Headley is well-qualified to lead and produce the next generation of peacemakers.

“We have great hope for (the school),” Hackett said. “Catholic Relief Services is looking for, as Father Headley mentioned in his (inauguration) speech, ‘an oasis’ we can link with so that people we work with around the world can find a place to step back — a safe place to step back — and search for solutions to their problems.”

“Peace has a way of igniting a great light in the world, and it is because there is so much darkness from the violence and the hatred,” said Sheen. “It’s primarily based on fear and ignorance. There are students here from Sierra Leone, Uganda, Kenya and Palestinian territories. That’s amazing! Can you imagine several Palestinian students coming here with some Israeli students and what their future is going to be? It will not be what it is now. This is a start. Now the great task begins.” — Ryan T. Blystone

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