By Steve Lalli
How many of us can remain true to deeply-held principles when the forces lined up against you include your country, church and family? Sister Elizabeth Salmon saw firsthand what opposing a world war did to her father, Ben.
Ben Salmon was subjected to torture, forced feeding after a hunger strike, hard labor, and prison time for refusing to fight during World War I. Sister Elizabeth has just returned from Austria for the war’s 100th anniversary in August 2014, where she shared how her father’s example can bring peace to today’s global conflicts.
“Long before Mahatma Gandhi, Franz Jagerstatter, Dorothy Day, Dr. King or Thomas Merton,” wrote peace activist John Dear, a columnist at National Catholic Reporter. Ben Salmon “stood and said that because of Jesus, he would not be a soldier. Right here in the United States.”
Salmon was a Catholic conscientious objector from Denver who was arrested and sentenced to death (which was eventually reduced to 25 years of hard labor). Believing that killing is immoral, Salmon, who died in 1932, claimed that no Christian should carry a gun. Because of that stand and a lifetime of Christian acts, a Catholic group is now advocating Sister Elizabeth’s father for beatification.
“Yes, our dad did leave an example of mighty courage and of stick-to-it-ive-ness and, as well, an adherence to the letter of God’s Word in the Ten Commandments, ‘Thou shalt not kill,'” Sister Elizabeth said. “He also stuck to his own principles with no deviation, as chaplains of five or six different prisons found out.”
To take that kind of stand when the nation was at war was considered criminal. The U.S. entered World War I in 1917, and by then the war already had been raging for three years. Ben Salmon’s example as one of the first Catholic conscientious objectors in a time of war stood in contrast to a Church that was late in adopting that stance. “The Germans are my brothers. I will not kill them!” Sister Elizabeth said her father once said.
Pope Francis, who would have a say on Ben Salmon’s possible beatification, heard arguments in favor of the proposal earlier this year, according to Sister Elizabeth. Supporters said they have no idea what the Pope will do but vowed to continue to write to Pope Francis and the Vatican about Ben Salmon’s courage as a soldier in the army of peace.
Later, during World War II, another Catholic, Franz Jagerstatter, would stand by his moral principles, too, and refuse his mandated duty to kill as a soldier in the German Army.
On August 9, 1943, Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian, was put to death by the Nazis for refusing to serve. In 2007, the martyr for nonviolence was beatified by Pope Benedict. This August, Sister Elizabeth also attended Blessed Franz’s death anniversary in Austria.
“I certainly want to be involved in anyway possible for whatever would promote no more wars,” said Sister Elizabeth.