Nonviolence: Mysticism in action

by Jef Felix
Former Pax Christi International Board Member

The following article was written in the Fall of 2016 in anticipation of Peace Week, celebrated September 17-25. It first appeared in the Dutch web magazine, Ignis. Click here to read the article in Dutch.

There is good news for the upcoming Peace Week (17 to September 25, 2016). The Vatican has announced that the message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2017 will be dedicated to nonviolence, and entitled “Nonviolence: A style of politics for peace”.

This message was presented by Pax Christi International and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In April about eighty delegates from around the world came together in Rome for a conference on “Nonviolence and Just Peace”. Many leaders of Catholic orders and congregations – including the Jesuits – were involved in this remarkable initiative, which will probably be written about in church history. I myself was a participant on behalf of Pax Christi.

Final Declaration

Promoters of active nonviolence urged the Church to give it more attention in all facets of its life. Moreover, they want to get past the idea of “just war” and ask the Church for a stronger commitment to promote a “just peace” based on Gospel nonviolence. In the final declaration of the conference, participants earnestly requested explicit inclusion of Gospel nonviolence in everyday life, even in the Church’s sacramental life, and in the work of the Church in dioceses, parishes, schools, institutions, universities, seminaries, religious orders, and more. Such recommendations are actually concrete ways of cultivating a spirituality of peace.

Gospel nonviolence

What is spirituality? In his book, Spirituality is a Matter of Desire (2000), Herwig Arts, S.J. writes: “Spirituality is the discovery of one’s inner wealth.” It is the experience of feelings, sensations experienced as a contact with a transcendent reality that so goes beyond our own and that we then can call God, allowing ourselves to experience this as a personal relationship.

For me, spirituality is a personal quest from silence-at-its-deepest and prayer to the desire of humans to bear witness to this deep insight and wisdom. In it I find strength to act, even under threat of violence. I dare to testify that it is mysticism in action. It is inherently a call from deep within me to co-responsibility, in the manner of Jesus’ commitment and priority of attention and care for all who are vulnerable, troubled, and burdened by violence. It is a gospel-based active nonviolence, in imitation of Jesus, the nonviolent Servant of God.

Recommendations

At this time, can active gospel nonviolence offer an effective alternative to rampant armed violence and threats (even with nuclear weapons)? The answer is: Yes! At the conference in Rome, participants formulated, for this purpose, the following recommendations:

  • To further develop the Catholic social doctrine of nonviolence, the conference participants call on Pope Francis to share an encyclical on nonviolence and just peace in the world;
  • To develop nonviolent methods and strategies, including nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, trauma-healing, nonviolent protection of civilians, conflict transformation and peace-building strategies;
  • To establish a global dialogue on nonviolence within the Church, with people of other faiths and with the larger world, applying answers through the vision and methods of nonviolence and just peace to the immense crises of our time;
  • To no longer use or disseminate the doctrine of “just war” and to continue to advocate for the elimination of war and nuclear weapons;
  • To elevate the prophetic voice of the Church to fight unjust world powers, and to defend and support nonviolent activists risking their lives in the work for peace and justice.

Jef Felix is a theologian and former development worker. He is a former international board member of Pax Christi International in Brussels.

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