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The following article originally appeared in Salt of the Earth. It is posted here for private use only. It may not be reprinted in whole or in part without the permission of Salt of the Earth magazine.


Who is my neighbor?
How six people came to work for human rights

Christopher Ringwald

WHAT'S A GOOD-HEARTED Christian deep in the USA to do about all these problems in distant lands? Just the headlines can dissolve the best of intentions. "Paramilitaries scourge Mexican village." "Bloodshed continues in Rwanda." "Nigerian dissident executed by military rulers." Easier to put the paper, and the worries, away. But the thought lingers: "Maybe I could do something." Well, yes, you can.

It does not always require a heroic effort. Most of us will remain at home, in regular jobs, wondering how to help. But little prayers and acts add up, sometimes opening the door to full-time service on behalf of world peace and human rights.

Here are five examples—one couple and four individuals—who promote human survival and dignity in ways large and small.

Nonviolence in action

Though a lifelong and devout Catholic, Thomas Malthaner, a 52-year-old accountant, fulfills his faith working through a project organized by Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, and Quakers.

The Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), based in Chicago, intervenes actively and nonviolently in sites of conflict and violence around the world. Malthaner, like many others, is a reserve member, serving during vacations from his regular job.

He has seen action—and turned the other cheek—in the West Bank, Haiti, and Washington, D.C. He grew up in Rochester, where he still lives, and has four grown children. But how did an accountant in upstate New York come to embrace nonviolence in his soul as well as in his actions?

"I went through a time of my life, around the time I had a divorce, when I participated in a study group in my parish, Corpus Christi in downtown Rochester," Malthaner recalls. "A group of nine of us were studying nonviolence.

"It became so real to me, as I reflected on my marriage and the kids and everything, that I realized that my problem was violence in myself and in my responses. It was not so much hitting, though I had hit my kids on the fanny sometimes when they were small, but the violence I expressed in my anger and judgment and resentments. Everything else came from that realization."

The Persian Gulf War, which was going on at the time, provided a larger context to Malthaner's thinking about violence and its self-perpetuating cycle.

In 1993, Malthaner took the Vow of Nonviolence, a public commitment for individuals and groups that is promoted by the Catholic peace movement Pax Christi USA. The vow is intended as a means for people to focus on living out the gospel call to nonviolence in their own lives and on transforming society through nonviolence. Twice a year he has been giving a six-week class on nonviolence and offers others the chance to take the same vow.

He does not pretend to be perfect. "I fall all the time."

This past spring, during the slow time at his accounting firm, Malthaner spent a month in Hebron on the West Bank in the Holy Land. "I have a very understanding boss," he says. Hebron, an ancient settlement and site of the Cave of the Patriarchs, is home to 100,000 Palestinians, 400 Jewish settlers, and 1,400 Israeli soldiers. Conflict seems almost inevitable. Malthaner and other members of the Christian Peacemaker Team lived in an apartment opposite the chicken market and close to three military checkpoints.

"We observe human-rights problems, talk with families about Israeli soldiers and harassment, we demonstrate. We will intervene in certain situations and confront," such as when a car seems to have been detained for too long at a checkpoint. Malthaner says the work is nonpartisan with one exception: "We are partisan on behalf of persons being abused."

In the most dramatic instance, he and others were attacked by Jewish settlers after attempting to move olive trees, which they felt were illegally planted on a Palestinian farmer's soil. By planting these tree seedlings, the settlers have been trying to confiscate the farmer's land. Malthaner and his companions spent four days in jail (the photo on the opposite page is the mug shot taken by the Israeli police during his arrest).

This fall, he went back for a second one-month stay. "My youngest son, and some of my friends, basically told me, 'We support you, but we don't think you should go. There is enough in the U.S. to do.' They're very frightened."

During his time in Hebron, Malthaner communicated daily with his family by e-mail. His 30-day stay, which ended October 12, was marked by increasing tension caused by the new Israeli government's delay in fulfilling the provisions of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord on withdrawing forces from Hebron.

When violence erupted in late September, after the Israeli government announced the opening of a controversial tunnel in Jerusalem, Malthaner and other CPT members observed the clashes in Hebron between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers.

"It was very sad to watch that. Right before our eyes, 30 people were hurt and one kid was killed. It was particularly sad because most of those involved were young kids, 7 to 16 years old."

During his second term on the West Bank, Malthaner says, "I felt much more the pain of the Palestinian people. I felt closer to the Palestinian families. Their pain and anger came out much more than during my stay in the spring.

"Actually, it was quite depressing, especially at the end. While the negotiations have been going on, the Jewish settlements have been expanding at an alarming rate, and Palestinian homes continue to be destroyed. It made the hope for peace almost seem absurd.

"The Palestinian people seemed to have very few hopes for a true and just peace," says Malthaner.

Not all his commitments take place in distant lands. In Rochester, Malthaner helped organize a group of people who meet regularly to share their spiritual journey. Through his parish, he collected money for a health center in Haiti.

Taking Jesus' teachings to heart has changed him. He recalls the time he was mugged while serving on a CPT team in Washington, D.C., helping local people close an apartment building dominated by drug dealers and addicts. "I was hit a few times and knocked to the ground. But, oddly enough, I felt at peace, I felt really blessed. Ten years ago I would have lashed out. It was only through the grace of God that I didn't."

The plant requires water. Malthaner attends Mass five times a week, has participated in 12-step programs, and meditates twice a day for 20 minutes each time. Aside from his two trips to Hebron, Malthaner also traveled to Haiti in December 1993 on a team to observe, help, and organize.

Has any of it made a difference?

"A lot of times our presence alone prevents violence. The people feel a lot more protected and safer and more courageous. A lot of times we go to learn. The main reason I go is to love the people."

In the fields of Florida

What would possess Jane and John Pattison, a Troy, New York couple in their 60s, to leave jobs and home and hearth and spend two years in the rural poverty of Florida living and working with Mexican farmhands?

A growing commitment to the rights and needs of people in foreign and domestic lands is what. They began small, writing letters through Amnesty International on behalf of political prisoners, selling crafts made by immigrant farmworkers, and putting out the regional newsletter for Pax Christi.

The Pattisons also lobby against the death penalty—recently reinstalled in New York—and volunteer through an interdenominational effort in downtown Troy called Journey to Justice. They have also raised funds from parishes for church-based projects in Haiti.

"We can all make more of an impact if we come together," says Jane. "If Christ is at the basis, then we can all do a lot more."

Where do they find the time for so many commitments?

"We don't do it all at once,'' says Jane with a long laugh. "But it's all definitely human-rights-related."

The Pattisons are not, they are quick to admit, exceptional. They married seven years ago, and their seven children from previous marriages are all grown. John, an Episcopalian, represents machine-tool manufacturers. Jane, a Catholic convert, works as an administrative assistant for the Sisters of the Holy Name, who sponsor many charities and missions.

Faith, the Pattisons acknowledge, "is the grounding, the centering for all we do." Jane sees her charitable, justice, and human-rights work as a way to imitate Christ. "This is what Christ did. We're not Jesus, but we're part of his body. We're the blood of his people. The strength is in the body of the church, and we lose it when we get caught up in too much consumerism. We see too much of that in our culture."

Like so many others, Jane feels that in giving she receives much more in return. "We learn more about compassion, about appreciating human life, from people in poor cultures who are living from simple values. That's their strength. We have compromised a lot of our tremendous potential by taking too much time for material acquisition."

She sympathizes with people who, because of their work and family obligations, don't have as much time or opportunity to get involved. If you can't do much now, she says, you can simply stay informed and act when the time is right. Remaining alert and watchful, a biblical injunction, led the Pattisons to the verge of their trip (the couple was interviewed for this article shortly before their scheduled departure). So did frustration with part-time, volunteer efforts. "We were getting a sense of only being able to do so much," says Jane.

In Okeechobee, Florida, they will live in a mobile home near a settlement of more than 8,000 Mexican farmworkers and may receive a stipend from the Diocese of West Palm Beach. The Pattisons, who have visited twice and have studied Spanish, will be the project's first full-time volunteers, according to Sister Eleanor Sevigny, S.N.J.M., who runs Okeechobee Nonprofit Housing.

Sevigny says the farmworker community has grown rapidly over the past two years to serve the growing citrus farms on the coast, which have expanded to make up for the decreased production of central Florida, hard-hit by recent frosts. These are the pickers and packers who make it possible for Americans to save at the supermarket. "Those cheap prices come out of the workers at the lower end who can't get more for their labor," Sevigny points out.

John will help with the construction of nonprofit housing, during which workers will be trained, and with starting employee-owned businesses. One aim is to help the workers take responsibility for the community. Some stay only six months of the year and then return to Mexico or follow the harvest north, but more and more are remaining year-round. Jane will help the local newspaper put out a Spanish-language edition and will help with the administration of a local community center, run by Sister Angela Ospina, R.H.S.M.

"I know a lot of people their age who retire to Florida, and they're so bored,'' says Sevigny. "John and Jane have a vision and a Christian sense of service."

"We want to learn from living with the Mexicans. They have a great sense of community," says Jane. "These people stay together and celebrate and help each other. We want to learn more about that, about living in community. As Americans we need that."

Searching for truth

When Douglass Cassel, who teaches and practices international human-rights law, was 16, he spent the 1964-65 school year in Spain, still under the dictatorial rule of General Francisco Franco. Before he went, that meant little to Cassel. "I only knew Spain to be, as I think one news magazine put it, 'an outpost of the free world.'"

During a protest outside a cathedral, Cassel was arrested along with a group of Spaniards and brought to a police station. "I looked like a foreigner, so they treated me with kid gloves, but I could hear the screams of the people downstairs being tortured." Now, 32 years later, he is still haunted by those screams.

"There was a certain sense when I started doing international human-rights work, that I was finally answering a call that had been with me many years," Cassel says. Today, the 48-year-old runs the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University in Chicago.

Before he came to DePaul, Cassel was a public-interest lawyer, but several trips overseas to countries with human-rights problems steered him toward a new field. The most upsetting was a visit to China toward the end of that country's Cultural Revolution in the 1970s.

"It was the Orwellian nature of being told everywhere we went that things were getting better, productivity was up 300 percent. At one factory, I saw smoke coming out of the chimney. I asked about it, and the guide told me there were no emissions. I said I just saw them. 'No, you didn't,' he told me. I learned that places where truth is officially deprived of any meaning really do exist."

Other trips to Latin America and the Near East followed and served as a wake-up call, prompting Cassel to suggest a human-rights law center to administrators at DePaul.

Today, the institute attempts to make the public, especially in the Chicago area, aware of human-rights issues and possible solutions and assists groups and people in foreign countries. For example, Cassel has arranged for a Chicago lawyer to do pro bono work for a Guatemalan labor leader. The Guatemalan had been shot nearly to death, apparently by agents of the military, and recovered in the Chicago area. This case is now before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The center has also placed two DePaul graduates as attorneys on the commission staff. Cassel frequently travels to Latin America to assist, teach, advise, and observe in human-rights cases and forums. Earlier this decade, he was legal adviser to the El Salvador Truth Commission, which investigated major human-rights violations as part of the peace process there.

Raised as a Presbyterian, Cassel was an agnostic by the age of 12. Too much of the Bible seemed improbable, he had decided. Too much of life involved suffering.

But in the early 1990s, Cassel experienced a conversion. He traveled several times to El Salvador, first to observe at the trial of those arrested for, and then to help investigate, the 1989 killings by death squads of six Jesuit priests and their cook and her daughter and, separately, the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

"I found out that the most influential person there was a dead guy, Archbishop Oscar Romero," says Cassel. "His pictures were all over the place, and I began to understand the concept of life after death. And I started to see the parallels with another dead man who had a lot of influence in El Salvador: Jesus Christ."

In the end, Cassel says, "The resolution for me was to conceive of God as a force for good, an eternal force for good that I could see through the lives of Romero and the Jesuit priests and other people."

This transformation began in September 1991, when Cassel became the American Bar Association's observer at the trial of the military officers then charged with the killing of the Jesuits and the two women. The jury convicted one colonel and one lieutenant for everything. Acquitted were numerous others who were implicated, and the soldiers—members of an elite, American-trained brigade—who had admitted to the shootings. Despite the presence of Cassel and 24 other international observers, the courthouse was buzzed by military planes, and a promilitary demonstration was allowed within security lines.

Justice got another chance two years later. In the U.N.-supervised negotiations between the Salvadoran government and the rebels, a Truth Commission was established to look at all acts of violence that occurred over the course of the civil war from 1980 to 1991.

Cassel served on the commission, supervising investigators and writing and editing their reports. He visited the country for periods of one to two weeks.

Cassel and the investigators, all from foreign countries so Salvadorans would feel comfortable talking to them, first documented 22,000 cases of killings and other atrocities. They then selected 30 major cases, including the Jesuits and Romero, to investigate in depth.

The commission reported in mid March 1993 that the Jesuits were ordered killed by the defense minister and that the entire military high command was involved. Days later, the commission was partly thwarted when the government granted an amnesty to the military in exchange for stepping down. In the eyes of many, the guilty were named but got away with it, which is still better than nothing having been done at all.

Cassel drew some conclusions from the experience. "The first lesson for me was the essential need for and value of truth. All these horrible things happened and there was no resolution; there were two versions of the truth."

The best resolution, he says, would be to establish the truth in a country's courts. When those are not functioning, Cassel says, the next best forum is an international criminal court, as has been set up for war crimes committed in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Since these did not exist three years ago, a commission was satisfactory.

"A second lesson I learned was, as important as the truth is, it's not enough. You also need justice so the killers are not walking around. That sends all the wrong messages."

Today, Cassel is a practicing Catholic. He teaches courses to law students as well as to judges and lawyers from other countries, litigates cases in international forums, and delivers a weekly commentary for public radio in Chicago. He began his radio work in 1993.

"I try to talk about issues overlooked in the mainstream press," he says. One was the 1994 coup in Gambia, which overthrew a president who was the prime mover behind the African Commission on Human Rights. Another topic was the oil-for-food deal with Iraq, recently suspended to punish Saddam Hussein's attack on Kurds. "At a time when 4,500 Iraqi children are dying every month from malnutrition, that food was desperately needed," he believes.

Many people, especially frustrated lawyers eager to break away from torts and civil actions, ask Cassel how they can do some good. Few can do it full-time, Cassel knows, but almost any can serve for free by writing briefs for foreign lawyers, who may be persecuted or overwhelmed; volunteer for fact-finding missions; lobby Congress on human-rights issues; or observe a trial.

"There are many ways to become involved. It requires a commitment and some inconvenience, but if it's important, they'll manage," he says. "I try to reach them where they are. The motivation is there, it may be religious or political or a matter of conscience. The problem I find is that people are so caught up in what they are doing, they don't know how to act on their conscience.

"There is no lack, even among lawyers—yes, among lawyers—no lack of conscience or interest in doing good."

Welcoming the stranger

All Tatiana Durbak wanted was a little respect. So she became a lawyer. Actually, she had wanted—and accomplished—much in the way of human rights before ever thinking of law school.

As an undergraduate at Rice University in Houston, she tutored through VISTA, organized an economic-opportunity program for low-income blacks, and ran a Girl Scout troop in a Hispanic neighborhood.

Later, when she was a Spanish teacher and a mother of two in Albany, New York, Durbak formed another Girl Scout troop near Albany and worked for a rape crisis center.

At that time, a cause came calling in the form of America's oldest mission—providing a home to the oppressed.

First, it was those fleeing violence and dictatorships in Central America. During the 1980s, Durbak, who speaks Spanish, worked with the Sanctuary movement, which provided safe haven to many refugees who were unable to obtain legal status. The U.S. government under Ronald Reagan was reluctant to admit that allies in the region were indeed oppressing their citizens.

Later, it was another group, one Durbak knew even better. "In 1989, the first wave of Ukrainian Pentecostals came to the Albany area. I found myself in a position to be a bridge. I am from the Ukraine. I'm not a Pentecostal Christian, but I know a lot about their culture."

In contrast to the Central American refugees, the Ukrainians—both Pentecostal and Jewish—were allowed to enter the U.S. as political refugees. Durbak helped the new arrivals, taking them to hospitals and churches, translating for them, encouraging, and directing.

At the same time, she decided on a new career. "I had been active in many situations and organizations, but I noticed that people would often discount what I said no matter what. By definition, for most people, what comes out of lawyers' mouths seems smart, whether or not that's really true. So I thought I would be more effective if I went to law school, and that's what I did."

She settled on immigration law—today Durbak has her own practice in Albany—in order to do for others as others had done for her. "I am advocating for people nobody cares about. None of us got to the point where we are today without the support of our community, and I especially wanted to give something back to the Ukrainian community."

Durbak works with a variety of clients, adjusting her fees when necessary. "These are people who have little money and don't speak English,'' she says. Some pay in installments over time, she adds, but all feel better if they can pay something.

Some days she helps an immigrant through the naturalization process, obtain legal status as a relative, or find appropriate work. Durbak is now seeking financial support for an immigration-law clinic. She also speaks, often in Spanish, to various groups of immigrants and advocates on immigration law. Though some clients come to Durbak after these talks, "I am doing it to educate people, not to raise business."

In the aftermath of the recent federal immigration reforms, which she calls "Draconian," Durbak called the local Catholic Family Services and other groups to organize informational sessions for immigrants.

The new laws, for instance, call for any immigrant, legal or illegal, who is convicted of a crime, even possession of marijuana for personal use, to be deported. They also stiffen penalties for illegally entering the U.S. Those caught, even people who have been here for years, working and paying taxes, will be barred from reentering the U.S. for ten years—up from five under current law. In discussing the law, Durbak sounds like a woman on a mission to educate and prepare both immigrants and those who help them.

Raised and still active in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Durbak says her work expresses her faith.

"I don't do anything spectacular. To me, being a Christian, that's the center of my life: working with others, trying to help those who seem to be having trouble, trying to teach them, empower them to help themselves." Durbak, blunt and unpretentious, simply seeks a life aligned with belief.

"This is about trying to bring about the kingdom of God. You can either be on the side of good or on the side of evil. We have to work to make things better."

To keep on track, Durbak follows a simple spiritual routine.

"I talk to my friends, I pray. I read the Bible every day—right now I'm working my way through St. Paul. In the morning, I ask God to be with me."

But she doesn't deny that this work can be difficult. "Sometimes I cry and scream, where people can't hear me, but I feel that God is always there. I can't understand all of God's workings, but there's never been a time when I thought he was absent."

Durbak recalls a recent example of her work. "Yesterday I had a Sudanese man with an engineering degree. He was working as a store clerk. He didn't know he could work here, legally, as an engineer. I was able to give him some options.

"It is a real privilege for me to be able to help these people. I feel that through my work I can be God's co-worker. It's wonderful to be able to do that."

In the boardrooms

Though much-maligned by many otherwise open-minded progressive types, multinational corporations often provide the foundation for human rights in the form of jobs. After all, it is hard to have time for free speech, worship, and assembly when one is starving.

The headline over a recent column in the New York Times summarized the ar-gument well: "No Jobs, No Peace: Palestinian poverty threatens Middle East stability."

It is a truth that has comforted Terence J. Gallagher, vice president for corporate governance at Pfizer, Inc., a giant pharmaceutical firm with 40,000 employees, operations in 40 countries, and $10 billion in annual revenues. Gallagher's prime responsibilities include maintaining the company's code of conduct and dealing with large institutional stockholders on social-responsibility issues.

In the course of a candid conversation on human rights, corporate responsibility and personal faith, Gallagher mentions several examples where the economic was as vital a need as any other.

"We have operations in South Africa, and have for a long time. When apartheid was in place, religious groups wanted us to withdraw. I pointed out we were operating in accordance with our code of conduct, which requires equal opportunity in hiring and promotions.

"We had been in South Africa since the 1950s, so we had employees who had been with us for 30 years. We did not want to abandon these employees, and, as a pharmaceutical company, we felt that we were providing a vital service to people, black or white, by providing basic pharmaceuticals."

After apartheid, Pfizer was asked by a delegation of investors from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility to adopt the "Code of Conduct for Businesses Operating in South Africa," written by Catholic bishops and other church leaders from the South African Council of Churches. Gallagher told the group, which included Maryknoll Father Joseph La Mar and Ursuline Sister Barbara Glendon, that Pfizer's code was similar and "generally consistent."

After much back and forth, the company issued a statement to that effect, one that Gallagher shepherded through all necessary channels.

"We were not only pleased with the compromise that resulted from open and frank dialogue," he says, "but gratified when six other companies, following our lead, accepted the South African [Council of Churches] code's standards for their businesses in that country."

In another instance, Gallagher recalls the scene in Haiti, where he traveled to donate Pfizer goods. "I was discouraged by what I saw both in terms of human rights and from a business perspective. In that brief visit, it looked like a country that was virtually bankrupt. You've got to provide some sort of livelihood for the people to get human rights to mean anything."

Though doing good helps Pfizer do well, Gallagher's faith also directs his work.

"As a Catholic, I am involved in humanity generally and have a responsibility for my fellow man. Whatever I can do to assist my fellow man, I should do."

He was raised in New York City in a family "that was always reaching out to other people." This included housing orphaned cousins and others in need. He attended Manhattan College and Harvard Law School. Today, Gallagher is active in his parish—St. Joseph's in Bronxville, New York—and as a Knight of Malta.

His wife, Barbara Gallagher, is a Dame of Malta and an observer and senior representative at the United Nations for the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations.

Gallagher volunteers regularly at the Knights-sponsored Cardinal Cooke Nursing Home in New York, which serves persons with AIDS. Annually through the Knights, the Gallaghers take sick people on pilgrimages to Lourdes, France.

"Part of the mission of the Knights of Malta is to aid the sick and poor," he explains.

Pfizer's corporate code of conduct was first developed 15 to 20 years ago, says Gallagher, who has been at the company for three decades.

"We were operating, since the 1950s, around the world, in countries with a lot of differences in cultures and laws. The thinking was that we should try to put together the basic rules that Pfizer employees should operate under.

"The code has been updated several times, but the basic thrust has remained the same: that we would operate in accordance with a country's laws and do that in an ethical fashion; that we would have concern for employees, the communities in which we operate, and for the shareholders."

He offers no apologies for the last. "We are a business, and we are in business to make money for our shareholders."

Sometimes observing ethics has its cost. Refusing to pay bribes, common in many countries where "gift-giving" is considered good manners rather than corruption, "has lost us some business." Especially during the Cold War, Pfizer declined to operate in China and certain communist nations, since it would have violated its ethics regarding fair and merit-based hiring and promotions, he says. Thus does Pfizer, according to Gallagher, promote international human rights by providing jobs and pharmaceuticals—ethically.

Top management, he believes, "is very much committed" to the code of conduct. "They see the payoff. We're doing very well, with excellent sales and earnings, and good relations in the countries where we operate." Gallagher is particularly proud of the role Pfizer played as a model for other companies in South Africa. The South African Council of Churches code of conduct promotes human rights in a country new to democracy and still recovering from decades of hate, racism, and internal oppression.

To maintain his religious faith, Gallagher follows a daily prayer routine. While he dresses, he says certain personal prayers. Then, after he gets off the commuter train at Grand Central Terminal, he walks toward the Pfizer headquarters in midtown and prays again as he passes St. Agnes, the weekday church to generations of business people and the parish where Fulton J. Sheen once preached.

"That's my touchstone," he says of the midtown landmark. Gallagher prays again in the evening and he frequently says the rosary with his wife. "I find the car is a good place for that."

But Gallagher does not limit the challenges of his faith to private devotions. He says he is also living his faith through his work.

"I am really gratified that what I believe is pretty much the cornerstone of what the people at Pfizer believe in."

Offering a final example of his company's commitment to ethical practices, Gallagher recalls, "In the early 1970s, we bought a heart-valve company that produced a valve that was designed to overcome the clotting problem." But some of the valves fractured once implanted, killing several recipients.

"I was in on the meeting with the board of directors. It was the first Pfizer product that had actually killed people. One point made by our lawyers with the board was that we had legal defenses. But the board said, 'No, if our valve led to these deaths, we should compensate the families."—END

© 1997 by Claretian Publications


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