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Peace Week calls all to love

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Literary characters – from Vicky Austin to Aloysha Karamazov to Jean Valjean – have been hallmarks in my intellectual and ideological development. Jean Valjean and the whole story of Les Misérables, in particular, has greatly impacted my thoughts since I first saw the musical version in London in the summer of 2000. There are many great dichotomies that Victor Hugo draws in his famous novel, one of which is the impact of Jean Valjean’s life and the non-impact of the revolutionaries. Despite their best efforts to change society to be more just through violent means, the revolutionaries of the ABC café end up bringing destruction to the streets of Paris that leads only to their own deaths. On the other hand, Jean Valjean, after his conversion, brings the love that he encountered through the actions of the Bishop to all those he meets. This radical love is transformative in the lives of others and, consequently, in the culture. This love, contrary to the emotional love espoused by our culture, is self-sacrificial action. It is a catalyst for change in a way that no violent revolution can even aspire to be.

What is so powerful about Jean Valjean’s self-giving love is that it is an echo of an even greater love – Christ’s. Christ failed to live up to the Messianic hopes of many ancient Jews, who expected the Messiah to come and free them from the political oppression they experienced at the hands of the Romans. This sort of political oppression and worse stamped the 20th century, marking it as one of the most violent centuries in history. Many of those who longed for peace and freedom strived for it in the mode of Jean Valjean and Christ. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Polish Solidarity Party are all well-known examples. Others, like the Chilean transition from dictatorship to democracy are less familiar. John Paul II traveled to Chile near the end of Augusto Pinochet’s violent regime, when many were tired of working non-violently towards democracy. In the Chilean national stadium, where many Chileans were taken and held in the early years of the dictatorship, John Paul II ended his speech with the bone-chilling words, “El amor es más fuerte, paz es más fuerte,” (Love is stronger, peace is stronger). Christ’s love is truly stronger, stronger even than death. While the Chileans nonviolently overthrew an oppressive political regime, Christ did much more – he freed us from death. As Christians, we are called to model our lives after Christ’s – and this includes cultivating his peace and love in our hearts and lives, taking seriously his call to turn the other cheek. When Christ’s love and peace are at the heart of nonviolent resistance, we can truly hope for change in our culture and in our world. War and violence are means for overcoming oppression for those who do not have faith in the resurrection. For those of us who place our hope in Christ, we must use his means to work toward chance. In this week of peace, I urge all of you to grow closer to Christ through prayer and the sacraments, for we as we grow closer to Christ we are able to cultivate his peace and love in our own hearts and lives. I urge you to then share this peace and love with those around you. In this way, your love, like Jean Valjean’s life, will begin to transform our culture. Most of all, I urge you to have faith that the love, the love that conquered death, truly is stronger.

Anamaría Scaperlanda-RuizjuniorHoward hallFeb. 21