TIFFIN — Sister Paulette Schroeder of the St. Francis Convent has a goal.
“I’m 68, and before I die, I want to do real ministry in peacemaking with my whole being,” she said.
Schroeder has always had an interest in working towards peace. “I’ve always hated violence,” she said, “but I have chosen to live in violent places in ministry. I lived in the inner city in Indianapolis and Toledo.”
However, at the age of 63, she found the Christian Peacemaker Teams. This group organizes teams to go into areas characterized by violence and war in places around the globe to, according to their website, “build partnerships to transform violence and oppression by seeking to embody an inclusive, ecumenical and diverse community of God’s love.”
After hearing one of their speakers share about her experiences in Palestine, Schroeder knew that she wanted to be more directly involved. In 2005, she asked to go with a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Palestine where they concentrated their efforts in the city of Hebron and the small village of At-Tuwani.
The experience in Palestine was so powerful that Schroeder decided she wanted to do more, so in 2008, she did one-month of non-violence training with Christian Peacemaker Teams. After being assessed and deemed a good candidate, she asked to return to Hebron with another team.
This time, she stayed for three years, but made frequent trips home during that time.
“Our tourist visa only allowed us to stay three months,” Schroeder explained, “We would come back for a month to do advocacy and rest, and then we’d go back for another three months.”
While their visas made it impossible to stay straight through, Schroeder said that coming home helped to keep the team from burnout.
“In high-stress war zones, you are on tip toe the whole time,” she said, “and we were on call all the time, too. That takes a toll.”
The group worked on building relationships with the settlement of Palestinians in the area. They also worked to intercede on the behalf of children and teenagers that had to daily pass Israeli military checkpoints to go to and from school.
“We would stand at the checkpoints every day,” she said. “We would plead for humane treatment for the children, especially the teenage boys who were always suspected of being terrorists.”
When those three years were over, Schroeder knew she wanted to take other groups back to Palestine.
“Right now,” she said, “I’m wanting to lead a delegation there every spring for eight days because once you see something, you don’t forget it.”
Schroeder also fell in love with the Palestinian people and upon her return, has spoken about their difficulties to various groups.
“I spend about 40 percent of my time giving talks and conferences and writing articles,” she explained. “The other 60 percent, I do local proactive peacemaking efforts.”
Schroeder has developed Project Peace to help towns cultivate a mindset of peace. “I believe if we can help one town at a time – every segment – become part of the solution by becoming peacemakers, then we can help transform people’s consciousness. That town can then be an example or model for the next town until violence is no longer an acceptable option.”
In order to do this, she has targeted schools, neighborhoods, agencies, businesses and organizations in towns to educate them about what peace means and encourage them that peace is possible.
“We are trying to create a general atmosphere that peacemaking is important among us at all levels,” she said. “People tend to think of violence as physical acts, but it’s a whole lot more. Do we have a violent mindset?”
To do this, she has gathered an advisory committee, made up of about 30 regular citizens of Tiffin, Toledo and Fostoria, as well as, other sisters. The group has not only gone into various organizations and schools to talk about peace, but they had a peace fair during the summer. They have done peace parades, peace camp and are currently organizing the 5K Peace Run which they hope will get college students involved. In addition, they also do one day non-violence retreats.
Sister Schroeder admits that she does get scoffers that it is possible to have peace in this world. “I like to think like Gandhi,” she said. “He said people thought the same thing about Britain always having control of India. It took organizing themselves and changing the mindset of the people, so they thought independence was possible.”
She said the biggest challenge is to get people to take action. “We can all know something but not act,” she explained. “We’ve become way too comfortable about our responsibilities beyond our own families and churches. Our consciousnesses need to be changed before we can take action, but then we need to do something.”
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