Posted December 12, 2005
Book: The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice
Editor: John Dear
Orbis Book, Maryknoll, NY, 1998, pp. 220
An Excerpt from the Introduction:
After Henri Nouwen’s funeral Mass of the Resurrection in the Slovak Catholic
Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Markham, Ontario, Art Laffin and I drove
through the Canadian countryside to the small cemetery where Henri was to be
buried. As we drove along, we talked about a way in which we could continue
Henri’s ministry, his witness to peace, his testimony to Jesus.
We knew that many people had not yet left the cathedral, but we did not
realize that we would be the first persons to arrive at the grave. We parked
along the country road and walked down a path, passing the thirty tombstones
and crosses in the small, remote cemetery. Up ahead, in the corner, beneath
a cluster of pine trees, stood a pile of dirt. We had expected to find a
crowd of people and a coffin. We walked toward the dirt until we stood
together, in silence, looking down into a big hole. We had come upon an
For a brief moment, I recalled the story of the women arriving at Jesus’
tomb on the first morning of the week. They discovered an empty tomb. “Why
do you seek the living among the dead?” an angel asked them. They looked at
As we stood by the empty grave awaiting the funeral procession, I began to
understand. Henri lives on with the God of life. And so, his work continues.
I decided then and there to help him continue his peacemaking work.
This collection gathers for the first time nearly all of Henri’s writings on
peace, disarmament and social justice. I have broken them down into six
parts, covering the different themes of Henri’s varied social concerns. Part
One begins with Henri’s unpublished manuscript, “A Spirtuality of
Peacemaking,” which Henri wrote in 1984 and later renamed, “Peacework.”
Excerpts were published in the New Oxford Review in the mid-1980s, but it
has never before been published in its entirety. A 1985 talk on peacemaking
to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church plus two anti-war
statements given at reallies in the early 1970s are also included, published
here for the first time. Part Two records Henri’s support of the civil
rights movement. In 1964, Henri moved to the U.S. from Holland and
immediately identified with Martin Luther King, Jr, and the struggle against
racism. He wrote about his experience in Selma for a Dutch journal, and
later also felt compelled to record his personal pilgrimages to Atlanta for
Dr. King’s funeral in April 1968.
Part Three features reflections on Central and South America, particularly
the effect of U.S. warmaking against Nicaragua in the 1980s. Part Four
focuses on L’Arche, plus an interview about his work at L’Arche a year after
his move to Daybreak. Part Five follows with Henri’s 1994 talk to the
National Catholic AIDS Network Conference, his first major reflection on
AIDS. Part Six concludes with interviews and reflections on social
compassion, prayer, and solidarity with the whole human race.
With the publication of these essays on peace, disarmament, and social
justice, we catch the full breadth of Henri’s vision. This collection
rounds out Henri’s voluminous spriritual writings because it includes his
passionate concerns about the pressing social issues of our times. It fills
out the social implications of his spirituality.
“Only those who deeply know that they are loved and rejoice in that love can
be true peacemakers,” he wrote. The profound love present at his funeral
and evident in these writings reveals the depths of Henri’s peacemaking life
which will go on bearing fruit.
An Excerpt from the Book:
A peacemaker prays. Prayer is the beginning and the end, the source and the
fruit, the core and the content, the basis and the goal for all peacemaking.
I say this without apology, because it allows me to go straight to the heart
of the matter, which is that peace is a divine gift, a gift we receive in
In his farewell discourse Jesus said to his apostles, “Peace I leave you, my
own peace I give to you: a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to
you.” When we want to make peace we first of all have to move away from the
dwelling places of those who hate peace and enter into the house of him who
offers us his peace. This entering into a new dwelling place is what prayer
is all about. The question indeed is: “Where are you staying? To whom do you
belong? Where is your home?” Praying is living in the House of the Lord.
There “he keeps me safe . . .in the day of evil” and there “my head shall be
raised above my foes” (Ps 27). We need to prevent ourselves from being
seduced by those who prepare for the day of destruction and the end of all
things. “Watch yourselves,” Jesus said.
Or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the
cares of life and that day will be sprung on you suddenly like a trap. For
it will come down on every living person on the face of the earth. Stay
awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to
happen and to stand with confidence before the Son of Humanity.
“Praying at all times” is the first aspect of peacemaking. What does this
mean concretely for us who have barely enough time and space to keep some
distance from the cares of life? To answer this question we must be willing
to explore critically the ways in which the “cares of life” strangle us.
Only then can we see the converting power of prayer and its pervasive role
Table of Contents:
1. House of Peace
2. The Journey to Radical Equality
3. The Cry of the Poor in Central and South America
4. Life at L’Arche
5. Compassion in the Times of AIDS
6. Solidarity with the Human Family