Michael J. Baxter, CSC, '83M.Div | December 27, 2018
Editor's Note: This piece is part of "12 Days of Classics," a holiday series drawn from the magazine's archives and published at magazine.nd.edu from Saturday, December 22, 2018, to Wednesday, January 2, 2019. Merry Christmas!
I went to Iraq over Christmas a couple of months before the bombing started. The idea to go came from Tom Cornell, a longtime peace activist I had met 20 years ago. In July 2002, he sent an e-mail that read simply, “Christmas in Iraq? Could happen.”
After kicking the idea around for a few months, we arranged to go as part of a delegation that would obtain visas at the Iraqi embassy in Amman, Jordan, and drive as a group into Iraq on December 17. The plans came off without a hitch, a remarkable achievement for an organization operating on the anarchist principles that mark so much of the Catholic peace movement.
The organization is Voices in the Wilderness, taking its name from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark: “A voice cries in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:3). Voices was founded in the mid-1990s to draw attention to the suffering of the Iraqi people under the economic embargo that had been imposed by the United Nations since August 1990. Speakers from Voices had visited Notre Dame twice in recent years and had described in graphic detail the damage done by the first Gulf War on the country’s hospitals, power plants and water treatment facilities. Both speakers told of the lethal effects the sanctions were having on the people they had met there. And both generated the intended goal: They left many of us with a desire to do something. As one student later wrote: “This is going to be one of those things where people look back in 20 years and wonder why no one said anything, why no one did anything.”
That pretty much summed up my reason for going. Of course, I didn’t put it like that when explaining the trip to my students and colleagues, friends and family. It’s a way of “showing solidarity with the people of Iraq,” I declared, of “embodying our unity with Iraqi Catholics and other Christians there.” In a more practical vein, I added, we would bring embargoed medical supplies ($30,000 worth of antibiotics) to people desperately in need of them.
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