Fr. Louie Vitale is Pace e Bene’s Action Advocate. A Franciscan priest who served as the provincial of the California Franciscan Friars from 1979 to 1988, he co-founded the Nevada Desert Experience and its enduring movement to end nuclear testing.
Louie earned his Ph.D. in sociology (with a focus on the sociology of religion and social movements) at the University of California, Los Angeles. From 1993-2005 he served as the pastor of St. Boniface Catholic Church in a low-income neighborhood in San Francisco, California.
For many years Louie has engaged in nonviolent action for justice and peace. He served a prison sentence from October 2007 to March 2008 for prayerfully and nonviolently protesting torture training at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona. Here is an excerpt of a letter from this jail experience:
The cell door clangs shut. Now I am alone. But instead of trying to escape this solitude, I enter it deeply: This is where I am. Here in this empty cell I have begun to experience prison in the way James W. Douglass in Resistance and Contemplation describes it: not as “an interlude in a white middle class existence, but as a stage of the way redefining the nature of my life.” (James W. Douglass, Resistance and Contemplation: The Way of Liberation, p. 172). I have sensed this transformation, little by little. These days are a journey into a new freedom and a slow transformation of being and identity: an invitation to enter one’s truest self, and to follow the road of prayer and nonviolent witness wherever it will lead.
I am in this little hermitage in the presence of God, in the presence of the Christ who gave his life for the healing and well-being of all. I am also in the presence of the vast cloud of witnesses, some of whom are represented in the icons that have multiplied in this cell, gifts sent to me from people everywhere: Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Steven Biko, the martyrs of El Salvador, John XXIII. All those who have given their lives to fashion a more human world. At the same time I experience a deep connection with my fellow prisoners and with those outside these prison walls, including those who have sent me many letters and expressions of prayer and support.
In my little, empty cell, I experience a growing awareness of the communion of saints — and of the possibility of a world where the vast chasm of violence and injustice enforced by torture and war is bridged and transformed.
In 2009, Louie took part in a peace delegation to Iran and a pilgrimage to Hiroshima. He also spoke in over 40 cities across the United States about his peacemaking experience.
Here is a selection of Fr. Louie’s letters from prison: