Archive for peace

Give Nonviolence a Chance

Posted in America Magazine, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

world-peaceThis column originally appeared in the January 20-27, 2014 issue of America magazine with the title “Daring Peace.”

On Dec. 10, 2013, the eyes, ears and hearts of the world were focused on Soweto, South Africa, on the occasion of a memorial service to remember the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Mandela will be remembered for a great many things, including his commitment to peacemaking and nonviolence in his later years. But in a way unlike Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi, with whom Mandela will be remembered as a great world leader of liberation, Mandela’s relationship to nonviolence and peacemaking was especially complex.

As a Los Angeles Times article by Robyn Dixon, titled “Nelson Mandela’s Legacy: As a Leader, He Was Willing to Use Violence” (12/6), reminds us, Mandela once “embraced armed struggle to end the racist system of apartheid.” In the 1950s and ’60s, Mandela was convinced that the nonviolent efforts the African National Congress had adopted to fight the white supremacist regime were ineffectual. He and others trained for military action and established Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed branch of the A.N.C., which was willing to use violence to reach its goals. Yet Mandela would not always maintain this stance.

Dixon reminds us: “Umkhonto we Sizwe abandoned its policy of violence in 1990 as negotiations on the dismantling of apartheid and the setting up of free elections continued. After his release, and on becoming South Africa’s chief executive in 1994, Mandela adhered to the commitment to peace, tolerance and equality that became the hallmark of his presidency.”

Nelson Mandela’s story is not about embracing radical nonviolence from the outset. It is about conversion to nonviolence. His is a story that offers hope for those who believe that they cannot let go of the necessity of violence in our world. His is a story that encourages us, especially those who bear the name of Christ, to give nonviolence a chance.

Nonviolence is often viewed as impossible, an unrealistic dream of the naïve and foolish, particularly in an age marked by drones, nuclear weapons and diffuse terrorist networks. This sort of logic is what led the young Mandela to endorse taking up arms. It was this sort of logic that led U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last September to write off his own suggestion that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria could avoid violent intervention from the international community by “[turning] over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.” Kerry expressed his incredulity: “But he isn’t about to do it.”

However, there are prophets who continue to cry out in the wilderness of our 21st-century world on behalf of nonviolence. Pope Francis, for example, called both Christians and people of good will alike to join him in a prayer vigil for peace in Syria on Sept. 7, 2013. During that day of prayer and fasting, Pope Francis spoke in St. Peter’s Square: “We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.”

Pope Francis, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the government of Argentina for this nonviolent witness and its result, challenges the world to follow in the spirit of Mandela’s own lifelong conversion toward peace and nonviolence. What seems impossible and illogical might just be our own unwillingness to take seriously the Gospel imperative of peace. Pope Francis asked during the peace vigil: “Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?” And he offered a Gospel response: “I say yes, it is possible for everyone. From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone!”

Pope Francis’ challenge to us is to return to the Gospel and embrace nonviolence as the way to be peacemakers and reconcilers. Nelson Mandela’s life story illustrates the possibility of this conversion. The logic of violence has had its reign for long enough. Can we too give nonviolence a chance?

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books, including The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013).

Photo: File

Jesus Was Not Such A ‘Nice Guy’

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

jesus-painting_1280_x_1024Jesus was not such a “nice guy.”

This might be difficult to accept at first glance, because the image of Jesus we have today has been so sanitized and packaged as to make wearing a precious-metal cross around one’s neck or identifying oneself as a Christian in public is not a particularly uncommon (nor unpopular) thing to do today, especially in places like the United States. But who is this Jesus that is so immediately attractive, so easy to follow, so much like our own imagining? And, then, who is this Jesus that we hear about in today’s Gospel, who claims to have come to bring division rather than the establishment of peace (Luke 12: 49-53)?

There are at least two reasons we might understand that Jesus was not entirely a “nice guy.” The first is that the Romans, despite anachronistic misunderstandings of their behavior and outlook, did not typically go around crucifying “nice guys.” Yes, while Jesus was without a doubt an innocent man who happened to be crucified, we should not forget that there was a reason that he drew attention to himself and it wasn’t for saying kind things about the way the status quo was maintained. More on that in a second.

The second reason that we can reasonably assume Jesus was not such a “nice guy” is that he tells us as much in today’s Gospel selection from Luke (and we hear it echoed in the synoptic Gospel of Matthew with an even-more disturbing emphasis on not-nice-guyness in terms of Jesus’s claim to bring “the sword”).

It can be difficult to get beyond the seemingly violent message that Jesus appears to convey in his exhortation to his disciples. We might hear in Jesus’s admittance that he didn’t come to “establish peace on the earth” something of an advocation for violence. But that’s not really what is going on.

Likewise, it might seem that Jesus does not respect “family values” (isn’t that an interesting read) in suggesting that those who follow him and live life according the Good News he announces will find themselves among divided families and communities. But that’s not really what is going on.

What is going on is a straightforward, albeit counterintuitive, admission of the risk, challenge, and reality of authentic Christian living that centers on following the Word of God and becoming a prophetic in one’s time and place!

In other words, we are called, like Jesus was, to not be “nice guys” (and “gals,” for those who aren’t Millennials and use “guys” in an inclusive manner).

Jesus did indeed come to bring peace, but it was — as we hear elsewhere in Sacred Scripture — a “peace the world cannot give” (John 14:27). The peace that Jesus is talking about here, the “peace” that he did not come to establish, is the kind of peace that we might talk about when we express a desire to maintain the status quo or wish “not to ‘rock the boat.'” It is a kind of “keeping the peace” that eschews “tough love,” or a “challenging voice,” or the “hard truth.” It is a kind of “establishing a peace” that exists according to the wisdom of the world and not the foolishness of God, and rests in the reason of human injustice and not within the Reign of God.

Jesus was crucified, in part, because he did not come to preach a word that kept things the way they were, but instead was sent to proclaim the in-breaking of God’s Reign, which is about the establishment of justice and not the earthly status quo of injustice and violence. In other words, Jesus was not sent to be a “nice guy,” because nice guys don’t rock the boat nor do they upset people by challenging the way things are. And, oh, how Jesus upset certain people who had so much to lose because they had gained all — power, wealth, status, etc. — at the expense of others!

As those who bear the name of Christ and claim to be his disciples, we are called to not be “nice guys” like him. We are not to keep the peace of things as they are, but to open our eyes to the plight of the poor and forgotten, the underserved and abused, the marginalized and those suffering at the hands of others’ greed. And this might mean that we face divided families and communities, unsettling those who are not able or willing to hear the Gospel.

This is not an entirely new concept. It dates back to the Hebrew Prophets, such as Jeremiah, who we hear about in our First Reading. Jeremiah, a reluctant prophet who at first resisted God’s call to preach the truth of God’s justice and peace, is threatened with death by the king. His proclaiming the truth of the world as it really is in contradistinction to the way God intended the world to be is a threat to those in power, who benefit from the oppression of others and the maintaining of the status quo.

Like Jeremiah, we too might be reluctant to take on this mission, but like him and Jesus we have been called by God to do just that, to surrender our desire to be “nice guys” who “keep the peace” of the way things are. Instead, we are meant — by virtue of our baptismal vocation — to preach the Kingdom of God in word and deed, risking greatly.

But how can we do this?

It is certainly not easy, which is why in our Second Reading the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” we have to provide models and guides for us. This is a way of talking about the Communion of Saints, those who have gone before us and remain connected to us in spirit. They support us as we continue to persevere and “run the race” of Christian living, a marathon to be sure, a journey that is tiring but one that is the most authentic way of being ourselves.

The question we are left with this weekend is to discern what it means to be a Christian. Do we take the risk of being the prophet who speaks the hard truth and does the right thing, or do we prefer to not “rock the boat” and establish an earthly peace that maintains the status quo of violence and injustice?

Photo: Stock

O King of All Nations: This is My Song

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 22, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Draw_Me_The_World_by_stickerstickerO King of all nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of humankind, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

In the United States, especially in times of political contestation and in a year when even religious leaders decry specters of threats against “religious liberty,” it can be difficult to think of the coming of Christ as the coming of the “King of all nations.” The king of Iran, the king of Israel, the king of North Korea, and of China, the United States, and Haiti. Because of this truth, the fact that we believe that Christ is indeed the keystone of the “might arch of humankind,” that we need to put down temptations of extreme patriotism, jingoism, and discrimination on all fronts.

The United States is not the greatest nation on earth. All nations have things about which to be proud and things for which to be ashamed. Greatness, at least greatness as conceived by Jesus’s instruction to his disciples to be the least and to serve all, has not been intentionally achieved by any human community on this earth.

Nevertheless, the King of all nations comes. Christ is near. Are we ready to accept that? To accept our interrelatedness with all people on earth? Or will we, especially in the United States, continue to look only at ourselves to the disregard of all others?

In honor of today’s O Antiphon, I want to share the lyrics to one of my favorite songs: This is My Song, set to Sebelius’s famous tune, Finlandia. This is my song today, my prayer for this O Antiphon.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;
May peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
A world united, righting every wrong;
A world united in its love for freedom,
Proclaiming peace together in one song.

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms:
Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done.
Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,
And hearts united learn to live as one.
O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations;
Myself I give thee, let thy will be done.

Photo: File

Correcting Oversight: DeWitt’s Reflections on ML King’s Opposition to War and Poverty

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The following essay, written by Stephen DeWitt, OFM, author of the blog, was originally published in the January 18, 2012 issue of HNP Today, the twice-monthly newsletter of the Franciscan of Holy Name Province. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Seasonal Reflection: Being True to King’s Legacy
by Stephen DeWitt, OFM

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most important, influential, and well-known figures of the 20th century United States. King is rightly famous and celebrated for his contributions to the cvil rights movement in the U.S. and his commitment to nonviolent social protest and activism.

This week, as we do each year, we, as a nation, pause to honor his memory and the ideals to which he dedicated his life. During this time most remembrances focus on his contributions to ending segregation and other manifestations of legalized racism in the United States. Many will read or play his famous “I Have a Dream” speech given during the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C. All of this was an important part of King’s life and well worth remembering. Equally important, however, and less well remembered, is King’s opposition to militarism and poverty in the U.S. It was to this struggle that King dedicated the latter years of his life. It  is this aspect of his life, often forgotten in public remembrances of his life, that has the most to teach us in this moment of U.S. history.

King’s opposition to war was rooted in two important principles: his belief in the sacredness of all human life and his belief in an objective moral order. Both of these principles were grounded in his Christian faith and guided his entire life. For King, the sacredness of human life was a consequence of humankind’s creation in the image and likeness of God. Speaking on Christmas Eve, 1967, King said:

“Now, let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men [sic] is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God. And so when we say ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world.” (A Christmas Sermon on Peace)

This identity as children of God means that all people are related and interdependent in a way that knows no boundaries or divisions. We are all brothers and sisters and when we truly acknowledge this oppression, then exploitation and killing will be impossible.

Harmony with Universal Moral Order
King also believed that the universe was under the spiritual control of God and that God had written certain moral laws into the very fabric of the universe. This meant that moral decision-making was not about what was popular or even pragmatic, but what was most in line with the grain of the universe as God had created it. We live our lives best when we do so in harmony with this universal moral order; when we fail to do so, the results are violence, inequality, and injustice. This danger was particularly acute when one substituted a lesser value, such as materialism and consumerism, for love and devotion to God.

King believed that the existence of violence between human beings and of massive inequality between rich and poor was a sign that the people of the world had forgotten the inherent dignity of all people and had turned against the grain of the universe. This sense of violation was particularly evident in the relationship King saw between poverty and war in the policies of the United States during his lifetime, especially the War in Vietnam, which he publicly opposed during the final years of his life.

Speaking about the War in Vietnam in February of 1967, King called Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program the third casualty of the War in Vietnam, because the war was taking money that could be spent on the poor and using it for unjust killing and war. King goes on to lament a society that could rigorously evaluate every dollar spent on social welfare, while carelessly throwing billions of dollars at the slaughter of other human beings. For him, this indicated a massive distortion of values and priorities.

In April 1967, King called the War in Vietnam, “a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit…” and called for a radical revolution of values so that the U.S. would “get on the right side of the world revolution” (Beyond Vietnam). As King saw it, the world was in the midst of worldwide revolution of freedom in which the oppressed peoples of the world were rising up to demand their rights as free people. Through its ongoing actions in Vietnam, the U.S. had placed itself on the wrong side of this revolution and was in need of great moral and spiritual revolution to bring itself back in line with the movement of the world.

Parallels Decades Later
Tragically, the radical revolution of values that King called for has not come to pass and his criticisms of war and violence retain their relevance. Even a superficial analysis of the recent misadventures of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan indicates the truth of this statement. According to some estimates, U.S. actions in these countries have cost more than $1 trillion (National Priorities Project), money that could be used here in the U.S. to alleviate the effects of the ongoing economic recession. As in King’s time, when budgets become tight, it is always social welfare programs that are forced to make sacrifices and not military and defense programs.

Nor would King be content with the massive inequality between rich and poor that continues to exist in the U.S. Speaking in 1956, King lamented the fact that one tenth of one percent of the population controlled nearly 40 percent of the wealth (Paul’s Letter to American Christians). Today, the wealthiest one percent control fully 40 percent of the wealth and earn 25 percent of all income annually (Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%). King condemned this situation, saying,

“God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty. God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in this universe “enough and to spare” for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth. (Paul’s Letter to American Christians)

As long as the rich continue to dominate the poor, King’s critique retains its relevance and serves as a reminder that the U.S. is still in need of a radical reorientation of priorities.

Today, U.S. society remains troubled by the same issues that King spoke out against so eloquently during the final years of his life. Our tragic addiction to violence and war remains as the U.S. continues to spend obscene amounts of money on the military while people struggle to pay their bills. We continue to prioritize the rich and powerful, while leaving the poor and middle class to fend for themselves, despite all rhetoric to the contrary. The bankers and financiers who brought the U.S. and world economy to the brink of collapse are bailed out, while ordinary people are thrown out of their homes, often through dishonest and fraudulent means.

If King were alive today, he would be speaking out against the tragic state of U.S. society and culture. He would be marching with the various Occupy movements calling for accountability and for government programs to help people remain in their homes.

This week, many speak eloquently about the need to honor King’s memory and remember the great things he did for civil rights in this country. If we truly want to honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., however, we will join in the struggle to transform U.S. society and bring about the radical revolution of values that he called for. To do anything less makes a mockery of his life and everything for which he stood.

— Br. Steve, a member of the Province’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate, professed his final vows as a Franciscan in August 2011.

Shane Claiborne and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Well, within two weeks I find myself writing about Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream for the second time. I wrote previously about the social-justice agenda that is prominently featured as part of the mission and business plan of the ice-cream company (see “My Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: Social Justice“). Today I share with you a partnership recently launched between one of Ben and Jerry’s co-founders, Ben Cohen, and the popular Christian activist, Shane Claiborne, best known for the founding of the “Simple Way,” a community described as following a o of evangelical living called “New Monasticism.” Claiborne is popular among young evangelical and other Christians, many of whom have read one of his several books.

Ben and Shane have teamed up to organize an event in Philadelphia the day before the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 to promote nonviolence and peace. Here is an excerpt of Shane writing about the event in The Huffington Post recently:

I am teaming up with Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, and an all-star cast to create a little event to provoke the imagination on the eve of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. We’ve been calling it “Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream.”

It will be a night of reconciliation and of grace.

A victim of 9/11 will share about why she has insisted that more violence will not cure the epidemic of hatred in the world.

A veteran from Iraq will speak about the collision he felt as a Christian trying to follow the nonviolent-enemy-love of Jesus on the cross while carrying a gun.

A welder will tie an AK-47 in a knot, while a muralist paints something beautiful on stage.
We’re going to do a Skype call with Afghan youth working for peace, and hear their dreams for a world free of war and bombs and other ugly things…

Oh, and word on the street is: ice cream will be served.

If I didn’t have commitments previously scheduled for that day, I might find myself among those gathered at this event. I certainly endorse the cause that Claiborne and Cohen have sought to promote: nonviolence and peace in a world that has, as Claiborne notes in his HuffPo piece, lost its imagination and has increasingly resorted to violence. As Christians, it seems that events like this are a good way to gather together and promote a Gospel view of nonviolence in our world. I hope some of you are able to make it!

For more information you can check out the Event Website here (for information and tickets) or the Facebook Event Site here.

Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Poem ‘Peace’

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 5, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I’m not entirely sure why I feel compelled to share this short poem by Hopkins other than these days of financial turmoil, violence in the world, political instability in this country and elsewhere seems to evoke a longing for some sort of peace that is more stable, more longstanding than what is offered “piecemeal,” to borrow Hopkins’s descriptor. I hope that you will find this poetic reflection edifying and, as it has for me, lead you to pray for a peace that is substantive and divine. Such peace is not found in the fleeting power reversals and violent victories of human action, but in the surrender of such power and the foregoing of violence that the Gospel calls all humankind to embrace. Indeed that peace is a proper noun (Peace) as Hopkins indicates, and that Peace is Christ.


When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure Peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He Comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

NJ Talk and Thomas Merton on the Source of War

Posted in Thomas Merton with tags , , , , , , on July 27, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Last night and again later this morning I am giving talks in Beach Haven, NJ, on the Franciscan influence in the life and thought of Thomas Merton. I particularly enjoy being reminded of the various insights and nuggets of wisdom that shine through Merton’s work. Sometimes one who spends so much time with a particular thinker or subject can begin to take that person or area of thought for granted. I’m not sure that I do that with Merton, but I do know that what can be “old news” to me can make a lot of difference for a lot of people.

While most people are completely oblivious to the fact that the famous Trappist Monk was technically first a Franciscan even though his dream of becoming a Franciscan Friar was never realized  (He was a member of the Third Order or SFOs, which he joined two months before leaving for the Louisville, KY to become a monk), the ways in which the Franciscan tradition informed and shaped Merton’s outlook are manifold — much more so than one can share in just a few hours, and much, much more so than even I have explored (there remain new and exciting research discoveries!).

One of the most interesting comments in recent decades by a Merton scholar, although made in passing, was that of George Kilcourse in his book on Merton’s Christology. In that text Kilcourse offers the conjecture that it is quite possible that a book on the medieval Franciscan John Duns Scotus that Merton had expressed a strong desire to write in the early 1940s might have ultimately turned out as the famous Seeds of Contemplation (later New Seeds). There is much theological evidence within the text(s) to support such a claim, yet there remains much more that can be done in terms of manuscript study and contextual analysis. (to be continued…)

Meanwhile, speaking of New Seeds of Contemplation, I returned to the text last night to have a little read from one of my favorite books. My attention was drawn to the chapter titled, “The Root of War is Fear.” I find myself returning to this chapter now and then, particularly in times of global conflict and violence. There is much wisdom in Merton’s reflection, some of it seems so commonsensical, yet the human family continues to seem incapable of learning or seeing reality as it truly is. This is some of what Merton has to say:

At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men [and women] have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.

He goes on for what amounts to be one of the longest chapters in the book (most chapters are only a few pages). The whole chapter is worth reading, as the whole book is indeed worth reading — several times! But I wish to skip ahead to the closing section of the chapter. I think Merton offers us a lot to seriously take to heart about what it is that we pray for when we prayer for “world peace.”

If men [and women] really wanted peace they would sincerely ask God for it and He would give it to them. But why should [God] give the world a peace which it does not really desire? The peace the world pretends to desire is really no peace at all.

To some men [and women] peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace means the freedom to rob others without interruption. To still others it means the leisure to devour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving. And to practically everybody peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure.

Many men [and women] like these have asked God for what they thought was “peace” and wondered why their prayer was not answered. They could not understand that it actually was answered. God left them with what they desired, for their idea of peace was only another form of war. The “cold war” is simply the normal consequence of our corrupt idea of a peace based on a policy of “every man for himself” in ethics, economics and political life. It is absurd to hope for a solid peace based on fictions and illusions!

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men [and women] and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed — but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

There is not much more that one can say after something so wise.

Except, perhaps, “Amen.”

Photo: Merton Legacy Trust

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