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A True Story of the Ongoing Struggle for Peace
and Justice in Our Violent World• Priest, Professor, Political Activist, Warrior for Peace •
Minneapolis, Minnesota (September 2018)
This is the story of one man’s unique journey around the world, in the name of human connection, peace, and active nonviolence. Father Harry J. Bury is a Catholic priest unlike any you have ever met. His travels through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Costa Rica, Philippines, Africa, Palestine, and Israel span over 60 years. His life-long dedication: to interact lovingly with citizens of the world in pursuit of peace and nonviolence. His determination to help his fellow human beings put him in sometimes compromising and often dangerous situations with American law enforcement, foreign governments, and the church alike. He was:
Kidnapped at gunpoint in Gaza,
Arrested at the Pentagon,
Chained to the gates of the American Embassy in Saigon,
Participated in the release of American POWs in Vietnam,
Served at the side of Mother Teresa in Calcutta,
Arrested by Swiss Guards for saying Mass on the steps of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, and
Awarded the Key to Ho Chi Minh City in gratitude for his efforts to end
About the Author:
Harry J. Bury, Ph.D. is an American Roman Catholic priest and Professor
Emeritus of Organizational Behavior and Administration from Case Western Reserve University. He taught at Baldwin Wallace University from 1980–2010 and consulted in the U.S. and numerous other countries.
FAQs for the Maverick Priest
Q: You are often remembered as one of four men (including 3 priests) who chained themselves to the US Embassy gate in Saigon in 1971. What is your one main take-away from that experience?
A: Consciousness raising is a challenging experience. I felt disappointed that few of my priest colleagues had my back. However, Mother Teresa helped me with that, telling me that The Lord was not concerned with
success, but with faithfulness.
Q: If people could have only one “take-away” from your book, what would you want it to be?
A: Stop the violence—violence does not work. Also, to have a life worth that is meaningful; one needs to take a stand for what he or she believes. My mother, whenever I did something harmful to another, would say: “How would you like it if somebody did that to you?” I learned empathy at my mother’s knee.
Q: What do you suggest?
A: Negotiate rather than being violent; however, I am not talking about negotiating in which politicians talk about “winning—being on the top.” It is not competition. Negotiation needs to be a compromise so that both parties can experience at least partially a win-win. Negotiations are not a zero-sum game.
Q: What one word/phrase would you use to describe your life—i.e., want on your tombstone—in other words, “Who are you?”
Q: What do you mean when you say that violence is the greatest evil of our day?
A: I believe that violence breeds more violence.
Q: What has been the greatest obstacle to being a peacemaker who gets rid of violence?
A: Belief that punishment is the way to prevent violence. Punishment never stops people from doing something. It is better to reward good behavior. If we are going to make changes, we need to change the culture, the way people believe/think about things.
Q: What have you learned in your 88 years?
A: People think that the way we see things and understand things is the way it is, and that it’s reality. This is key to why we have wars. For example, for many people, if they don’t see it the way others do, the others are wrong. When a person is “absolutely certain,” he closes his mind and does not listen to other points of view. We need to accept the notion that nobody can be absolutely certain about anything—so that we can be more open-minded.
Q: Are you saying that humans are violent? Why do you assume that?
A: We lack empathy. We are not educated to put ourselves in the place of others.
Q: How did being the priest/chaplain at Newman Center on U of M campus change your thinking?
A: I learned from the students who were conscientious objectors. In writing letters on their behalf, I studied about the Vietnam War from many points of view and arrived at the conclusion that the war was not only a mistake, but immoral.
Q: In what ways has your being a priest motivated you to be a peacemaker?
A: I believe we are all one in Christ. Hence, when I kill another, I am crucifying Christ again.
Q: What do you think of celibacy for priests?
A: I think celibacy is good for priests because I believe priests have been called to be prophets, which often entails risking their lives. I would have been reluctant to risk my life to stop the killings in Vietnam and
Gaza, if I had a wife and children for whom I felt responsible. If a priest really lives like Jesus, he risks crucifixion, I strongly believe, because to be Christian is to be a radical/rebel. Our society does not like
radicals and rebels.
Q: What do you think of hell?
A: I think we humans make hell for one another in this life. There may be a hell in the next life, but I don’t believe anyone resides there, not even Judas, because I cannot believe and love a God who would create anyone knowing that person would end up in a hellish experience forever and ever. It is not congruent with the God who I believe in and love. To be intimate with God is my greatest desire and that would not exist, if I thought God would create anyone that would end up in a hellish existence forever. I believe Jesus came to reconnect us with God and one another when we do things called sins that disconnect us from God.
Q: What moved you to become a priest?
A: I was moved to become a priest because after considering being a politician or a doctor, who help people, it seemed even a better way to help people was by being a priest because people helped by politicians and doctors would eventually die. If I became a priest like Father Charles E. Coughlin, who preached social justice, I could assist people both in this life and getting to the next life, as I understood then.
Q: Was your family involved in the church?
A: Yes, both my parents helped out at our parish, St. Ann, and never missed Mass and attended and participated in other extra devotions.
Q: What training or experience did you have that made you want to do anti-war work?
A: In about 1967, many students came to me to write letters to the draft board as they pleaded they were Conscientious Objectors and could not in conscience kill Vietnamese. As I wrote letters, I studied about the war and came to the conclusion that it was not only a mistake but also immoral. Then, I began to preach against it. Then, I realized I needed to put my body where my mouth was and began to protest, which led to
being arrested a number of times.
Q: Who is/are your heroes?
A: My hero is Jesus above all. Far after that are: Fr. Coughlin (mentioned above), Fr. Daniel Berrigan,
Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and my parents.
Q: What did your friend, Col. Bob Dalton, mean when he said, “It looks different when you are there on the ground, getting your boots dirty”?
A: That you can’t really understand a situation fully until you are there. Media tends to report the news from
its own biased point of view. If one read the paper or watched TV in Thailand, the same incident is described quite differently from the description by U.S. press and TV.
Q: Why did you feel so close to the Vietnamese people you met during the war?
A: I saw their suffering, both on the U.S. side (South Vietnam) and on North Vietnam side during this “civil war.” I saw the damage both places—to churches, hospitals and schools, for example—where there was no
Q: During the Vietnam War, what in your opinion, was the biggest lie the American public was told by their government and media?
A: Biggest lie was that the war was about Vietnam. It was really about stopping the influence of Russia and China.
Q: How did you get to know Mother Teresa?
A: Before Mother Teresa was famous, my study group wrote her a letter offering our help after we read an article about her in. She asked for prayers for her sisters and for the people with whom they worked. We sent boxes of clothes. She wrote back and said she could purchase more clothes in India with the postage money. We then began to send her money. She then asked me to set up a bank account for her in the States which she could use to found new missions in other countries. (It was against Indian law to send money out of India and she would not break the law).
Q: What was your connection with popular performers of the Vietnam-war era, like Joan Baez, John Denver, as well as Peter, Paul and Mary?
A: Each of those performers I asked to do concerts, the revenue from which I used for peace activities.
Q: Of all your experiences, which one was the:
B) Most effective?
C) Most profound?
D) Most memorable?
E) Most difficult?
A: Those are hard questions.
A: I am not aware of much fear. I have faith that my life is in the hands of God who is looking after me.
B: I do not think of myself as effective because, again, God is in charge and whatever I accomplish is God doing it. I’m simply an instrument in God’s hands.
C: A profound experience was being ordained a priest.
D: One of the most memorable was presiding at Mass in a Catholic Church in North Vietnam while the U.S. was bombing.
E: The most difficult was leaving the Archdiocese to go away to study because I felt sadness both for leaving the people at the Newman Center where I was a chaplain to University of Minnesota students, and to the people who attended and supported our work—and I felt I had failed to be the holy priest I had hoped to be. I determined to go because it appeared I would be moved from Newman and sent to the countryside and I didn’t think God wanted me to end up there. Maybe it was pride, but I was convinced God had other plans for me than being a parish priest. Hence, I went off to get a PhD. At 40 that was no easy task. Still, I enjoyed beyond words learning and being taught.
Q: Your activism at the Gaza Strip was in 2005, where your plans were to serve as human shields… what are your thoughts on that part of the world?
A: Gaza: The Patriarch of Jerusalem invited priests and nuns—because Israel would let them into Gaza—to be human shields between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinians. Research shows that warring parties tend not to shoot at each other if innocent Internationalists are in the way.
Q: After you became a professor at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, where did you teach and/or consult in the field of Organizational Behavior in the U.S. and other countries?
A: I taught in Vietnam from 1987–1995. I also taught in China, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Thailand, and Brazil and consulted in Costa Rica, and United States. I taught Organizational Behavior to MBA students from 1979 until 2014. I also taught overseas in the countries mentioned above from 1987 until 2014 when I returned to Minnesota.
Q: What cultural differences did you find when teaching students who lived in Asian countries?
A: When I would ask a question in Hong Kong, nobody would raise their hand to answer. The only way I could get someone to answer was to direct the question to a person. “Mr. Wang, what do you think about this?” Immediately students around him would talk to Wang in Chinese. I did not know if they were explaining the question or giving him the answer. If he were correct, everyone was correct; if he were
incorrect, everyone was incorrect.
Q: Can you talk about the non-violence project you are working on for Sept. 21-30 in the Twin Cities?
A: Beginning fall of 2018, over 30 peace organizations in the Twin Cities will present what they are doing to create an environment in which the Twin Cities can become free from violence—and people can feel free to move about without fear anywhere in the metro area. So far, thirty different organizations, plus churches, out of 80, plus churches, will contribute from their own point of view, and will present what they are doing: training, artistic presentations, lectures/workshops, experiential training, etc.