Nonviolence – the heart of the gospel

by Marie Dennis, Co-President of Pax Christi International

(Ed. Note: The following was given as a speech in Montreal, Canada, in June 2017. It is also available in French by clicking here.)

Katarina Kruhonja, co-founder of the Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights in Osijek, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award and a former Board member of Pax Christi International, spoke eloquently about her own conversion to nonviolence:

For us ordinary people the war in Croatia, the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia came suddenly, unexpectedly. We were confused and the war, the logic of war, was spreading like wild fire. The growth of nationalism and enemy-making and the armed attacks were overwhelming. I found myself surrounded by Serbian forces who were bombing us. I started to think like everyone else that there was no other way. It is or them or us. What we can do? And while we were praying in a small group, we thought and talked about what love your enemies might mean in this very concrete situation. Someone said maybe the love for enemy in this situation is to kill him or them, to prevent him or them from committing more atrocities. That hit me very hard. I started to think every day what would it be to love my enemy in the middle of the war? I couldn’t find an answer, but I made a decision. I said that killing my enemy is surely not how Jesus would love his enemy. So I chose to love my enemy as Jesus would. I didn’t know what that would mean, but the choice itself really was my Passover from the logic of the violence. I would be able to live again.

Faith grounds and shapes the work of Pax Christi for peace. As we accompany communities torn apart by violence and work to prevent or to stop war, and on and on, the challenge of faith to our work is rooted in an absolute commitment to preserving every human life and the integrity of the rest of creation – the essence of Catholic social thought.

For us and for many others nonviolence is spirituality, a way of life, a deep commitment to live the values we believe shaped the community that formed around Jesus in the first century context of occupied Palestine. For us, the so-called “hard sayings” in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are central. But the challenge is how to interpret that message in the context of a 21st century world immersed in extremely complex situations of violence. What does “love your enemy” or “blessed are the peacemakers” mean now – yes, at a personal level, but maybe even more importantly, what does this worldview offer in the public arena, the social context those places where we live our faith? …

Click here to read the entire speech as a PDF.

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