I am Pax Christi, Women and Peacemaking

The #IamPaxChristi interview: Wiltrud Rösch-Metzler of Pax Christi Germany

In this latest installment of the #IamPaxChristi interview, we’re profiling Wiltrud Rösch-Metzler, former member of the International Board of Pax Christi International. She is from Germany and has served as the national chair of Pax Christi Germany. This series aims to highlight short conversations with the women and men who make up our movement. The interview was conducted by communications intern Marie Just earlier this year.

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Marie Just: How did you become involved with peace and justice work, and what was your first involvement in Pax Christi International??

Wiltrud Rösch-Metzler: I think international justice is a central theme to my life. This initially started to connect with the ecclesiastical youth work that I was involved in; it got me interested and engaged with what we call ‘one-world-topics’ today, or at the time the ‘North-South conflict’. That is why I went to study politics. And it is also the reason for my strong affiliation with justice. Then there was also the topic of stationing missiles in Germany in the 1980s — American nuclear missiles were stationed in West Germany and corresponding to that the armament took place on the Soviet side too, and we have demonstrated against that, we called for the disarmament of atomic rockets. That was then the first time I marched for peace, and the time that I joined Pax Christi: we founded a local Pax Christi group in Metzingen.

MJ: During your time at Pax Christi Deutschland, can you recall a moment in which the work of Pax Christi Deutschland made a real difference in the situation of your country, or in the lives of the people living there?

WRM: There were never short-term moments, but rather long-term processes. This means that you need to have a lot of patience. And that you have to stay focused on the message of peace, and in carrying that out. One example is the work we do in the Middle East, and therein the example of the work on the violent Israeli settlements. Pax Christi supports a two-state solution, as in accordance with international arbitration within that particular peace process. To make this two-state solution possible for the Palestinians – hence in order to be able to create a Palestinian state – its territory needs to be freely available. However, in the current situation, the Palestinian state area (i.e. the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip) is subjected to (new) Israeli settlements being built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And it doesn’t stop here, there is also the land which is claimed by Israel – the occupying power. This means that this land will be taken from what would potentially be Palestinian State territory. Furthermore, the settlements violate international law, for, according to the law, no occupying power can transfer its own population to Occupied Territories. International law also obliges other states, e.g. Germany, not to support a breach of international law. So we think that if we do not label settlement products – i.e. we do not distinguish between Israeli goods that originate from Israeli territory or from the Israeli settlements – we do not know for sure whether we are taking part in a breach of international law. Yet consumers who do not want to purchase goods coming from these settlements, have a really hard time distinguishing one from the other. That is why the Pax Christi Middle East Commission in Germany launched the campaign “Besatzung schmeckt bitter” (i.e. “Occupation tastes bitter”), which demands an obligated labeling of settlement products. To this end also, the EU decided two years ago that settlement products must be labeled and that they have no tax exemption – like any other product coming from Israel. This was a big and important step towards the right direction, but we still cannot speak of a genuine breakthrough, since – also in Germany – this decision has not been put into effect yet. I still haven’t seen any signs in any supermarket that indicate a certain product being imported from the Israeli settlements.

The campaign “Besatzung schmeckt bitter” has been running since 2012 and is ongoing.

MJ: What does nonviolence mean to you personally and professionally? How would you describe it?

WRM: Nonviolence is a political concept that allows civilians to get involved in resolving conflicts, but in which they do not run the risk of getting injured and which provides a fairly just balance between the parties.

MJ: How many years have you been part of Pax Christi Deutschland?

WRM: Since ’81, so 35 years.

MJ: What other roles have you had within Pax Christi International?

WRM: For seven years now, I am the chair of Pax Christi Deutschland. Before that I was, for nine years, the spokesperson of the Middle East Commission of Pax Christi. I have also been a member of the international board of Pax Christi for six years (two terms) – which came to an end this year.

I am Pax Christi, Women and Peacemaking

The #IamPaxChristi interview: Teresia Wamuyu Wachira, IBVM, of Kenya

In this latest installment of the #IamPaxChristi interview, we’re profiling Teresia Wamuyu Wachira, a Sister of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also known as the Loreto Sisters). She is from Kenya and a member of the Pax Christi International Board. This series aims to highlight short conversations with the women and men who make up our movement. The interview was conducted by communications intern Marie Just in December at the Nonviolence in Africa conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Marie Just: How did you become involved with peace and justice work, and what was your first involvement in Pax Christi International??

wamuyu-longTeresia Wamuyu Wachira: I first got involved in peace and justice work at the university in Kenya during my graduate studies. During English literature studies, I took a unit on “Women” and it was during class discussions that I came face-to-face with the stereotypical attitudes towards women – perception of women as ‘second class citizens’ and also the institutionalization of violence against women. I felt called to do something about this.

My first involvement in Pax Christi International was while I was studying my Masters in the UK. Valerie Flessati was my supervisor, and during this time I met Pat Gaffney and the late Fr. Giovanni Schudiero. The way they spoke and dedicated themselves as members of Pax Christi was impressive and this is what influenced me to be a member of Pax Christi.

MJ: During your time with the Loreto Sisters, can you tell us a story about a time that the work of the Loreto Sisters made a real difference in the situation in your country, or in the lives of people there?

TWW: Loreto Sisters are actively involved in education, mainly of girls. In the early 1900s, the Loreto Sisters ran schools for girls at a time when education of girls was not considered a priority. They did this against the African culture at the time that required girls to get married once they were of age and also to bring forth many children. As a result of going against such practices, some of the girls that got an opportunity to go to school are in influential positions in Kenya and across the globe, making a difference in the lives of men and women of our times. One of these girls that has left a legacy is the late Peace Nobel Laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai who has left a legacy of the care of our Mother Earth.

MJ: What does nonviolence mean to you personally and professionally? How would you describe it?

TWW: I believe that human beings are good and ultimately desire peace. When provoked human beings react in a particular way either peacefully or nonviolently. According to me, nonviolence is the way to go. However, this is not usually the first option when one is provoked. The easier and faster way is the way of violence. As a member of Pax Christi, when someone annoys me or acts violently towards me, this gives me an opportunity to practice what I proclaim to others – the way of active nonviolence. This means first looking at the situation, reflecting on it and making a decision on how to respond. Do I want to react in a violent way or do I decide to act nonviolently?

When I am faced with this dilemma – to act violently or nonviolently – it is like I have two things in my hand to choose from: one that will bring life and the other death. Often when faced with this dilemma in my daily life, I try not to fight back; I also try to choose my words carefully so that I will not make a violent situation worse. For instance, instead of blaming the other for the anger I feel, I just express that I am feeling very angry for what has just happened. I make efforts to try and get an opportunity to dialogue and reconcile with the other person as soon as an opportunity avails itself as I value good relationships.

Being a member of Pax Christi has really helped my outlook to life. When provoked, I find myself thinking: “Okay, I might be angry but I don’t want to react immediately.” Thus, as far as I am concerned, nonviolence is really about making choices; it is taking that prophetic step: “standing up and being counted” as one that is walking that ‘road that is less traveled’ – the path of nonviolence.

The more I reflect on what it means to act nonviolently, the more I am convinced that ‘nonviolence is at the core of our being’ – we all have the ability to act in a nonviolent way, but we have to work on it. We have the freedom to choose the nonviolent way which leads to life or the violent way that leads to death. Active nonviolence is therefore choosing the ‘road less traveled’ as it were. I believe that we have to be committed and consciously choose this path. Following this path is therefore not going to be easy; at times it will make us look and feel like a fool, especially among people who do not understand why we are acting this way. I believe that even when I am pushed to the wall, there is an option. The option is not to fight back in a violent manner but as it were ‘to turn the other cheek,’ to dialogue and see my own image in the other.

Therefore, in acting nonviolently, I believe we are following in Christ’s footsteps – Jesus who while crucified on the cross chose the path of forgiveness instead of the path of retaliation and violence.

MJ: How many years have you been part of the Loreto Sisters?

TWW: I joined the Loreto Sisters a long time ago immediately after my high school in 1975. The school was an all girls’ boarding school that was run by the Loreto Sisters. The sisters were very kind and lived an ordinary way of life and this is what attracted me to them and their way of life. I was seventeen years old when I joined the Loreto Sisters. I have already celebrated my Silver Jubilee as a Loreto Sister.

For my Master’s Degree I went to the UK in 1997. It was here that I got attracted to Pax Christi. Then I went back to Kenya, where I was appointed to be a principal of a Loreto girls’ boarding school with over 700 girls. I stayed in this school for four years and then left for the UK in 2007 to pursue a Ph.D. in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. During this time I was in constant communication with Valerie Flessati and Pat Gaffney.

MJ: When we talk about supporting women, do you have an example of your work, when you focus on women’s issues? Do you have a story that you can share?

TWW: I do not have only one story because I have a passion for working with women. Years back when I was a student in the university, I was attending to women and youth. Today, I make a point of meeting them where they are, especially the women. I meet them in the churches because this is where a lot of women who may not have a lot of money or who are struggling financially gather. When I meet these women, I do not dictate to them what topics to discuss but allow them to select the kind of topics that they are interested in. Most of them are interested in topics that deal with youth.  Currently the discussions and training have been mainly on how to mentor their teenage children, especially with the current challenge of youth radicalization. Another topic is on family relationships, especially considering the breakdown of family values in today’s context. Also the discussions are on issues of violence in the home, especially on gender-based violence, and how to address this without creating a cycle of violence.

Before joining the Pax Christi International Board in 2016, Teresia Wamuyu Wachira was an active member of Pax Christi UK. She has contributed to a workbook for key stage 4, PSHE and Citizenship, and for chaplaincy and retreat work, Peace People who Changed the WorldCurrently, she is a Senior Lecturer in Peace Studies at St. Paul’s University in Nairobi, Kenya.

I am Pax Christi

The “I am Pax Christi” interview: Cesar Villanueva of Pax Christi Pilipinas

Starting this November, we’ll be featuring something we’re calling the “I am Pax Christi” interview, a short conversation with the women and men who make up our movement. Today’s profile is Cesar Villanueva of Pax Christi Pilipinas. The interview was conducted by communications intern Marie Just in October at the Pax Christi International offices in Brussels.

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Marie Just: How did you become involved with peace and justice work, and what was your first involvement in Pax Christi International?

Cesar Villanueva: When I was a young boy, I served in our church; I studied in a school where the church is called Queen of Peace. Indirectly I thought that must have influenced my passion for peace work. The Queen of Peace Church is a nice church, mostly Chinese people who go there. … So when I went to university I started being aware of the conditions of equality and justice and, after graduation I was attracted to a poster which said: “Why sell soap?” – because many people were selling soap after university – “when you can build people?” After that I applied for Volunteer Philippines and was sent to the poorest school in Naga City. I started a program there that was called “integration”. We made students aware of the realities of the ground. We exposed them [to the realities of the] dictatorship, the injustice, the corruption, and brought it to their attention. And I went on to work on that for seven years.

When I decided to go back to my Island of Negros Occidental — which is the fourth largest in the Philippines, 85% dependent on sugar — I was challenged with how I could contribute to build the peace that will be needed for the island … So I helped form the local peace community in Negros. … At the same time I was earning money from my university for teaching and a directorship (Director for Popular Peace Education, Pax Christi Institute); and then Father Niall O’Brien, a Columban missioner for 30 years on the island, who wrote a very beautiful book called Revolution from the Heart and who embraced the work of nonviolence in the midst of the armed conflict in my country, invited me in 1995 to the 50th anniversary of Pax Christi in Assisi in Italy. That’s how I got introduced to Pax Christi. … I was asked to be a member of the executive board and elected vice president for Asia. When I finished my term in the international movement, I decided to work as the national coordinator of Pax Christi Pilipinas to continue the work that I was doing, running the movement for almost 6 years.

(During this time) there was a project with Pax Christi Germany and Pax Christi in the Philippines. We were recipients of a civil peace project that gave us the resources to really involve everybody in the whole of the Philippines, and in fact, I am happy to say, we started an institute, Pax Christi Institute, which continues today as a training ground for peace workers, conflict workers. And this has now been accepted by the university also because we offer some masters programs.

MJ: During your time with Pax Christi Pilipinas, can you tell us a story about a time that the work of Pax Christi in the Philippines made a real difference in the situation in your country, or in the lives of people there?

cesarCV: There are two things I personally did when I was Pax Christi National Coordinator. We started a Visayan Peace-building Institute which gathers all church social action workers, teachers, and community organisers in the field. We trained people in conflict transformation and peace-building. See, in my country, conflict is a bad word. So we have to make people aware that conflict is part of life and it shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. This is what we mean by “conflict understanding and awareness”. But also that a conflict can be transformed, not just solved. So we share the whole concept of conflict transformation, the thinking of Johan Galtung, the thinking of John Paul Lederach. And we share with them exact conflict analysis tools that will help people to be competent in handling conflicts. For me that’s one very important contribution that Pax Christi in the Philippines has made. And we now have an institution that is offering a master’s program in conflict and reconciliation – the only one in the Philippines, I think, at the moment.

The other thing that I think is very important: 85% of the people in the Philippines are Catholic. They assume that they know everything and judge people based on the fact that we are the majority. But we realise that when there are interfaith dialogues or dialogues with Muslims, Christians and Protestants, and indigenous people, many Catholics don’t know the Church’s social teachings on peace. So I was challenged to start what we call a Catholic peace-building dialogue, a dialogue among ourselves as Catholics and why we are for peace — what is the basis, what are the social teachings and biblical stories that support our work. I’m very happy that our Pax Christi Bishop-President, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, who is also now member of the International Board, helped us to do that. So we did trainings in Mindanao, gathering all the youth organisers for that purpose.

The last thing I would like to share is that we did do study fora on reconciliation. There are five or six peace processes in the Philippines and I think reconciliation is not much talked about. Pax Christi would like to contribute to the discussion on reconciliation. How can we begin to talk about reconciliation, even if there are conflicts that have not been ended, that have not been resolved? We came up with a simple book, which in the local dialect translates to, “How do you resolve conflicts, how do you calm things so that it can be resolved?” Peace-building.

MJ: What does nonviolence mean to you personally and professionally? How would you describe it?

CV: Nonviolence, I think, is the capacity of people to engage with conflicts with the total respect of the dignity of every person. And that means the use of all possible means that will not hurt the person. It is the ability to know and to think that even the most obvious violent person has dignity in his conscience and you can appeal to the conscience of that person and use that as a way of transformation. That for me is nonviolence.

It is also the ability to think that if you resolve conflicts early on, then you don’t need to lead to violence. At the same time, it is important to understand that in every conflict, there are deep, deep cultural biases and that there are deep, deep structures, that allow violence to happen. If we are made aware of these deep cultural biases and deep structures, maybe we can deny violence. Because violence is not natural. Conflicts are natural but violence is not. So it’s an option that people can make. And I think, as a person with deep faith in gospel values, I think that these aspects of human dignity and conscience are very important.

Cesar Villanueva was first introduced to Pax Christi over 30 years ago. He is the creator and director of the Pax Christi Institute on Non-formal Education that is based in Bacolod City. He has previously served on the International Board.