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Ithaca experiences the many sides of peace

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Suzanne Shanley picks up a picture drawn by Omar, an Iraqi boy who is staying at the Agape Community as part of a wounded family. Seventy percent of Omar’s body is scarred from an American drone attack on their car in Iraq. The picture illustrates the car lighting up in flames, as a helicopter hovers above to save them from the fire.

Omar lost his mother in the drone attack, but Shanley said his family is staying at the Agape Community while their wounds are being treated. The community provides hospitality for those in need of immediate housing or who are at risk for violence. Guests also include interns and volunteers.

“We have a ministry that includes taking in people who are victims of war, people who might need a residence, people who are looking for healing,” Shanley said.

Shanley and her husband, Brayton, are the co-founders of an Agape Community near Ware, MA. The lay Catholic residential community is located on 32 acres of sustainable land. Year round, the community uses wood stoves for cooking and heat, compost toilets, and solar energy. The Shanley’s organic garden provides 60 percent of the vegetarian diet for the community.

“Nonviolence is a religious principle, theology and a practice that helps us deal with conflict on one hand and also helps us understand how to live healthy and sustainable lives” Shanley said, “ and so the love that we profess in nonviolence must now go in the direction of the natural world.”

The couple made a stop in Ithaca on Wednesday during their nationwide book tour to give a reading and lead a discussion about Brayton’s new book, “The Many Sides of Peace.” The Ithaca Catholic Workers and Ithaca Friends (the religious society of Quakers) sponsored the event.

The Shanleys are acquainted with Ithaca through Dan and Linda Finlay. The Finlays first experienced the Agape Community in 1993 when they took a year off to do volunteer work across the US. Dan Finlay, the host of the event, said while living in the community for four months, he learned how they are involved in all the works of mercy in environmental causes, and in the prayer dimension.

“To me what’s really special about what they have to say is that they connect all these things.” Finlay said, “some of us focus on one issue, but their prayer life allows them to work on inner transformation.”

Connie Thonas, a member of the peace witness committee of the Ithaca Quaker Meeting House who attended the discussion, describes her conflict with nonviolence. Growing up in a nonviolent family and community, Thonas wonders how she would react if she were living in a dangerous environment, such as a refugee camp.

“I find it interesting to think about how nonviolence is not enough when the chips are down,” Thonas said, “even though I know what I’m supposed to do, what would I actually do?”

The next stop for the Shanley’s book tour is in Hartford, CT where they will discuss the three pillars they live by: nonviolence, contemplative prayer and sustainability.

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