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Based on a TIME magazine regular feature,
interviews with influential Dominicans
will appear occasionally on DomLIfe.org

Toni Harris, OP 

Toni Harris
, OP has had a long commitment to justice issues, having been the first sister to serve as the North American Co-Promoter of Justice and Peace and, therefore, the first sister-member of the International Dominican Commission for Justice and Peace. The former prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa and a former President of the Dominican Leadership Conference, Toni now serves as the International Dominican Co-Promoter of Justice and Peace, along with Prakash Lohale, OP (India). 


1. What do you want Dominicans in the US to know about the justice work of the Order?

I have only been in the office a few months, of course.  However, what has touched me most about the Order’s work for justice is that, of the 35 countries in the world where 80 percent of the population live on less that $2 a day, Dominicans are in about 20 of those countries. Of the 70 countries identified as actual or potential areas of conflict, Dominicans are in about half of them.  It is very significant for me to grow in awareness that Dominicans around the globe are working in areas of great poverty and great conflict.

2. What are you concerned about the most for those Dominicans you just mentioned?

 That they have some sense of solidarity with the rest of the Dominican Family around the world; that they feel the support of their Dominican sisters and brothers.

3. What are your top concerns for the work of justice and peace in the Order?

At their meeting in May of 2006 in Fanjeaux, the International Dominican Commission for Justice and Peace Commission (IDCJP) identified three critical areas: human security and peace, migration/trafficking and economic inequalities.  In May of 2007, Dominican Sisters International (DSI) named the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) especially those that effect women, children and the environment. More recently, the Chapter in Bogotá, urged the friars to develop new and creative ways of working for peace and justice.

4. That seems like a very tall order! Are you hopeful of making some inroads into meeting these challenges?

It is important that Prakash and I – and all the Regional (continental) Co-Promoters, the congregational and the provincial Promoters -- work to keep these priorities before the world-wide Dominican Family. (Of course, these are inter-related issues.) Many Dominicans are working directly to address them.  Additionally, it is essential for all Dominicans at the “grass-roots” level to reflect about the ways in which their lives and ministries relate to these global priorities.  I believe that EVERY ministry undertaken may be understood as an opportunity to respond to one or more of these priorities.  The old axiom, “Act locally; think globally.” is relevant here.  With everyone’s effort, I believe that inroads are made.

5. Since January, when you started this new work, what has surprised you?

Its surprising to me that, in the 800 years of the Order, how deeply rooted the Order has become in the continental areas of the world. It is truly an international family.  I look at Prakash, my companion who is Indian, our sisters in Iraq – all these are deeply committed Dominicans.  For example, a Dominican province was established in the Philippines more than three-hundred years before the first province was established in the USA!  We may tend to think that the only Dominicans are the ones we know in our own country. We are in 101 countries around the world!

6. What disappoints you?

My greatest disappointment is in myself!  I regret very much that I do not speak at least one other language.  I am working hard to learn Spanish but it’s difficult to learn outside a Spanish-speaking environment.  It is a disappointing reality that so many of us from the USA are not fluent in other languages.  The sister who preceded me in this role – Marie Therese Perdriault OP (from France) – speaks four languages.

7. If you could ask every Dominican in the United States to do something to bring greater peace in the world, what would it be?

There is a great challenge in just knowing the people who live across the street from you. Do we know our immediate neighbors well enough to talk to them and to know what’s going on in their lives?

8. What difference do you think that makes?

What we are able to do on the local level informs what we are able to do nationally and globally. I have always believed that if we cannot get along with the people we are near, then how can we expect that of the nations of the world?  What we are able to do at the “micro” level predicts what is possible at the “macro” level.

9. Does being an American in this role offer any particular challenge or caution, given the present attitude of the world toward the US?

Yes, being a citizen of the country that is viewed with distrust or outright animosity by most peoples of the world (without exaggerating) is a challenge.  Some people will not want to have anything to do with me because I am a citizen of the US, others will give me
an opportunity to prove myself.  In clear contrast to the sincere belief of many US citizens of good will, increasing numbers of people in the world do NOT experience the US as a country committed to making the world a better place.  This is a sad reality for me.

People of the world have often distinguished the people of the US from the government of the US.  However, I think that the fact that United States citizens elected the Bush Administration a second time makes it hard for people of the world to give the people of the US the benefit of the doubt.  US culture is very complex and, while we like to think that other peoples can distinquish ordinary US citizens from their government policies, it is getting harder and harder make that distinction.

10. If you could ask every Dominican in the US to read one book, what would it be and why?

Following Jesus in a Consumer Society, by James Kavanugh, SJ. The book is several years old,   but it is the most challenging book I’ve read – it challenges our US lifestyle in light of what the Gospel requires.

Thanks, Toni. It has been a pleasure visiting you.

Toni:  You are most welcome.

Anne Lythgoe, OP editor, Dominican Life | USA




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