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321:"It always seems impossible until it's done." - Nelson Mandela

Day 321: Sunday January 31st, 2021

Profiles in Non Violence

"It always seems impossible until it's done."

- Nelson Mandela

Honor Mandela by carrying on the struggle for justice and peace By John Dear

In 1987, while teaching world history to 150 high school students in Pennsylvania, I spent a week on South Africa and apartheid. I knew Mandela was not allowed to receive mail, so I proposed that we all write letters of support to Winnie Mandela. Through friends in the movement, we were able to get those 150 letters delivered to her. Everyone was excited to think of her reading our letters.

Months passed and I forgot about our project -- until one day, when I received an unmarked envelope in the mail, stamped from South Africa. Winnie wrote me a beautiful letter, thanking me for the encouragement and support. The letter was typed out on what must have been an old, barely functioning manual typewriter.

She signed herself "WM." Below was a P.S.: "Please thank each one of the following students for me." With that, she typed out the full names of every student, a list that went on for several pages. It must have taken her an hour to type out all the names. I gave a copy to every student.

In 1989, I was able to join a church protest, and 100 of us were arrested for blocking the entrance to the White House, calling for an end to U.S. support of apartheid. By then, I was helping out at a Jesuit church in D.C. We had declared ourselves a sister parish of Regina Mundi, the Catholic community in Soweto, a hub of anti-apartheid activity. In our church foyer, we posted pictures of our friends in Soweto.

"It always seems impossible until it's done."

That's what Nelson Mandela famously said as he reflected back on his years in the struggle to fight apartheid. For me, that is the key lesson from Mandela's life and the struggle to end apartheid. It was an impossible task, but it had to be done, even if it cost one's freedom or one's life. If everyone gives themselves to the struggle, then apartheid will surely fall.

We need that same brave, determined spirit if we're to take on the impossible task of trying to end war, poverty, hunger, gun violence, drones, executions, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction.

With faith, hope, vision, trust in God, steadfast organizing, sacrificial love, perseverance and determination, we can fight the greatest injustices, Mandela insists.

That's the legacy of those who fought for the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage and civil rights. Keep at it, even if the task seems impossible. Don't give in to fatalism or despair; otherwise, you'll do nothing, and there will be no chance of positive social change.

With even the smallest ounce of faith, Jesus teaches in Mark's Gospel, we can move mountains, even the mountains of apartheid, poverty and nuclear weapons.

I'll never forget watching Mandela's inauguration. I was in the Edenton, N.C., jail, facing years in prison for our Plowshares action. I was sitting right next to Philip Berrigan. The news anchor asked Mandela, "Did you ever think you would become president of South Africa?"

Mandela turned his head sideways and looked quizzical. "Of course I did," he answered firmly. "Every day in prison my comrades called me Mr. President. We spent every day for over 25 years preparing for this day, envisioning a new South Africa, studying other democracies, and planning out the details."

Phil and I turned and looked at each other. Mandela's visionary determination was shocking and amazing.

That's what we need today: ordinary, committed, determined people with a global vision of justice and peace doing what they can and having the perseverance to spend their lives making that vision come true.

I think the best way to honor Nelson Mandela is by carrying on the nonviolent struggle for justice and peace, continuing to do whatever we can, giving more and more of ourselves to that struggle. We need to pursue the impossible task of ending war, guns, drones, nuclear weapons, poverty, hunger, executions, environmental destruction, and all violence. This is what the spiritual life, the Gospel, demands of us: a full-time commitment to welcoming the reign of God in our midst. This is what makes life meaningful.

There are many struggles to join, including efforts to support human rights for Palestinians (, solidarity with the Afghanis (, and projects to abolish the death penalty ( and nuclear weapons (see: One of the best environmental movements is and its effort to stop the evil Keystone XL pipeline. All of them need our active support.

"We must use time wisely," Mandela said, "and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right." As we prepare again to live Jesus and his reign of nonviolence, I hope we can recommit ourselves to the grass-roots movements for disarmament and justice. That's the best way to honor Nelson Mandela.

Dec 10, 2013

Excerpts from John Dear



by Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J.

Gracious and merciful God, at this sacred time we come before you in need--indeed on our knees. But we come still more with hope, and with our eyes raised anew to the vision of a “more perfect union” in our land, a union of all our citizens to “promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

We are a people of many races, creeds and colors, national backgrounds, cultures and styles—now far more numerous and on land much vaster than when Archbishop John Carroll wrote his prayer for the inauguration of George Washington two-hundred-and thirty-two years ago.

Archbishop Carroll prayed that you, O Creator of all, would “assist with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to your people.

Today we confess our past failures to live according to our vision of equality, inclusion and freedom for all. Yet we resolutely commit still more now to renewing the vision, to caring for one another in word and deed, especially the least fortunate among us, and so becoming a light the world can look to. There is a power in each and every one of us that lives by turning to every other one of us, a thrust of the spirit to cherish and care and stand by others, and above all those most in need. It is called love, and its path is to give ever more of itself. Today it is called American patriotism, born not of power and privilege but of care for the common good—“with malice toward none and with charity for all.

For our new President we beg of you the wisdom Solomon sought when he knelt before you and prayed for “an understanding heart so that I can govern your people and know the difference between right and wrong.” We trust in the counsel of the Letter of James: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Pope Francis has reminded us “how important it is to dream together….By ourselves,” he wrote, “we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together.”

Be with us, Holy Mystery of Love, as we dream together. Help us under our new President to reconcile the people of our land, restore our dream, and invest it with peace and justice and the joy that is the overflow of love. To the glory of your Name forever.



Hope Beyond All Hope (from Dan Vrooman)

Brenda Fassie - Black President

The Specials - Nelson Mandela

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