By Lauren Dugan
Over 500 students and faculty gathered to hear Wendell Berry, author of “Bringing it to the Table,” in the Villanova Room as he received the 2012 Adela Dwyer St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award on Tuesday, Nov. 13.
The award was established in 1990 to recognize an individual’s or group’s contributions to bringing awareness and insight to the conditions of peace and justice in certain fields for the common good.
In other words, the award identifies “people who help moral imagination,” said Kathryn Getek Soltis, director of the Center for Peace and Justice Education. “The winner is both an intellectual and activist who imagines a world with a greater sense of peace and justice.”
Barbara Wall, previous director of the Center for Peace and Justice, proposed the recipient be awarded around Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of peace.
“The award has grown in accordance with Pope Paul VI’s commitment to ‘if you want peace work for justice,’” Wall said.
The staff of the Center for Peace and Justice Center receive nominations from the University community, select a winner and send an invitation for the winner to visit campus.
Previous winners include Habitat for Humanity (1991), Catholic Worker Movement (1997), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2004), Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (2007-2008) and Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee (2011).
The University’s goal is to bring extraordinary people to campus so students get a chance to see people who devote their lives to peace and justice.
“The award is transformative for our world,” Getek Soltis said.
This year, the Center for Peace and Justice wanted to extend the relationships of peace in human conditions from among people and people to among people and creation.
“[Berry] talks about the right relationship with the earth,” Getek Soltis said.
Through his work as a poet, author and cultural critic, Berry asks all humans to foster peace with nature by living a simple life.
He has written an essay criticizing National Security program and published many works concerned with consumerism, the industrialization of agriculture and humans’ distance from the land.
“Berry looks at how we live our lives, and how we need to change,” Getek Soltis said. “He has something insightful to say for just about anything.”
As a farmer, he encourages local civic action and challenges the nation to connect with nature again. He writes about large-scale themes that never get disconnected from his state of mind and preaches that peace can be restored in universal terms of living a simple, modest life.
Berry lives out the ethics he promotes. He only takes the train for his minimal travel and does not have email or a cell phone. The only way to get in contact with him is to write him a letter via snail mail.
Students read his works in numerous peace and justice courses because he writes with the hope that people will keep reading and pause to examine their lives.
“In eloquent prose and graceful poetry and novels, he has given us striking, beautiful and moving images of life and culture,” said Chara Armon, Ennis postdoctoral fellow at the University.
After the award ceremony, the Peace and Justice Department’s “grow into justice” class hosted a lunch for Berry to continue discussion of his works and lifestyle.
“Berry’s ideas of the simple life relate to peace because when people learn to take only what the Earth can afford to give, and in amounts that leave enough for all, most of our current reasons for war and violence will cease to exist,” Armon said. Student Michelle Velez agrees that living the simple life fosters peace by asking people to stop and smell the roses, or rather “stop consuming” and enjoy “the beauty of nature and good company.”
“As more people do this, they start to appreciate the simple things and think more critically of the consequences of their actions and purchases,” she said.
Her favorite quote of Berry is simple, yet inspires a revelation: “Be joyful because it is humanly possible.”
“I loved his calm determination—especially when he told a story of how he had sat in on a local senator’s office to protest mining in the area that was polluting streams,” Velez said. “He focused on how nice everyone in the office was to him and the other protestors, rather than the frustration of how difficult it was to spark change.”
Berry inspired students to think deeply about human-nature issues and take action, capturing the ideals of the Center for Peace and Justice.