Nonviolence, Women and Peacemaking

Nonviolence as a tool for empowering warring communities to be agents of their own change

By Elizabeth Kanini Kimau

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

In 2009, I began my peace mission in South Sudan (Sudan by then) and Northern Kenya, which is characterized by armed conflicts among pastoralist communities which inhabit that region. In Northern Kenya I went to live at the grassroots (Leyai IDP-camp) with the people who were badly affected by the Rendille-Borana conflict. In South Sudan I teach in RECONCILE Peace Institute which trains key persons, mobilized from all corners of South Sudan, on peace and trauma healing. For the last five years I have met participants who were born, lived, married, and are now aging, in war. Most of them have been in and out of refugee camps. In February 2015 I started helping a Catholic diocese in the western part of the country in establishing a Peace and Trauma Healing Museum. This region has also been affected by war — and worse, by the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army or LRA, a rebel group from Northern Uganda which has abducted many women, girls, young men, and boys, and maimed and killed many. The language of nonviolence helped me transform myself and empowered me to be able to live and work in these hostile environments and among people who are violent as the result of protracted conflicts. Nonviolence has also been key in transforming the Rendille-Borana conflict in Northern Kenya.

This paper will only focus on my experience in Northern Kenya and how nonviolence was very powerful in changing violent relations to peaceful relations.

Experience of Violence in Leyai Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp

The Peace and Justice Commission (CJPC) of Tangaza University College, where I was a member, visited the Marsabit Diocesan CJPC to help in peace activities for one week. I learned that the conflict situation in the region has subjected many people to live in dehumanizing conditions. I resolved to participate in building a culture of peace in the region by empowering people to be agents of their own change. The ten pastoralist groups in Marsabit County were fighting each other. I decided to focus on the Rendille-Borana conflict which was claiming many lives at that time.

I went to live in Leyai IDP Camp to create a rapport with the people, understand their culture, build trust, allow the people to know me and deeply understand the violent conflict. I saw that Leyai primary school was closed several times due to insecurity and had just reopened with only three teachers. Therefore, as I lived with the local people, I started teaching their traumatized children in the school.

Leyai IDP Camp was inhabited by the Rendille community. While there, I observed that the Rendille and Borana communities were deeply divided and never interacted. Each community used its own source of water, means of transport and never traded with each other. They perceived each other as an enemy and whoever killed an enemy was praised and termed a hero. I witnessed situations where people were killed and cattle were raided. The pain of loss, bitterness and anger was temporarily ‘relieved’ after revenge.

As I interacted with the children, I learned that the enmity and hatred had been passed down from generation to generation, leaving the conflict in a vicious cycle. Whenever I asked the children to draw, they all drew guns, people killing each other and cattle being raided. I asked different questions at different times. What will you do when you grow up? “I will go kill Borana and take back our cattle.” Who created your parents? “God.” Who created the parents of Borana children? “The Devil.” When I bring Borana children, what will you do with them? “We will kill them.” My interaction with the pupils informed me of an urgent need to cut the chain of enmity and hatred.

Overcoming Violence with Excessive Violence

The hatred and enmity between Rendille and Borana communities was a big obstacle to any dialogue attempt or to solving disputes constructively. I heard from the local communities that many peace meetings had ended in violence. In addition I observed that any act of violence was reacted to with excessive violence. If cattle were raided and a person killed, revenge was immediate and it was doubled in many cases. Many victims of revenge were innocent people, especially from Songa and Jaldesa locations who live at the border of the two communities. The revenge mission escalated the violence to a very high magnitude, leaving the area very insecure.

Introducing Nonviolence as an Alternative to Solving Conflicts with Bloody Violence

The deep rooted culture of violence and revenge could only be transformed if people changed the way they perceived each other and communicated. Consequently their violent actions will change. I met Imtraud Kauschat from Germany and her team who were training in nonviolent communication. In collaboration with Irmtraud, we introduced nonviolence between Borana and Rendille communities. We began by training the elders who are the key decision-makers. They were taken away from the violence zone to a peaceful area (more than 600 km). The elders started to interact, listen to each other, and perceive each other as human beings. They were able to sit and discuss the violence which has enslaved them. The elders went back to Marsabit as a team, and when people saw them together in Marsabit town, they asked, “When did Rendille and Borana elders start talking together?” These elders visited various villages to ask people to unite and take responsibility to build their own peace.

Secondly a team of Morans/warriors (key perpetrators to the conflict) were trained in nonviolent communication. Some confessed how they were to kill each other during several violent attacks. They decided to remain friends. When they went back, they resolved to preach peace to their peers and keep them from raiding or killing.

The women whose children and husbands had been killed by the bloody conflicts were also trained. All these people became agents of peace in their region.

The Opportunities Created by Nonviolence

The language of nonviolence changed the perception of an enemy to a human being whom they can collaborate with in developmental activities. Consequently the elders, who are key decision-makers, started holding dialogues and resolving disputes before they escalated to violence.

Incidences of killing and raids have been greatly reduced. People living in IDP camps like Leyai have gone back to their farms and resumed agricultural activities. In May 2014, they contributed 5,000 kgs of maize to areas affected by drought in Marsabit County. There was enhanced communication where each community started alerting each other in case they sensed any danger. The two communities started trading together and using the same means of transport. Some Rendille started working as casual workers in Borana farms. Elders started tracking raided cattle and return them to the owners. Criminals are punished with no regard from which group they are. The elite youth took responsibility for promoting interaction between Rendille and Boran youth through sports and parties which have promoted good relationships among the young people. Consequently, the Rendille and Borana have now lived in a peaceful environment for the last three years after many years of bloody conflict.

Conclusion

My experience of using nonviolence to myself first and then communities at war with each other has motivated me to gain deeper understanding. Nonviolence is the solution to the protracted conflicts which have resulted in the loss of meaning for the preciousness of life and subjected many people to live in dehumanizing conditions. However, many people — especially those working for peace — do not have a deeper knowledge of the practice of nonviolence. This is why many negotiations have not yielded fruits due to eruptions of violent communication which worsen the situation.

The Catholic Church is very well-placed in the society. It is connected with people all over the world from the top, middle, and to the grassroots level. Therefore the Church can be a good channel of active nonviolence. Jesus is an icon of nonviolence, therefore if active nonviolence is taught at all levels, it will become a language which can overcome the violence being experienced in many parts of the world. Through the Council of Justice and Peace, a manual can be developed which can be used to train people at the national level, hence spilling over to the grassroots. Finally there is a need to document successful stories of nonviolence which can help others to learn.

Nonviolence, Peace

Shifting the lens: Just peace and nonviolence

by Eli McCarthy

[NOTE: The following article was published this past August on the Huffington Post.]

Disheartening trends of global violence continue with the latest attacks in Iraq, Germany, and France, including the direct taking of a Catholic priest’s life. The lens we use to respond to these violent habits, especially as a Catholic Church is of utmost importance for both better effectiveness and faithfulness.

As a grateful participant in the April conference in Rome on just peace and nonviolence, I previously wrote about being deeply moved by the encounter with fellow Catholic peacemakers who lived in violent conflict zones. Out of this experience, I want to respond to this interview in Our Sunday Visitor about the conference outcome document. The person interviewed was a respected colleague, Dr. Gerard Powers, professor of the Practice of Catholic Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame.

I, and the Conference, appreciate and agree with Gerard on the following points: Catholic life needs to better integrate peacebuilding; there is value in a just peace theory; just war theory is unfortunately being used primarily in an unhealthy way; and the significant value of a new Papal document on this issue. So, hopefully there is a lot of common ground to work on together.

There are four other points of divergence, which I want to address with the hope of deepening the dialogue as we seek God’s truth together. These points arise in large part out of an emphasis on the pastoral question about how we better form peacemakers as a Catholic Church.

First, in the interview there is no clear articulation of how Jesus’ way corresponds to the Catholic Church continuing to use and teach the just war theory. This is not a minor point. Yes, the Catholic Church uses both scripture and tradition, but as we Catholics all know it is an “and” not an “or” relationship. Jesus’ way needs a clear role and any moral teaching needs to have consistency with that way. Scripture scholarship is basically unanimous that Jesus models a way of nonviolent love of friends and enemies. The call to love our neighbor must always be consistent with how Jesus loved (John 13:34), and our perceived enemies always remain our neighbors. Recent Popes have confirmed this reality about Jesus, and the conference builds its’ appeal consistent with this realism about Jesus.

Second, the claim is made that Catholic social doctrine already has a just peace theory. In general, this is a promising point and something we can build on together. The article says that “the vision, principles, criteria for moral action constitute the substance of a just peace theory.” Yet, it’s not clear which criteria are intended here. Is it the just war criteria or something broader? Either way, I agree that Catholic social doctrine certainly has elements of a just peace theory. But Catholic social doctrine has yet to explicitly identify, explain, and prioritize a just peace theory/approach. For instance, the conference alluded to seven specific just peace criteria to guide moral action across all stages of conflict, including during violent conflict. These criteria and this method of application have not yet been affirmed in Catholic social doctrine. There are also specific virtues, such as the virtue of nonviolent peacemaking, which were discussed as part of a virtue-based, just peace approach consistent with Gospel nonviolence. Examples of a similar just peace approach have been articulated by others on lethal drones, nuclear weapons, and ISIS

To read the rest of this article, click here.

Nonviolence, Peace

Nobel Peace Laureate: “Nonviolence is the path to human security”

by Mairead Maguire
Nobel Peace Laureate

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

I come from Northern Ireland and lived throughout the ‘troubles’ in the city of Belfast, in an area deeply immersed in a violent ethnic/political conflict for over 30 years. The ‘troubles’ started in 1969 and in the ensuing thirty years over 3,500 people were killed and thousands injured. In 1969 the UK Government, at the request of Nationalist politicians, sent in British troops to protect the Catholic population. The British government also brought in emergency legislation removing many basic civil liberties of the population, carrying out such draconian measures as internment without trial, torture, etc. However, these measures only served to increase the anger in the Nationalist community and were counterproductive in that many young people joined the ‘armed’ groups for many reasons, but often in reaction to how they were humiliated by British troops when their dignity was ignored and basic human and civil rights were removed.

Living as we did between the violence of illegal paramilitary groups and state repression, many people in the civil community found themselves having to make a choice between violence and nonviolence. One young man, Danny, told me he was in the Irish Republic Army and joined the ‘armed struggle’ because it was a ‘just war’ struggle, and the Catholic Church, he said, blesses just wars. This conversation with a teenager, arguing the Just War Theory, had a profound effect on me. I realized that though I came from a Catholic background, living in a Catholic community, I had never read ‘just war’ theology and had not been taught Jesus’s nonviolence, much less a clear moral calling to reject violence and follow the Sermon on the Mount.

Living in the midst of state violence, I was forced to ask myself: “Can I ever use violence in face of state violence and injustice? Is there such a thing as just war, just violence?” I then read the Just War Theory and decided I agreed with the late American theologian Fr. John L. McKenzie: “The just war theology is a phony piece of morality.”

Finally, I went to the cross and there found my answer. “Love your enemy. Do not kill.” And I came into my own believe that non-killing, nonviolence is the way of Jesus, the way of the cross and that Jesus’s suffering on the cross, calling us to love our enemies, is the greatest symbol of nonviolent love in action. I also came to know that my life and every human life is sacred and we have no right to kill each other in armed struggles and wars but to seek alternatives to violence. It was then I made the conscious choice to be an active pacifist and not to kill or support nuclear weapons, militarism and war. I also made the choice to commit myself to finding nonviolent solutions to the injustices in society which others took up ‘arms’ to try to change.

Having lived in Northern Ireland, when we witnessed that militarism and paramilitarism did not solve our problems but only deepened the hatred and division, it was only when we began to enter into dialogue and worked on peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, that change began to happen in our country. Peace came to Northern Ireland when people rejected the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence and came to believe that peace is possible, peace is a human right for all.

I would like to see Pope Francis and the Catholic Church call for the total abolition of militarism (an aberration/dysfunction in human history). Also that Pope Francis and the Church renounce war and develop a ‘theology of non-killing and nonviolence’ and reject the just war theology which has, and continues to, lead people to an acceptance of militarism and war as an alleged legitimate way of solving conflict.

Since World War II, over 20 million people have died in wars, and hundreds of wars have been fought often in the name of God and country. Christians have, and continue to participate, in the killing of humans, and the destruction of their countries and environment. We are all aware that since 9/11 many countries have been destroyed in war and proxy wars by allegedly Christian (Western) countries and their armies, made up of many Christian men and women. This is truly shameful and for which we should say ‘sorry’ and acknowledge this is not in the spirit of Jesus, who was so compassionate and loving to all.

maguireI believe we Christians need to deepen our spirituality of nonviolence, and the Church can help by teaching nonviolence as a theology and way of life, in the seminaries, in schools, in Church, and at every level of society, and by encouraging Christians to live the Sermon on the Mount. In an age of increasing violence and war, how can we Christians choose Jesus’s nonviolence if the Church does not teach nonviolence and offer it as an alternative to violence, militarism and war?

But rejecting violence as a means of bringing about change or as a means of defence, leaves us with an enormous challenge: How do we create human security? We, as the human family, have spent so much of our intellect and our resources on building arms, nuclear weapons and war machinery; we have spent little time on building the architecture of peace and instruments of conflict resolution. The Churches and all faith traditions can provide great spiritual leadership in encouraging people to change their mindsets, deepen their spirituality, and through imagination and creativity move to a new consciousness of nonviolence and peace-building for the sake of humanity’s survival and fulfillment, committing to a vision of peace and disarmament.

As we continue to work for peaceful interaction, we need a shared constructive goal of a peaceful, demilitarized world for the human family. Wars start from dysfunctional conditions and relationships, and to solve this we need equality through peaceful interaction. We can build relational equality; for the Catholic Church, this will mean justice and equality for women in the Church and rejecting patriarchy, militarism and war. With fresh thinking, and a new vision, the Church can fulfill its prophetic spiritual leadership role so needed by our human family, seeking a world without militarism and war, based on fraternity among people and nations, no armies, peace and love.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: A glimmer of hope from Aleppo

ypj-logo

The following interview was done by Perla Hajj, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. It is translated from Arabic into English.

____________

We live in a world that is constantly moving. The Middle East today is facing a big crisis, whether it is in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq or Syria. Those countries are being shaped by this huge instability and everything’s changing.

In 2011, a new war started in the Middle East. This war is taking place in Syria. Today we’re in 2017 and the war is still there. Is it possible to imagine the damage that has been caused by this indescribable war? I’m not even talking about the material damage but the psychological. Is it even countable?

In this interview, I would like to highlight this point and share with you an interview I conducted with a young Syrian girl. A girl who should be like any other girl of her age but is not. Her name is Layla. Layla is only 18 years old, but she is much more mature than her age.

This interview has been conducted in the light of prejudices against Syrian refugees. It emphasises the identity crisis refugees are facing. The integration process, the adaptation of a new culture, in a new country … this takes time — a lot of time.

In this interview, Layla confides in me her thoughts and fears about the prejudices towards and rejections of Syrians.

This is an open letter from a young Syrian girl:

“My name is Layla. I’m 18 years old and I come from Aleppo, Syria. I’m currently living in Lebanon.

“We moved to Lebanon almost one year and a half ago. I live with my family, my parents and my little brother. I have to admit that moving wasn’t easy; it wasn’t easy at all.”

Layla seemed ill at ease.

youngwomenwithmalalainlebanon
Malala walks through Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon with other young women.

“I mean, if I could, I would have stayed in Syria. Parts of Aleppo were secure when we left, but my father insisted on fleeing. He says, ‘Syria was a beautiful country, and to me, it will always remain the most beautiful country, but the reality is that Syria no longer exists…’

“His sentence literally breaks my heart.

“Whenever I hear bad things about Syria or Syrians … it makes me so sad. Maybe it’s because I am young and thus vulnerable, but it truly affects me.

“I have mixed feelings: a part of me wants to hide, ignoring what the others think or say. While, at the same time, a part of me doesn’t want to hide anymore and wants to change this connotation and misunderstanding.

“I am 18 years old today but I feel as if I’m at least 40 or even 50 … I feel old in my head, in my body, in my way of thinking. I’m afraid, afraid of the present, of the future. I think that I wasn’t prepared for this … for all of this. It’s … It is too much.

“My parents want me to apply for asylum (mostly in Europe) so that I can leave this chaos in the Middle East. ‘Go get a bright future,’ they say, ‘we don’t want you to be like us. At least you can get a chance, Inch ‘Allah. At first, you would feel bad and sad but trust me, later on, you will have a decent life.’”

At one point, she burst into tears.

“But how? How can I leave my parents, my language, my Arabic, my life? Why does this have to happen to me? I don’t feel ready. If I were a citizen from a developed country, there would be no problem. Why does it have to be this way just because I was born in a place I didn’t decide? Why? Why? Why? Young people from developed countries have never been through this before.”

She wrenched her thoughts back to the present. She took a moment to wipe her tears, and then, she started to open herself to me and share with me the deepest thoughts she encountered. Her voice quavered a moment.

“For a while, I was ashamed of my origins. I know that I should not say that, but it’s important. I reckon that I was young (and still am, even though I don’t have this feeling anymore), but the truth is that I didn’t understand, I wasn’t aware of the situation. Today I feel a bit more mature.

“In a way I think that I lost my innocence. This sentence may sound sad, but it’s not. I’m happy I have become like that.

“For the last couple of years, I was angry at the world, angry at the international community, at all these supposedly big countries that promote human rights because they let all the bad things happen in my country.

“Sometimes I have the feeling that I would be rejected just because I am Syrian. I can’t stop thinking about it. I don’t share these thoughts with my parents because I don’t want to disappoint them. I don’t know if I’m ready to bear this. When does a period end?”

Layla’s reflection reminded me immediately of the Portuguese writer, José Saramago. I guess he was right when he said, “I have a sense that life, real life, is hidden behind a curtain, roaring with laughter at our efforts to get to know it.”

“I’m not bad just because I am Syrian, I’m not a refugee just because I’m Syrian, I’m not just a Syrian. I am a human being and I don’t want to be ashamed of my nationality, of my home; I don’t want to be ashamed because of who I am, my region, my parents, the life I had.”

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And this young girl understood it while facing this situation.

“Nevertheless, I want to persuade this reluctant child in me to change. People can say whatever they want to; I don’t want to be the vulnerable young girl I used to be. It won’t hinder me. I want to be treated on equal footing with any other person.”

Dreaming of a new horizon

“I know that wherever I go, I will carry the Syrian identity with me.”

Her warm, brown eyes lit with hope.

“I just want to be happy like I used to be before. This is all I want, all I wish, and all I aspire for. Is it too much?”

Perla Hajj is a young woman from Lebanon. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and is currently pursuing a double degree Master in Management between Paris and Beirut. Perla was an intern at Pax Christi International during autumn 2015 where she assisted the communications department. She believes that this project enables all of us to be a voice for those who don’t or can’t speak.

Nonviolence, Peace

Nonviolence is power

by Fr. John Dear

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

First, my work for Gospel nonviolence began in 1982, while I was camping alone by the Sea of Galilee in Israel. I was twenty-one years old and about to enter the seminary. One day I visited the Chapel of the Beatitudes and was quite overwhelmed by their teachings. While pondering them, I saw Israeli jets swoop down over the Sea of Galilee, and drop their bombs a few miles away in Lebanon. Sixty-thousand people died during that summer war. I decided then and there to dedicate my life to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. Within months, I began a serious study of nonviolence, joined every peace group I could find, and started writing a book about professing a vow of nonviolence, as Gandhi did. Since then, I’ve written over 30 books on peace and nonviolence; traveled the war zones of the world, from Central America to Iraq and Afghanistan; organized countless demonstrations; been arrested over 75 times and spent nearly a year in jail; directed the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA; lectured on nonviolence probably to over a million people, and currently work with Ken Butigan on Campaign Nonviolence.

tnvl-cover-rgSecond, Gandhi and King insist that nonviolence is power, that it is stronger than all the world’s weapons combined, that it doesn’t use the means of violence to achieve noble ends, and that when it is tried, it always works. I see this more and more as I study the movements for social change. As I wrote in my recent book, The Nonviolent Life, I think nonviolence requires nonviolence to ourselves; nonviolence toward all people, all creatures, and all creation; and at the same time, active participation in the global grassroots movement of nonviolence, which can tackle any issue, according to Gandhi and King. Erica Chenoweth, in her recent book, Why Civil Resistance Works, has now proven statistically that nonviolence works when it’s tried. But for me, its greatest strength, of course, is that is it the way of Jesus. I completely agree with Gandhi and King that Jesus was perfectly nonviolent, that all his teachings are about nonviolence, that he forbids all violence, and that during his life, he built and mobilized a grassroots movement of nonviolence, which continues today. As I get older, I have become less involved in institutional church work and more involved in global grassroots movements of nonviolence, because I think this is what the nonviolent Jesus wants of me and all of us. I’m very moved too by Gandhi’s statement: “The Kingdom of God is nonviolence.” We are working to welcome the Kingdom of God as a new world without war, hunger, guns, greed, executions, torture, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons or environmental destruction, a new world of nonviolence.

Third, Catholics do not know anything about nonviolence. They do not know that Jesus was nonviolent. They all support violence and war. At best, they compartmentalize their spiritual lives from the world’s realities of war and violence. The Church has to reject the just war theory once and for all, and start teaching the nonviolence of Jesus and the methodology of nonviolence. In particular, priests and bishops need to be taught about Gospel nonviolence. This is the most important work we can do together, and why this Rome meeting is so important. This meeting has to be just a beginning. Ideally, I hope we can push Pope Francis to write an encyclical on the nonviolence of Jesus, the rejection of the just war theory, the church’s complete embrace of nonviolence, and the requirement of every Catholic to try to practice the nonviolence of Jesus. Because we are a hierarchical church, I suppose we need to push Rome toward the truth of Gospel nonviolence. We may never have a better chance than under Pope Francis. I hope we can ask for a second meeting, in a year or two. I certainly would be willing to help in any way.

Peace

Building a nuclear weapon-free world

by Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International Co-President

Note: The following remarks were delivered by Pax Christi International Co-President Marie Dennis in her position as a panelist at the “Building a Nuclear Weapon-Free World” conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, 28-29 August, 2016. Ms. Dennis was invited by the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND). The conference of parliamentarians, mayors, religious leaders, government representatives and disarmament experts was held in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the closing the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.

anti-nuclear-logoPax Christi, a global Catholic peace movement with 120 member organizations on 5 continents, was founded at the end of the Second World War to support efforts at reconciliation between the French and the Germans after decades of bitter fighting.  As people around the world struggled to rebuild their lives and relationships, a monstrous legacy of that war – nuclear weapons – became increasingly visible and Pax Christi with many others began the long struggle to eliminate them.

For most of these 70 years, any discussion about the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons was subordinated to the debate about national security and deterrence. Yet it is precisely there – before the disastrous human and ecological effects of nuclear weapons production and potential use, whether by intent or accident, that Pax Christi and most faith communities engage.

Let me say a few words this afternoon from the Catholic perspective – although all of the work that we do is with people of many faith traditions and with all people of good will committed to abolishing nuclear weapons.

First, who are we? From which perspective do we approach this challenge?

  • We are part of a local Church – from Hiroshima and (especially) Nagasaki and the Marshall Islands; from communities where uranium miners and downwinders live; from impoverished communities, who, as Pope Francis said, “Pay the price” when resources are squandered on nuclear weapons. (Dec 7, 2014)
  • We are part of a Church with a long track record of working for nuclear disarmament. In December 2014, the Holy See’s statement to the Vienna Conference revoked moral justification for nuclear deterrence and therefore for the design, development or possession of nuclear weapons. At the United Nations last year, Pope Francis said, “An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.”
  • We are part of a global Church that brings to the effort for nuclear disarmament some important resources:
  • A values based way of life that is rooted in respect for the dignity of every person and the integrity of the natural world; the values we cherish are well articulated and very useful in the political arena/the public square
  • Broad, even global, networks of members or followers. In the Catholic tradition this network includes parish and diocesan structures that span many of the nuclear weapons states, hundreds of religious communities most of which work internationally, and international Catholic movements and organizations like Pax Christi International
  • Educational institutions and resources – colleges and universities, high schools, grade schools, seminaries – as well as networks of these institutions (Jesuit universities, Franciscan universities, Catholic universities etc.) – and formal or informal educational opportunities in local congregations
  • Communities of prayer and study – every week around the world we, like other people of faith, gather for a time of prayer that includes a message, a sermon, a homily about living our faith in the world today
  • Communication – we have capacity for publishing, broadcasting and social media
  • Access to every sector of our societies – from national political decision-makers to media personalities to scholars to business leaders to opinion-makers to local leaders.

The recently reframed discussion around nuclear weapons, the humanitarian initiative, is a real sign of hope that citizens of the world – all of us who will be irrevocably harmed in any nuclear weapons exchange – are taking back the nuclear disarmament initiative. This, exemplified in last week’s recommendation from the Open Ended Working Group to begin in 2017 negotiations toward a nuclear ban treaty, is a tremendous sign of hope. And it is an effort that we, as a Catholic peace movement fully support.

The humanitarian impact debate forces states to do some soul-searching about the role for nuclear weapons in their national security strategies, whether or not they now possess nuclear weapons. That, I think points directly to the questions that we as faith communities are askingWhat kind of people are we of the 21st century?  What values shape our political priorities; how do we represent them on the global stage; and what do they say about our concern for future generations?

Nuclear weapons are in essence inhumane and unethical. Only an ethic rooted in solidarity and peaceful coexistence is a worthy project for the future of humanity. Pax Christi International fully supports the position of the Holy See stated so clearly at the Humanitarian Consequences conference in Vienna in December 2014:

“World leaders must be reminded that the commitment to disarm embedded in the NPT and other international documents is more than a legal-political detail, it is a moral commitment on which the future of the world depends…Responsibility for the abolition of nuclear weapons is an essential component of the global common good.”  (Pope Francis, 7 December 2014)

As an international Catholic peace movement we will continue to highlight the ethical imperative for a nuclear-weapons-free world. We recall the noble principles of the Charter of the United Nations, which enjoin the international community, individually and collectively, to spare no effort in promoting a world where all peoples may enjoy freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the freedom to live in dignity. Yes, a nuclear-weapons-free world is a global public good of the highest order serving both national and international security interests.

To that end, in coalition with ICAN and many other international, regional and national organizations, Pax Christi International will (1) support the process recommended by the Open Ended Working Group; (2) work for a WMDFZ in the Middle East; (3) oppose modernization of nuclear arsenals; (4) promote Don’t Bank on the Bomb.

  1. We will support the recommendation of the Open Ended Working Group to the UN General Assembly to convene “a conference in 2017 open to all states, international organizations, and civil society, to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons leading towards their total elimination.” We will engage in that process to the greatest extent possible. Our representative at the OEWG noted that the results of the OEWG process – the clear action, the broad support and the definite timeline – represent “a milestone in the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament.”

Thanks to our geographic spread, the ecumenical advocacy in which Pax Christi actively participates, will engage states on all sides of the issue: states for a ban, states against a ban, and states in the middle. Our goals are to:

  • Help bring governments which rely on nuclear weapons to accept consensus and not vote “No”, or to move from “No” to “Abstain”, or move from “Abstain” to “Yes”.
  • Encourage more of the nuclear-free states to join the debate and demonstrate the majority support, which is the ban’s best asset.
  1. We will work for the creation of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East, including the 21 state-members of the Arab League plus Iran and Israel. We believe that Turkey should also be included in a WMDFZ in the Middle East. This would require the withdrawal of NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons from Turkish territory – a move we fully support. In fact, member organisations of Pax Christi International in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy have campaigned for decades to get US nuclear weapons out of Europe.
  1. We will oppose modernization of nuclear arsenals, especially in Europe and the United States. We fully agree with Pope Francis that “the production, maintenance and deployment of nuclear weapons continue to siphon off resources that otherwise might have been made available for the amelioration of poverty and socio-economic development for the poor. The prolongation of the nuclear establishment continues to perpetuate patterns of impoverishment both domestically and internationally.” (Time for Abolition, December 2014)
  1. And we will promote the growing international campaign, Don’t Bank on the Bomb, which was initiated by our Dutch member organization, PAX, to engage the public in an effective nonviolent campaign to undercut bank participation in the production or refurbishing of nuclear weapons.

Between July 8th (20th anniversary of the World Court case against nuclear weapons) and October 2nd (International Day for Nonviolence, Gandhi’s birthday), as part of Chain Reaction 2016, Pax Christi International and its member organisations are sponsoring a series of nonviolent actions at nuclear-weapons and nuclear-disarmament related sites and political offices around the world to demonstrate that people want peace and nuclear abolition.

The example of Kazakhstan, that dismantled and destroyed Soviet weapons systems and facilities left on its territory following the break up of the Soviet Union and that, in its first decade of independence, signed major international nonproliferation treaties, gives hope to the world that the abolition of nuclear weapons is possible.

Again, to quote Pope Francis: “to achieve nuclear abolition, we need to resist succumbing to the limits set by political realism… The fear that drives the reluctance to disarm must be replaced by a spirit of solidarity that binds humanity to achieve the global common good of which peace is the fullest expression.” (Time for Abolition December 2014)