Blase Bonpane a Mighty Voice for Fundamental Change

Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society Onion

(The "Onion" where the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society holds services)

Enthusiastic activist, former Jesuit priest, Director of Office of the Americas, and author of "Imagine No Religion", Blase Bonpane, spoke today at the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society morning service. He began by singing in his persuasive mellow voice:

"Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before. I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war. I dreamed I saw a mighty room. The room was filled with men. And the paper they were signing said they'd never fight again.

And when the papers all were signed and a million copies made. They all joined hands and bowed their heads and grateful prayers were prayed. And the people in the streets below were dancing round and round. And guns and swords and uniforms were scattered on the ground. Last night I had the strangest dream I ever dreamed before. I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war"

Setting that tone of his prophetic wisdom, so much a part of his life’s work, he guided the congregation at the "Onion", with his vision of how our present political system has failed to deliver the most essential values of an intelligent caring society dedicated to a better world. Instead we have become the world's terrorist in leading the number of killings of human beings since World War II.

We stand 34 in the world on how a country treats our children and 43 in the truth of our publication of the news. He emphasized that you can judge the values of a country by how they treat their children. He demolished our pompous claim to exceptionalism based more on religious faith than fact.

He reminded me of why I came to the Onion in 1983 when I wanted to find a church that was involved in the peace movement, and had a youth program to bring to ours 2, 5, and 9 for an outside caring influence. I had noticed members of Unitarian Churches were strong activists for the United Farm Workers when I worked as an attorney for Cesar Chavez, and this was the closest UU Church in Sepulveda only five miles from our home.

Farley Wheelwright led the congregation in rousing sermons on peace, social justice, and protests against nuclear weapons at Rockwell and other defense oriented corporations. He often dedicated sermons to the ravaging of Nicaragua, Guatemala, and other locations by our CIA sponsored terror and support of ruthless dictators. An Onion parishioner, Nick Sedita, led the congregation and others in the nationwide nuclear freeze movement. I became chair of the Social Concerns Committee and my wife was in charge of “religious education” where our children learned to appreciate nature, peace, music, and respected people of different races and cultures.

Bonpane lived and worked with the realities of liberation theology for more than a quarter of a century. In his book, Guerrillas of Peace, he takes the reader from the high country of Huehuetenango in Guatemala to intensive grass roots organizing in the United States. He shows that we cannot renew the face of the earth and coexist with the torturing, murdering governments of Guatemala and El Salvador, and their accomplices in Washington.

In his sermon he urged us to understand that a new person has to be formed to make our world the place we want to raise our children and live fully. This revolutionary person insists that human values be applied to government. That leads to a remarkable and necessary conclusion...children should not be free to die of malnutrition, no one should be allowed to die of polio or malaria, women should not be free to be prostitutes, no one should be illiterate. The loss of these freedoms is essential for a people to make their own history. This is the Theology of Liberation, the kind of theology that made the early Church an immediate threat to the Roman Empire.

He reminded us of Eleanor Roosevelt’s statement of basic human rights that includes health care, and education as a requirement of a developed country. So far behind on this is the United States as well as many other countries, we see college students burdened with $90,000 in education costs that maybe the government will allow a lower interest rate on when a developed country should provide the education as a basic human right like health care at no cost.

On the environment Bonpane reminds us our oceans contain an area as large as Texas filled with plastic bottles that have come to rest there. Instead our country keeps relying on nuclear power when no one knows what to do with the enormous radioactive waste. The air we breathe and water we drink is not just for America that represents only 4% of the world, but for everyone so we must learn to work together with all nations despite our differences.

We can’t allow the Lockheeds of the Military Industrial Complex to continue to reap the benefits of a trillion dollars set aside for nuclear weapon improvements on the 2014 models with these disparities facing us. On the positive side recently a huge union movement in New York that attracted hundreds of thousands of marchers demanded wage increases to $15/ hour and an anti-war movement including veterans is gaining momentum and has actions to bring attention to the peace movement so necessary to gather international support.

To think that in Yemen we have provided drones to the Saudi dictatorship to attack the Houthis who are fighting our enemy Al Qaeda is madness. 23 years of war with Iraq, sending our troops there and killing them as well as those in the area has only increased the hatred for the US Military and shows our foreign policy is not working. We must challenge all these developments with all our energy or we will not have a planet for our children that is fit for human life.

Bonpane, former Maryknoll priest and superior, was assigned to, and expelled from, Central America. UCLA professor, contributor to the L.A. Times, N.Y. Times, commentator on KPFK, and author of many publications, he is currently Director of the Office of the Americas, a broad-based educational foundation dedicated to peace and justice in this hemisphere.

Blase is a vanguard practitioner of liberation theology and a former Maryknoll priest. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council 1962-1965 many religious people, especially those serving in Latin America, began to understand a spirituality that transcended sectarianism. Having come from an upwardly mobile Italian American family marked by Southern Italian anti-clericalism, Blase was accustomed to hearing his parents express real differences with their institutional church.

He served in Guatemala during a violent revolution and was expelled for “subversion.” After receiving a gag order from the Church, which he could not in good conscience accept, Blase met with the editorial board of the Washington Post and released all of the material he had regarding the U.S. military presence in Guatemala. This action led to his separation from the Maryknoll Fathers.

Blase accepted a teaching post at UCLA. While serving in academia, he met the former Maryknoll Sister Theresa Killeen, who had served in Southern Chile. They married in 1970. Their adventures include working directly with Cesar Chavez at his headquarters in La Paz, California, building solidarity with the Central American Revolution, forming the Office of the Americas, working in the forefront of the international movement for justice and peace, and raising two children.

Bonpane also worked on the ground for international peace in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, Japan and Iraq. He led the U.S. contingent of the International March for Peace in Central America from Panama to Mexico in 1985-1986.

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