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Disarmament Learning--A Story of Fr. Louis Vitale, OFM


The man in front of me had been a monk for fifty years or more, head of his religious order for a time. Bald in the classic Franciscan way, a crown of white hair. In the courtroom Louis Vitale was admitted to give a statement, having declared himself guilty of trespass. The room waited, two dozen or more in the gallery, the Judge in his first year assuming these cases from the local military base, looked on. Behind him a portrait, the Henry Clay of the great Compromise of 1850, serene as if stepping off a mare on a ride past the plantation willows. The councilor beside me had taken to farming, in his quasi-retirement, the sweltering years seeking relief for those on death row, concluding with some successes due to the advent of DNA samples cracking open cases long since closed. This was not our turn, but as co-conspirators, I stood waiting for my case to be called. Fr. Louie would be brief.

"I once flew in the Air Force," he began, "then they sent me to shoot down a plane coming toward us into Canadian Arctic airspace. Had I shot the plane as I was trained to do that day, I would have brought down over two hundred passengers. Instead I made a call that could only have been God's, when I dipped my wing and made the fly by."

It had come to that, such high tensions between U.S.S.R. and the U.S., while expert technology still had such confidence. Radar imagery told the chain-of-command this was a nuclear threat. The lowest-man, by a swift gut decision, happened to second-guess his commanding officer.

Today, we mark one month since the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went into force January 22, 2021. Signed by 122 countries, as a result, according to Dr. Joseph Gerson, an increased pressure may turn back to the nuclear-weapon states: the U.S. may not transport its nuclear weapons through their sovereign territory, nor dock in their harbors. The treaty was a fitting setting sun for Dr. Bernard  Lown, founder of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, to witness before he died last Tuesday. 

Turning to prayer, it is with awe. Ignatius, in The Spiritual Exercises advised preparation. Awe, gratitude, these may not mechanically be as a light flipped on. We may in a sense look for them, in another sense, tend them with the work of our hands. The work, prayer balance is a circular lesson. An imitation of the cycles of nature. Thus, Thomas Merton advised, "work in the fields, in the rain, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind. These are our spiritual directors...."

Imagine God in this way, suggests Christine Valters Painter, "The elements of water, wind, earth and fire offer us wisdom and guidance. They are our original soul Merton reminds us, it is our embodied engagement with the world that reinvigorates our connection to the earth."

Few of us are pilots of course, but to imagine the air with John Fulton in More Than Enough, "I began to picture myself in an oxygen mask and goggles in the cockpit of a fighter jet. I was very careful about it, trying to see all the details--the unimaginably complex panel of switches, levers, and dials in front of me over which, as a military pilot, I would have complete understanding and mastery, of course. I'd be doing twenty Gs very easily, holding something like a large joystick between my legs and blasting right over the mountains. The snowy bald peaks rushed by below me as I left the Salt Lake valley behind, hurtling west at Mach speed, nothing but mountains and an empty, endless stretch of land in front of me. I crossed the deserts of Nevada, the Mohave, and Death Valley...."

In gratitude for hearts rendered to God. Thanks giving for the transformation of Fr. Louie. Thanks giving to the Kings Bay Seven, Clare, Carmen, Steve, Patrick & Martha in jail; and for the life and inspiration of so many peace activists. Yesterday we prayed especially for Sr. Dianna Ortiz. Today for Dr. Bernard Lown. They and the virtues or graces they responded to you, O God. We wish for ourselves the relish and consolation that in their long-lived for aspiration, now at last find completely satisfied with you in your Kingdom.

Make us aware of the rhythms of the world around us so that we may defend the soil, the water, the air, and let the flame of your faith spread forth our imagination unto your peace. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, the Disrupter, the Redeemer, Amen.


Last Summer I had an excellent experience with the following presenters learning more in-depth about nuclear weapons--though I would add to their curriculum the following A World Free from Nuclear Weapons: The Vatican Conference on Disarmament. edited by Drew Christiansen, SJ and Carole Sargeant. Including Address by Pope Francis and contributions by Seven Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2020.


Join the 4-session course . from Late February to mid-March 2021 (your choice of Tuesday evenings at 5pm/8pm EST or Saturday mornings at 10am/1pm EST

Topics include:

the evolution of science that led to nuclear weapons

how nuclear weapons--and the policies for using them--have changed

impacts of nuclear weapons testing on innocent people

international efforts to prevent nuclear war

our own feelings and values related to nuclear weapons

the power of nonviolent resistance

Presenters are volunteers who offer this course for FREE:

Glen Anderson is chair of the Olympia, WA Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (OCANW)

Mark Fleming is the secretary of the Rachel Corrie Chapter #109 of the Veterans for Peace in Olympia, WA

James Manista is a peace activist who faced federal charges for resisting the Trident Nuclear submarine

Joanne Dufour has extensive experience with nuclear weapons, international humanitarian law

send Joanne Dufour an e-mail to with this subject line: OCANW course on Nuclear Weapons.



Kings Bay Plowshares 7 <>. 

Physicians for Social Responsibility <>.

John Fulton, More Than Enough. New York: Picador, 2002. 145.

Christine Valters Painter, "Earth as Soul Care Matrix: The Wild Heart of Spiritual Direction" in Presence (v.23, #2, June 2017).

Joseph Gerson, "The Promise of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons" <> accessed 22 Feb. 2021.


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