John Dear doesn’t build or design agricultural equipment, but he did attempt to “beat swords into plowshares” by hammering on an F15 nuclear fighter bomber at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C.
It landed him in jail for seven months, one of about 80 times he has been arrested in his three- decade-long quest for peace. Dear, a Jesuit priest, has been named this year’s recipient of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.
The award, which will be presented Oct. 31 at Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University, Davenport, is presented by the Pacem in Terris Coalition. The coalition includes the Catholic Diocese of Davenport, St. Ambrose, Augustana College in Rock Island, Churches United of the Quad-City Area, the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, the Catholic Messenger newspaper, Pax Christi Quad-Cities and Bridges of Faith.
Dear said he hopes he will be able to come to the Quad-Cities to accept the award, but added he could be in jail again.
“A year ago, 14 of us, including a number of priests and nuns, walked onto Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, headquarters of the drone program,” Dear said. “We walked on with roses and knelt down and prayed. They almost opened fire on us, they arrested us and put us in jail.
“The future is not the drones. We need to abolish these evil weapons and pursue nonviolent ways to resolve international conflict.”
Dear said he is unclear of the charges being brought against him, but said the trial begins Sept. 14. “I’m expecting to be in Iowa to accept the award, but you never know with these kinds of things.”
It’s all par for the course for Dear, who said he either has been jailed or awaiting trial “constantly” since 1984. “I’m a full-fledged ex-con. I can never vote again. I cannot travel to several countries. I am monitored and followed closely by the government. The government considers me a terrorist.”
On Dec. 7, 1993, he walked onto Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C. He took out a hammer and whacked an F15 nuclear fighter bomber in an effort to “beat swords into plowshares,” quoting the biblical version of the prophet Isaiah.
The incident landed him in a jail cell with Phil Berrigan, a nationally known peace activist and former Roman Catholic priest. At that time, Dear and Berrigan received a letter from Berrigan’s brother, Daniel Berrigan, also a peace activist. The letter informed them that Daniel Berrigan had been selected as the Pacem in Terris award winner for 1993.
Dear said he has met about half of the previous Pacem in Terris winners, including Mother Theresa, Cesar Chavez and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “They’ve all been my teachers and heroes. I don’t feel like I’m in their category. It’s a great affirmation of my little work for peace.”
In 2008, Dear was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Tutu. “He is a man who has the courage of his convictions and who speaks out and acts against war, the manufacture of weapons and any situation where a human being might be at risk through violence,” Tutu wrote in his letter of recommendation.
Dear knows his actions are controversial. “I hear all kinds of things,” he said. “I don’t have to say much anymore and everybody either loves me or hates me. All I’ve been saying for 30 years is war doesn’t work. Jesus was nonviolent and said to love your enemies.
“If you follow this guy, you can’t make war. He said blessed are the peacemakers. Many people freak out about that and just blow up.”
Pacem in Terris got its name from an encyclical given by Pope John XXIII. In it, he said, “Why should the resources of human genius and the riches of the people turn more often to preparing arms-pernicious instruments of death and destruction, than to increasing the welfare of all classes of citizens, and particularly of the poor classes?”
Kent Ferris, director of social action for the Davenport Diocese, said Dear embodies that spirit. Sister Bea Snyder of the Sisters of Humility order agreed.
“Father Dear is the peaceful presence that Jesus was,” she said. “He carries a very strong message and he does it in a peaceful, nonviolent way, and his message is one that is about love of God and love of neighbor.
“When we call ourselves Christians, that’s what we’re supposed to be about.”