Mother Teresa and the USS Intrepid

I
shouldn't be surprised; we're often hit with bizarre news. But doings
around Mother Teresa's 100th birthday takes grotesquery to a
new level. Seems there's a political ruckus in New York City about how
to honor her on August 26th. Anyone with a little sense
knows the appropriate thing: reassign funds for war and military
recruitment to house the homeless and feed the poor.

I
shouldn't be surprised; we're often hit with bizarre news. But doings
around Mother Teresa's 100th birthday takes grotesquery to a
new level. Seems there's a political ruckus in New York City about how
to honor her on August 26th. Anyone with a little sense
knows the appropriate thing: reassign funds for war and military
recruitment to house the homeless and feed the poor.

This
would be especially fitting in Manhattan, because by lifting rent
control, the borough has been systematically evicting the poor for years
and catering to its growing number of millionaires.

Some
Catholics have been pressing to illuminate the Empire State Building,
in Mother Teresa's honor, in white and blue. The Empire State Building
refused, citing a policy against honoring religious figures. Not to
worry: the U.S.S. Intrepid caught wind of the news and thought, here's a
ripe moment for good press. And so they offered to do the honors.

The
aircraft-carrier-turned-war-museum, officially called "the
Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum," resides at Pier 86, at West 46th
and 12th Avenue. Why not shine those lights on us? they
said. Hard to imagine. The jets on the deck, the missiles on
display-festooned and illumined in white and blue to honor Mother
Teresa's peacemaking life.

According
to the Daily News on June 14th, the city is pleased.
"We're thrilled to be able to light up the ship," said Susan Marenoff,
executive director of the war museum. "It is a proper representation of
public service, as we parallel the public service efforts she did."

As we parallel the public service efforts she did. What
sheer ignorance! Has Ms. Marenoff ever studied the life of Mother
Teresa, or served the poor, or studied the Gospel of Jesus? With this
statement, she betrays any knowledge of true public service or Gospel
peacemaking. Either she is ignorant or the war museum is embezzling
Mother Teresa's good name.

Contrary
to what Ms. Marenoff believes, the U.S.S. Intrepid does not serve the
public. It hurts the public. It serves the myth and culture of war. It
teaches people, especially the thousands of school children who tour the
"museum of death" each month, that mass murder is a legitimate means to
resolve conflict. Like the Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, N.M. or the
Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos which celebrate nuclear weapons, the
U.S.S. Intrepid promotes Death as a social methodology. It is
antithetical to the Gospel of life, love and peace. The very things
Mother Teresa expended her life on.

Mother Teresa taught and lived the
works of mercy and peace--feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty,
shelter the homeless, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and care for
the dying. The Intrepid upholds the opposite: the works of mercilessness
and war--starve the enemy, destroy crops and homes, spread disease,
poison the land, make people sick, imprison people, torture, bomb and
kill people. She insisted that Matthew 25 is true: whatever we do to our
sisters and brothers around the world, especially to the poor and the
enemy, we do to Jesus.

The only way the Intrepid can participate in honoring Mother
Teresa is to close its doors, clear its decks of its warlike exhibits
and convert itself into a floating shelter for the homeless and needy.

I
knew her well enough to understand that Mother Teresa was adamantly
committed to peace and life. On many occasions we spoke on the phone,
and as I languished in jail for symbolically beating a hammer against a
F15 jet in North Carolina, she offered to pay me a visit. I also knew
her as a woman of enormous strength. She tried to stop every effort to
use her image. Were she still alive, she would appalled and saddened by
our blindness.

Since
this "museum of death" opened in 1982, my friends and I have regularly
called for its closing just outside its gangplank. And just as regularly
hauled to jail. Fr. Daniel Berrigan, age 89, was just tried last month
for his arrest there on Good Friday. It never ceases to shock us to see
hordes of school children traipsing on board under the tutelage of
teachers and curators. As if this were legitimate education. We hurt
these children by teaching them that war brings peace. That war is
honorable. That war is moral, noble. We should bring them on board to
mourn, to teach them never to allow war to happen again.

In
the spring of 1997, while teaching freshman theology for a semester at
the Jesuit's Fordham University, the senior class booked its graduation
dance on board the Intrepid. When I heard, I lobbied hard against it. I
met with the administration, Jesuit superiors, and senior class
representatives. I wrote editorials in the school newspaper and was
invited to speak to dozens of classes and student groups. Don't dance
around the "Golden Calf," I urged the students-an allusion to idolatry
Catholic students would be well acquainted with. Boycott the Senior
Ball, I said. Soon, the New York Times picked up the story, and
wondered aloud about those high Ignatian ideals of "the faith that does
justice."

Despite
my best efforts, the dance was held there, as dozens of us, including
several Jesuits, kept vigil outside. The Fordham administration later
announced they would never again allow a school-sponsored dance on the
Intrepid.

A
wan victory, but I was gratified. I was all the more gratified by this
small victory when I learned that, to convert the Intrepid from air
craft carrier to museum, the city had dipped into funds allocated for
low-income housing and for poor schools in the Bronx. The museum, from
its inception, hurt "the least of these." And it hurt "the least of
these" during its active time in the fleet of the Pacific. Mother Teresa
had a heart for "the least of these." The Intrepid stands against all
that she lived for.

I
hope people will boycott the U.S.S. Intrepid, and any museum that
glorifies warfare. Further, this August 26th, I invite us to
remember Mother Teresa by sharing what we have with those in need and
performing some work of mercy and peace. That's the best way to
celebrate and honor her life.