Sister Paulette Schroeder, who just completed a 3-year stint as a Christian Peacemaker in the Holy Land, is back at St. Francis Convent in Tiffin, but she is not ready to stop working for peace. She and a group of diverse people have put together something called Project Peace. She described its origins, vision, mission and planned activities for the coming months.
The group's ultimate vision comes from "imagining a world without war" and forming a group of people dedicated to peacemaking through nonviolent means. Nonviolence training for individuals is being arranged. Josie Setzler, who has received formal training in non-violent techniques, has agreed to be the instructor.
Creating a "culture of peace" can begin at the personal level and expand to cover the global community. Schroeder said the efforts will start with individuals recognizing their own attitudes on justice issues and actions they would be willing to take.
"Everything is connected, so what I do personally affects everything on the outside of me," she said. "If it's possible for me to become actively non-violent, then it is possible for larger groups and eventually for the world. Our dream takes flesh in little ways and then we nick away at the larger ways."
Just raising the issues and coming together to discuss them can generate ideas for constructive action rather than destructive deeds, Schroeder said. The Peace Project would encourage changes at the neighborhood and community levels to improve the lives of local citizens. This might involve volunteering time or money to assist them or contacting local officials for action.
Schroeder alluded to the protests being staged around the country by citizens demanding more "rights," such as jobs, pensions, lower taxes, health care and better schools. She contends these actions do reveal the public's concerns, but the demonstrations may not result in any positive solutions.
"The inequalities are so huge," Schroeder said. "Lots of us have the awareness, but we feel helpless."
Working to eliminate war is a huge undertaking. Because of the terrorist attacks and the wars the U.S. is waging, the majority of Americans do not have favorable attitudes toward Arabs.
Schroeder said it hurts her to think Americans harbor hatred for people she considers her friends. Having lived among the Palestinians, she has witnessed the oppressive conditions under which they live.
"I have three young teenage boys who are friends ... every morning, they come through that checkpoint, and invariably, they are stopped every morning and back-pack searched. They're on their way to school, so they're detained, which makes them late for school. Then they have to go through two more checkpoints before they get there," Schroeder said.
If they show any resentment or resistance, the delays can last longer. Sometimes, they must remain silent as a younger sibling, a grandfather or parent is mistreated. Schroeder said the treatment these boys endure daily is typical for all Palestinian youth. They must constantly "stuff" their emotions to get through the day.
Even more serious are the demolition of dwellings and businesses, travel restrictions, confiscations and constant humiliation.
"The old people who have lived through so much have to take this from 18- and 19-year-old kids," Schroeder said. "People do not understand the normal daily life of a person under occupation."
She also would like young members of Israel's military not to be placed in precarious positions following orders that ignore basic human rights. Soldiers who bend the rules are punished if reported and may lose their right to a college education. Their orders may include unreasonable detainments, blindfolding, handcuffing of children, and searching women's purses and children's pencil pouches, in the name of "security."
Israel is an ally of the United States, but these harsh Israeli practices are not widely reported to the American public, whose tax dollars are used to aid Israel.
"I have a passion to see the Palestinians free. When I lived with them for three years, I fell in love with them," Schroeder said. "I want them to live as free as we are free, to enjoy life and not have to worry about their family doing normal little things like taking a walk, because the soldiers would probably stop them."
A better understanding of Islam is another goal of Project Peace. Schroeder hopes to have a workshop and bring in a speaker or presentation to shed more light on the beliefs and traditions of that faith. She is looking for university classes that will allow her to share her observations and experiences. Also, she is willing to speak to church groups and civic organizations. She has a list of 60 clergy to contact in hopes of breaking barriers and opening discussion on such issues.
"So far, I've given talks in all kinds of churches," Schroeder said.
In the Diocese of Toledo, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith is trying to launch the Jericho Project that would involve students at diocesan schools to form relationships with students in a sister parish in Jericho.
Each spring, Schroeder wants to organize a trip to the Holy Land for Americans to visit shrines and meet with some of the Palestinian citizens to get a first-hand look at their lifestyles and traditions. The first trip is to be an eight-day trip in April 2012.
In the summer, the Peace Project would sponsor a Peace Camp for children. Schroeder said Bridges Academy has expressed interest in doing hands-on community service projects to "help people walk through boundaries that have been set up in neighborhoods, churches and schools."
"My dream is that someday, anyone who comes to Tiffin will see a sign that says, 'Welcome to Tiffin, a city known for its education, and for its peacemaking,'" Schroeder said.
Anyone interested should leave a message for Schroeder at the convent, (419) 447-0435.