Living with a Nonviolent Heart

Living with a Nonviolent Heart

By Maria Zeimen, osf

The tenth in a series on active nonviolence from the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa (

On a cold January day in 2007 an attorney who works on immigrant cases and two of his friends braved a snowstorm to pray outside the deportation center in Broadview, IL. The attorney believed that all things are possible in God; some of his cases were proving to be impossible. Nine years later anywhere from 30 – 50 people join him, I being one of them, every Friday morning at 7:15am to pray. At that time some of our immigrant brothers and sisters are being bused to O’Hare airport to be deported. On occasions up to 100 people gather, people from many religious traditions: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islam and perhaps some from no tradition. The late Cardinal Francis George and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin joined us at times.

Faithfulness to this prayer has led us to start three other programs: pastoral care for our brothers and sisters being detained in jails; court watch to assure that our brothers and sisters are treated with respect; and providing homes for those being released from jail with nowhere to go.

I’m one of 75 volunteers who have the privilege to visit face to face, one on one with people detained in jail waiting for their court cases. This is heart-wrenching ministry. We hear stories of men being taken from their homes and jobs leaving behind families without financial or emotional support; women torn from their homes leaving small children without their mother; people who have been in this country since childhood with no family or friends in the country to which they will be deported. During many visits rather than hearing complaints about their situation, I hear:

“I’ve had time to think about my past life. I’ve not lived right. I’m going to live differently when I get out.”

“Because of you volunteers, I know God and God’s mercy better. I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart.”

“I’m growing in gratitude for small everyday things – grateful for fresh air now that I don’t have any; grateful that my children can argue and laugh now that I don’t hear them.”

“My cell mate and I pray together every morning. I didn’t use to take time to pray. I want to continue that when I get out.”

“I’ve grown in my trust of God, so much so, that I can sleep peacefully at night.”

“Every night I go over the decisions I’ve made during the day and think about what I could have done better. I’ve never taken time to do that before.”

Can we learn from these faith-filled brothers and sisters how to use every opportunity, no matter how painful, to live more fully and with a nonviolent heart?

Maria Zeimen, osf