Fr. Maurice Restivo, a new theology professor at St. Joseph's College, has served in Hebron with the Christian Peacemakers Team.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Fr. Maurice Restivo, a new theology professor at St. Joseph's College, has served in Hebron with the Christian Peacemakers Team.

September 22, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The newest addition to St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta is a liberation theologian who works for peace and justice in the Middle East.

Basilian Father Maurice Restivo, who spends part of his time in Hebron keeping the peace between Palestinians and Israelis, began teaching theology at St. Joseph's in January.

"I hesitate to call myself a peacemaker because I know I still have so much violence in my own heart," he says. "Nevertheless, a peacemaker is someone who struggles within him or herself to become a reflection of Jesus and to be a person who helps facilitate peace."

Restivo, a member of the Christian Peacemakers Team, was appointed to St. Joseph's by his Basilian order. He has a doctorate in dogmatic theology.

This semester Restivo is teaching two sections of a course called Theological Education for the Catholic teacher and one section on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Born and raised in Houston, Restivo began to seriously consider the priesthood when a priest in his parish said he thought Restivo should enter the seminary.

"That got me thinking about it and finally I decided to try it," Restivo recalled in an interview. "The further I went, the more it felt like the right place to be."

After studying two years for his diocese, he decided he needed to be in community. He joined the Basilians who had taught him in both high school and university.

Since his ordination in 1986, Restivo has done parish ministry in several places including Cali, Colombia, Detroit and Angleton, Texas. He has also taught theology at universities in Houston and Toronto.

Restivo completed his doctorate in dogmatic theology at the Gregorian University in Rome with a dissertation on liberation theology and Christology in Latin America.

"What most affected me and influenced me is the emphasis that liberation Christology puts on the historical Jesus, on how important it is to know Jesus and to follow him by doing the same kinds of things that he did," Restivo explained.

TANGIBLE INJUSTICE

"I think that's what got me interested in the whole Palestinian question because the injustice is so tangible and it just feels like a place where we can do something."

In 2011 Restivo met the Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) and became a reservist for the organization. The ecumenical CPT was founded in response to a challenge made to the Mennonite World Congress in 1984 by a delegate who asked: "What would happen if Christians made the same sacrifices to make peace as soldiers do to make war?"

Restivo was trained in the summer of 2012 and made a three-year commitment to CPT. He was part of the team that went to Hebron in December 2013, and again in August.

"We partner with local organizations in hotspots around the world that are working for peace using non-violent methods," he explained.

"In Hebron we monitor military checkpoints when school children go to school and have to pass through military checkpoints. Sometimes (our presence) helps things to be a little bit smoother."

Hebron has been exclusively Muslim but now has some Jewish settlers.

JEWISH SETTLERS

"Those settlers want the Muslims gone. Now the mosque which is 100 years old, part of it has been converted into a synagogue. So part of it is a synagogue, part of it is a mosque with a wall in between," Restivo laments.

"I see a lot of intimidation, a lot of mistreatment, especially of adolescent and young adult males but sometimes women on the part of Israeli soldiers and Israeli settlers."

Palestinians are not saints either. "I've seen them throw stones and I disagree with that," the Basilian says. "International law says that people who are under occupation have a right to resist. I don't agree with (throwing stones), but it's what they've chosen to do.

"Anyway, I don't think an Israeli soldier who is wearing body armour and a helmet is in much danger of being hurt by any of those stones."

LIVE AMMUNITION

Since last June, when the latest conflict between Israel and Gaza erupted, Israeli soldiers in Hebron have been using live ammunition as opposed to rubber bullets and tear gas. When Restivo was there in August two people were killed.

It is important that Christians be seen as supporting the oppressed in Muslim areas and in Palestine, rather than as unconditionally supporting Israel, Restivo said. "Many people want to be seen supporting Israel at any and all costs."