Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks at Raymond Helmick, SJ lecture

CHESTNUT HILL -- The second Raymond Helmick SJ Memorial Lecture took place recently at Boston College, marking the first anniversary of Father Helmick's death.

Speaker for this event was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, American civil rights activist and Baptist minister. BC Professor Susan Michalczyk, a member of the Raymond Helmick, SJ Memorial Committee, called the assembly to order, Rev. Michael Davidson, SJ, led the opening prayer, and Raymond Barry, Father Helmick's nephew and namesake, welcomed the audience of nearly 300 students, friends, family, and ecumenical and inter-religious colleagues of Father Helmick.

At the time of Father Helmick's death, Rev. Jackson called him, "a man of strength of character, non-negotiable dignity, with a fine, tender heart... who never stopped searching and working for peace."

At the BC lecture he added that Father Helmick was a peacemaker and bridge-builder. He once asked Father Helmick about negotiating in difficult situations and received advice that remains with him: Don't listen to the arguments, "Hear the subject and the predicate and don't take a side, just take the high ground. The righteousness of the cause is what's important."

Rev. Jackson said, "The difference between peace makers and peace keepers is listening, and Father Helmick listened."

"Father Ray had all the qualities of a good Secretary of State, but he decided to be a humble servant," he added.

Rev. Jackson's brief remarks were followed by a panel discussion and questions from the audience.

Memorial Committee member Jerome Maryon, facilitated this part of the program, and asked Rev. Jackson what brought him and Father Helmick together.

Rev. Jackson spoke about using faith as a guide to peacemaking, "Our religion made us political -- our politics didn't make us religious."

A student inquired: "As a man of peace and prayer you've lived through so much change.... What can we do?"

Rev. Jackson replied, "If you add to power, grace, it expands the power. The civil rights movement didn't have tanks or bombs and one doesn't have to be elected to affirm those values."

When asked, "What do you say to a student who wants to make changes?" he said, "The journey doesn't start with you, you're on a train that is already on that journey."

Mixing metaphors, he continued, "You have to jump into the water -- and don't stop kicking or you'll drown!"

Asked whether a boycott in the Middle East would be effective, he cautioned, "Our job is not to choose sides but to reconcile sides. Justice and peace must live together."

Christian DuPont, librarian at Bapst Library on the BC campus, gave an update on the library's Helmick Special Collection. The collection, gathered by Raymond Barry, is made up of manuscripts, correspondence, and notes from classes Father Helmick taught.

DuPont said, "The quality of an archive depends on the quality of the individual. Father Raymond Helmick's papers and course work will be available to all and will continue to shape the thinking of students for years to come."

BC Professor Michalczyk gave Rev. Jackson a DVD about the conflict in Northern Ireland. It was the first of many conflict resolution documentaries that he and Father Helmick produced.

Rev. Jackson accepted the film, and in an emotional plea said, "You don't extend his dream by studying conflict resolution, you honor him by getting involved. Don't just study him, follow him! The conflict may be health care, Wall Street, immigration.... We thank God for him. He will live as long as we remember him."

Rev. Rodney Peterson, PhD, executive director of both the Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries and the Lord's Day Alliance of the United States, and a member of the Memorial Committee, was a close friend and colleague of Father Helmick's. His closing prayer borrowed words from Bishop Desmond Tutu and the simple prayer, "May we go with grace."