Our Story: Pax Christi Aotearoa/New Zealand

This is the latest installment of a regular feature on the Peace Stories blog featuring the stories of our 120 member organisations on five continents around the world. In this story, we’re getting to know Pax Christi Aotearoa of New Zealand. This interview was conducted by email with Kevin McBride, national secretary-coordinator.

When and how did Pax Christi Aotearoa start? Was there some particular event or issue that served to bring your organisation into being?

Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand arose in many ways from the ashes of a former Justice, Peace and Development (JPD) Commission of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC) of the 1980s. Following a visit by PCI General Secretary, Etienne De Jonghe in 1988, when he was hosted by the then JPD Commission, Vice-President Sr. Mary Evelyn Jegen visited in 1989 and ran some workshops on peace and peacemaking. The members of the Peace Committee of the JPD Commission were so impressed that we decided to follow what we perceived as the ethic of Pax Christi and to be the agents of further contacts with PCI. In following years, I was able to visit Erie, Pennsylvania and New York and also to attend and contribute to a workshop run by Mary Evelyn in Omaha. So when the NZCBC decided to “restructure” the JPD Commission in the early 1990s (partly because of reactive pressure “from the pews” against some of our campaigns), most Auckland members decided to make Pax Christi the focus of our activities, leading in turn to our becoming a section of Pax Christi International in 1993. In the interim, I had attended an assembly of Pax Christi International at Fatima and we had a visit to New Zealand by Paul Lansu. The national centre was in Auckland but we had small branches in two or three other centres as well. The two critical issues which brought this about were Etienne’s visit in 1988 and the disestablishment of the JPD Commission in the early 1990s.

What is the structure and who are the people involved in your organisation? Who are the main leaders or personalities behind the work, in your history?

Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand is registered as a Charitable Trust under NZ Government Charitable Trust Act 1957 which sets out and monitors our activities to ensure that they conform to the establishing Act. We have a small number of Trustees who are responsible for our conforming to our Trust Deed which places our activities under Charitable Purposes which “…provide facilities for the welfare and education of people of all ages with the objective of:

  1. encouraging people to reflect upon the principles arising from Christian ethics and to educate them in the way of Christian peacemaking. These are appointed by the members for life, until they choose to resign or are disqualified by inappropriate action or publication.
  2. to enable them to study situations relative to their own lives and to which they feel related with the aim of reducing conflict and promoting peace. Three of our current five Trustees are foundation members, one has been appointed to monitor and support activities related to the terms of our taking over funds inherited when an associated charitable trust was wound up and the two others closely associated with Maori and Palestine issues were appointed more recently to monitor those critical areas.

We have also adapted the PCI practice of appointing co-Presidents, currently the Emeritus Bishop of Palmerston North Diocese, a long-term supporter, and Rangi Davis of the Ngapuhi hapu of northern New Zealand and closely related to our bicultural history. The 1835 NZ Declaration of Independence and 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, foundational political documents, were signed in their territory and strongly influenced by their leaders.

dsc04725In recent years, we have also elected annually a National Advisory Council representative of national membership to guide and direct policy implemented by the National Office in Auckland. The national office currently comprises myself as Secretary-Coordinator, Sr. Bridget Crisp RSM as promoter/manager, Barbara McBride as treasurer and Helen Doherty as current national chairperson of the Advisory Council (all pictured right with Pax Christi International Secretary General Greet Vanaerschot). Barbara and I are also foundational members.

It is difficult to nominate main/historical leaders as all core members have contributed in important and significant ways. Richard Archer, also a member of Pax Christi UK at one point, played a very important role until his death in recent years, as our “man in Wellington” where he attended parliamentary select committees and supported submissions, etc on our behalf. He got us well-known in government bodies and helped us get audiences with Parliamentary leaders and ministers of state when the occasion arose. His brothers Peter, a Trustee from the start, and Bill, a Religious Brother in Bougainville, where we became strongly involved in our early years, have also had a strong presence in our history. Strong links with Dominican Friars and Sisters, particularly Fr. Peter Murnane and Sr. Joan Hardiman, have been of great significance in our development. The latter served for a year in the PCI office in Belgium and for several years on our Trust Board while Fr Peter, as well as being on our Trust Board until he left New Zealand, has his own significant history in New Zealand’s peace movement. He and two companions disabled a “spy station” in central New Zealand, drawing attention to our nation’s deep involvement in international surveillance issues and involvement with a partisan approach to regional peace. At another time, Peter and companions poured some of their blood on the floor of the U.S. Consulate in Auckland in protest at the spilling of innocent blood in U.S.-initiated and supported conflicts.

What are the current issues you are working on, or what are your major priorities?

Since our beginnings, we have been engaged in advocating for peace in Bougainville, East Timor and West Papua in our our region. This has meant supporting students and activists from such places here in New Zealand and intervening in related policy issues at the government level. We have also managed to visit such places from time to time to see the situation for ourselves and to host visitors when they are available. The former two issues have reached a level of settlement though still have ongoing matters needing assistance. In typical Pax Christi fashion, we have become members of local support agencies like the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Coalition and Peace Movement Aotearoa, often through taking on membership of governing bodies.

More important, though, is our work within New Zealand, largely under the heading of “Decolonisation”. Two foundational documents, the 1835 “He Whakaputanga o nga Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni” (Declaration of Independence of the Chiefs of New Zealand) and 1840 “Te Tiriti o Waitangi” (Treaty of Waitangi), the latter based on the agreement forged in the first, make it quite clear that indigenous Maori established their sovereignty in the international arena and affirmed it in relating to incoming colonists. However, the latter assumed unjustified dominance and asserted military control which amounted to an unjustified takeover in defiance of clear understandings of partnership. We see our role as commitment to the long-term establishment of Maori historical understanding as the only means of achieving peace in our land and also as a model for other indigenous peoples in neighbouring countries with similar histories.

rangiwelcomeFive Maori principles increasingly underpin our approach to our role as peacemakers in Aotearoa: Whanaungatanga (relationship with all that is, which influences our approach to God, to people and to all of creation), Tapu (recognition of the essential dignity of all things), Mana (the potential to engage with and influence relationships and events), Utu (the principle of balance between conflicting elements) and Manaakitanga (the duty of care towards all people and things). [The above are my summaries of principles set out in Chapter 3 of “New Treaty, New Traditions – reconciling New Zealand and Maori Law” by Professor Carwyn Jones of Victoria University of Wellington (VUP 2016)]. We have a long way to go in our understanding of these issues and need great humility and care in addressing them.

How is your organisation putting nonviolence into practice? What role does nonviolence play in your work?

Nonviolence has always been a given in our work but our focus has increasingly been directed to the principles summarised above. Our history includes the stories of Parihaka, which members of the International Secretariat encountered while in New Zealand, and as well we have the story of Rekohu (Chatham Islands), whose people introduced the principle of non-combatance or nonviolence as a foundation of their relationships. When a Maori raiding party confronted them in the 1830s, they persevered in spite of huge losses of people and eventually of their island. It is possible that some of the forebears of the Parihaka model carried their resolution back to New Zealand but much more likely that Mahatma Gandhi read of the Parihaka issue which was published in colonial newspapers of the day. It is part of our role in Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand to give proper recognition to these historical events and acknowledgement of their importance in our own commitment to nonviolence.

What is the greatest accomplishment of Pax Christi Aotearoa (in your opinion) during its history?

We have had a measure of involvement in the resolution of conflicts in Timor Leste and Bougainville and played active roles through members and associates in the establishment and affirmation of New Zealand’s Nuclear-Free policy but can’t see any of them as our own achievements. In some ways, our greatest achievement has been the establishment of our section, the participation of its members in ongoing issues of peace in our nation and region and our recognition that we cannot solve issues of peace and injustice by ourselves but only through listening to the ongoing cries of oppressed people in our own neighbourhood and region and doing what we can to support those hearing those cries and acting on them.

What does it mean for your organisation to be part of the Pax Christi International network?

We see this as another relationship, one from which we can learn, but also one to which we can contribute. Our situation here provides many very specific challenges which call on us to realise and show a measure of uniqueness which we can share but not expect others to emulate outside the conditions in which they live. Likewise, it would be wrong of us to rely too much on the situations and experience of others to direct our activities.

In terms of the five principles outlined above, being part of PCI extends our relationships, it calls us to share our situation with others to extend their understanding of their nation’s part in our current situation and obligation in part to participate where possible in the remedying of issues like colonisation. We must also exercise our duty of care and renew our efforts to right the imbalances of the world in nonviolent and peaceful ways.

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