Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Peace activist shares stories of Iraq experiences

Story and photo by Scott Cooper, for the Inland Register

(From the June 12, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Bettejo Passalaqua, the former pastoral associate of Omak’s St. Joseph Parish and St. Mary Mission, Passalaqua, went to Iraq on Jan. 21 as part of an 11-member Iraq peace team with the organization Voices in the Wilderness. Part of VW’s mission was to raise awareness of the effects of U.N. sanctions on the people of Iraq.

Passalaqua spent three months with the peace team in Baghdad. She shared her experiences during a June 5 presentation in Spokane, part of a series titled “Implications of Perpetual War.”

She focused on the stories of the people she met in Baghdad and their hospitality toward her. She mentioned the kindness shown her by the Iraqi people, many of them impoverished. Taxi drivers did not charge her for rides; a shopkeeper refused payment. She was always offered the best food available, because she was a guest. Never once, she said, was she treated rudely during her stay.

She shared that she has always tried to follow the teachings of Jesus, sometimes less successfully than others. She had engaged in more traditional advocacy with letter writing to legislators, but when a Senator responded that military action in Iraq was being considered to safeguard her security, she figured that she had a responsibility to be there.

It was her belief in the non-violent forgiveness and peaceful model of Christ that led her to be present with those most powerless in Iraq. It was time, she suggested, for Christians to restore the message of peace to Christianity.

In Baghdad, she volunteered in a pediatric hospital, where many patients were struggling with cancers and leukemia traced to the depleted uranium missile tips left over from the Persian Gulf War. The archbishop of Baghdad said that war for the Iraqis meant that when a baby is born, the mother asks if it’s normal, not whether it’s a boy or a girl.

When the coalition bombing began, the peace team members stayed in the basement of the hotel. She said that most Iraqis would not consider going to a bomb shelter, because hundreds of women and children had died in shelters during the first Persian Gulf War.

The hospital had emptied just before the bombing began, because mothers felt they had to be home with their other children. The mothers took their sick children home, knowing it meant less medical care and greater risk.

Passalaqua met people of strong faith, but none that she would describe as fundamentalist fanatics. The manager of the hotel where she stayed provided tea for their meetings and refused to take payment, telling her that the message of the Iraq peace team was so important, not just for the people of Iraq, but for the whole world. He told her, “We are all one family, with one father and one mother.”

She returned to the United States April 29.

Catholic Relief Services has been working in Iraq since 1999 and is accepting donations to go toward hunger relief and water sanitation in Iraq. Contributions can be sent to CRS in care of Catholic Charities, P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210.

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