Franciscan priest speaks in Columbia on U.S.-Iran relations

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – In the late '50s, the Air Force gave Louie Vitale orders to shoot down a plane.

Vitale was a young pilot in those days, in his mid-20s, who had enlisted in the Korean War era. But he was suspicious enough to disobey orders and ask about the target he was to destroy.

"Are you sure they're enemy bombers?" he asked. The answer from the other end: "Yes."

It was sometime later, Vitale said, that he identified his target as a commercial airliner. He could see hands waving in the windows. His betters were mistaken. No shots were fired.

That same pilot now goes by Father Vitale of the Franciscan order. He spoke at MU Monday night to about 30 people. His speech, "Love Your Enemies: Transforming Us vs. Them Thinking," addressed terrorism, torture and war. 

Vitale spoke against the "peace comes through power" narrative. "That is trying to bring peace through order and control," Vitale said. "But our religions teach us that we do this through the human family; peace means harmony among all living creatures."

The event was sponsored by the Columbia Peace Coalition.

According to a news release from the coalition, Vitale was ordained as a Franciscan priest in 1963 and has a Ph.D in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles. He journeyed to Iran with the Fellowship of Reconciliation in March as part of an Iran Civilian Diplomacy Delegation to dialogue with the government and people of Iran, according to the release.

Vitale showed slides Monday of his trip to Iran and promoted a non-violent dialogue with the country. Vitale also told the audience to eliminate their fears of other people in foreign countries.

"We adopt this idea of scarcity, that we have to be careful or somebody's going to take this away from us," Vitale said. "I think at heart people all want to live in peace and harmony, and if we could eliminate this fear, then that could happen."

He also said that he thinks that God, or "the energy of the universe," designed human beings to love.

"That energy is positive," Vitale said. "And we call it love."

"I am very sympathetic to issues of peace and justice," said Joseph McCormack, who attended the event. "What I found most inspiring about him is that he's an obviously peaceful person from the inside and that informs how he acts in the world."


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