“My life has had a single strain: to see Jesus in every human being,
to realize that each one is inviolable and sacred in the eyes of God,
and then to translate that into everything I do.
This is the heart of anything I’ve done,
the heart of my peace work.”
Eileen Egan died on October 7, 2000, twenty years ago today.
She was a peacemaker, an advocate of nonviolence, a friend of the world’s poor, a project coordinator with Catholic Relief Services for more than 40 years, and a co-founder of Pax Christi USA. She was a prolific writer – including books and pamphlets on nonviolence, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, refugees, and more.
In this photo she is with two great holy women of the twentieth century. She met Mother Teresa when she was working with Catholic Relief Services in India. She knew Dorothy Day, working for peace and the poor in New York City at the Catholic Worker.
But her commitment for peace was connected with her commitment to the refugee, the poor, the suffering. As she once wrote, noting that the works of war are in total contradition to the works of mercy:
“Instead of feeding the hungry, we destroy the fields that produce the food; instead of clothing the naked, we bomb factories that produce clothing; instead of giving drink to the thirsty, we bomb reservoirs. In war, the enemy is dehumanized and is no longer seen as a child of God. As Christians, we must penetrate the disguise and see Jesus in the enemy. Then, we would not kill and destroy.”
She seems to be the first US Catholic to use the term “The Seamless Garment of Life,” which was later made famous by Cardinal Joseph Bernadin. In a 1981 publication of Pax Christi USA, she wrote:
“We view the protection of all life, from its conception to its end, as a seamless garment…. Such protection, credible in its consistency, extends to opposition to the taking of life by the state in capital punishment and to opposition to the taking of life by euthanasia and warfare.”
She took her peacemaking seriously – based in a life of prayer, fasting, and serv ice with the poor.
In particular, she took seriously the US bishops’ invitation to fast on Fridays in their 1983 pastoral The Challenge of Peace, ¶ 298:
As a tangible sign of our need and desire to do penance we, for the cause of peace, commit ourselves to fast and abstinence on each Friday of the year. We call upon our people voluntarily to do penance on Friday by eating less food and by abstaining from meat. This return to a traditional practice of penance, once well observed in the U.S. Church, should be accompanied by works of charity and service toward our neighbors. Every Friday should be a day significantly devoted to prayer, penance, and almsgiving for peace.
A friend who worked with the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, recalled that when she came to receive the diocese’ Pacem in Terris award, she did not eat meat on the Friday. She took fasting and prayer seriously.
I saw her a few times at peace meetings. She was as, noted by Jean Kelly, “The peace activist often cropped out.” Her simple but effective presence was one of the ways that many women have shown us the works of mercy and the works of peace.
In his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, ¶ 225, Pope Francis noted the need for peacemakers:
In many parts of the world, there is a need for paths of peace to heal open wounds. There is also a need for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter.
Eileen Egan is one of those who forged the path of peace and the works of justice. She is a great example for us as we try to live out our calling to be instruments of God’s peace in a strife-torn and unjust world where many suffer.
For more photos of Dorothy Day (some with Eileen Egan, Mother Teresa, and Cesar Chavez), see the web page of Bill Barrett. https://billbarrett.sites.visualserver.com/portfolios/dorothy-day-and-the-catholic-worker?imageId=0