November 21, 2019, Detroit – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).
Associate Carol Hofer has lived out this Beatitude in her volunteer ministry with Meta Peace Team, formerly Michigan Peace Team (MPT) – first in Israel in October 2004 and more recently the summer of 2019 in Detroit during a Gay Pride event.
“The MPT goes to many situations – such as to parades with the Ku Klux Klan – any time there might be violence,” Carol explained in a recent interview. “They go to areas where there’s potential violence and they try to be peacemakers.”
A Gay Pride celebration at Hart Plaza in Detroit this summer had that potential. “The purpose [of MPT] is to act as a buffer between those who might want to cause problems and those who are part of the event,” she explained.
Carol said she became involved in MPT through Father Peter Dougherty, the first coordinator of MPT. At the time, Carol was involved in Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organization, and heard about the work that he was doing with MPT. “I heard during the summer of 2004 that he was going on another peace mission,” Carol explained. “My mother had passed away in June and before that I was never free to take such a trip.”
Carol recalled being present in Palestine for three weeks in October 2004 during the olive harvest – and witnessing the hardship faced by Palestinians because of a wall erected on the West Bank separating areas of the Palestinian territory. “It could take people all day to get through the checkpoint,” she said. “There were all kinds of humiliations that the Palestinian people had to go through.”
Carol said the focus of the peace mission was not to be involved in politics but to “be with the people as witnesses to keep them from being victims of violence.” The peace team from MPT was one of many such teams that went to places of violence such as Palestine, simply to be a presence to keep people safe, she said.
Members of MPT peace teams are required to undergo training. Carol remembered vividly the overnight training program she attended before serving in Palestine. “In the middle of the night they came into the dorm and started banging pots to try to get us used to the fact that such a thing might happen if the soldiers came in with their guns,” she said.
The training prepares participants to remain calm in the face of violence. “You have to engage a person, perhaps walk them away from the other party when they’re having an argument and try to calm the situation down,” Carol said. “You can’t let yourself get angry or respond in a negative way. You have to stay very calm.”
MPT offers day-long Violence De-escalation Skills Training sessions for those who are interested in taking part in an international or domestic peace team. MPT has sent international peace teams to Israel, Bosnia, El Salvador, Mexico, Iraq, Haiti, and the U.S.-Mexico border.
The MPT, founded in Lansing, Michigan, in 1993, has received Ministry Trust grants from the Adrian Dominican Sisters. This year’s grant fortifies MPT hubs with training and team deployment education and equipment. Sister Ellen Burkhardt, OP, is on the MPT Board.
By Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP
October 17, 2019, Detroit – Sister Nancyann Turner, OP, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 70 Over Seventy Awards, in recognition of her outstanding work at the Rosa Parks Children’s Program at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Sister Nancyann created and led this program for the children of Detroit’s east side for the past 20 years.
The 70 Over Seventy Awards are presented by the Hannan Center in Detroit and represent the human potential that continues and, in many cases, increases with age. Awardees represent the many interests, accomplishments, and lifestyles of older people in Michigan. They include artists and art professors, business owners, entrepreneurs, travel agents, and university and state employees who became active in areas such as outreach to seniors, literacy, community service, and human rights and social justice advocacy.
In its published description of the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Hannan Center says: “Awardees will have lived interesting and fulfilling lives as well as continued to contribute to their communities, allowing them to have aged and continued aging well. The person will have made outstanding contributions of significance in their lifetimes and exemplify aging that others aspire to experience.”
This year the awards were presented during a ceremony at the Dearborn Inn on October 5, 2019. Awards were also given to people who made outstanding contributions to the Detroit area in the categories of Art, Community and Civic Engagement, Entrepreneurship, Lifelong Learning, Change-making, and Unsung Heroes.
“I felt just so blessed – I felt so grateful that I have the health to continue serving in that capacity,” Sister Nancyann said later in an interview. She said she was inspired by the other award recipients. “Despite how bad the world seems at times, it was great to hear about all the people who are making a difference. … It was awesome to be surrounded by people who work so hard for the betterment of humankind.”
Sister Nancyann said she loved her 20 years of ministry at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, where she directed the Rosa Parks Children and Youth Program. The program offers a number of projects – such as art therapy, a summer peace camp, and seasonal craft projects. But Sister Nancyann said one of her favorite programs is the peace garden. The children “learn to plant and nurture and cook food,” she said. “I think for years they thought all food came from gas stations.” The peace garden helps them to understand the source of food – and inspires them to share the produce with senior citizens nearby.
Her experience at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen has given Sister Nancyann a better understanding of the “devastating effects of racism – both personal and structural.” She said she has also come to understand how poverty impacts the physical, mental, and spiritual capacities of the children who grow up poor. But through her program, “we keep on building them up,” she said. “We keep giving them a safe place to express their feelings and to learn to deal with violence.” She said a volunteer recently described her program best: “You didn’t create just a program or a project. You created a safe place where children can be safe and loved and empowered.”
Sister Nancyann said she has fond memories of the work she has done with volunteers – about 30 each evening. “The volunteers come from city and suburbs [and are] old and young, black and white, but they share the bread of life. They witness to God’s love,” she said.
Recently retired from her formal ministry at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Sister Nancyann said that ministry never stops. Even when Sisters and other dedicated people no longer receive a paycheck for their service, “we’re still called to be about the mission. … The bonus is if you love what you’re doing in the mission. I always have.”