Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Review: “Choosing Peace” outlines how the Catholic Church can return to nonviolence

choosingpeacebookA review of “Choosing Peace – The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence”, ed. Marie Dennis. Orbis Books, 2018, 270 pages.

Reviewed by Henrietta Cullinan in Peace News 

This collection, expertly edited by Marie Dennis, guides us through the complex discussions that took place at the 2016 Rome conference ‘Nonviolence and Just Peace’ organised by a host of Catholic organisations including Pax Christi International. Its delegates wrote a statement, appealing to the Catholic Church to ‘re-commit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence’.

Most inspiring are the testimonies of those working on the ground in conflict zones. We learn of their efforts to live nonviolently in dangerous situations, and their painstaking work in bringing the most battle-hardened groups to the negotiating table in Sudan, Uganda, Colombia and Afghanistan.

In the two chapters on scriptural evidence and traditional Catholic thought we read of the nonviolence in Jesus’ life and teachings, later taken up by his disciples. Gandhi, we are reminded, read the Sermon on the Mount every day for forty years. Jesus’ words at the time of his arrest, ‘put down the sword’, are interpreted by some Christians as an instruction to avoid armed conflict at all costs.

Another chapter (‘Active Nonviolence’) outlines the results of Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth’s by-now-famous study of 323 major violent and nonviolent campaigns around the world between 1900 and 2006. They found that the nonviolent campaigns succeeded twice as often, and resulted in more democratic and peaceful societies, than the violent ones, mainly because they enabled much wider participation…

Click here to read the entire review.

Nonviolence, Peace

The power of nonviolence

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Building on the 2016 gathering in Rome (see previous page), Pax Christi International created the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, invited by the pope to ‘revitalise the tools of nonviolence, and active nonviolence in particular.’ The project has been organised around five international round tables, to pull together and document experiences of the theory, thinking, theology and practice of nonviolence to help the evolution of Catholic church teaching on nonviolence.

I have been involved in the round table on the power of nonviolence. As well as the models, tools and approaches that we identified through our sharings from the front line (see below), our group has offered many ways in which the Catholic church can move forward in revitalising the tools of nonviolence. Among them are these:

  • Identify and scale up existing Catholic-affiliated unarmed civilian peacekeeping programs and give them special recognition and support. Answer the question: ‘Where’s the Catholic peace army?’
  • Revitalise or institute a lay community dedicated to nonviolence that takes the vows of nonviolence. Consider integrating this with a more robust encouragement to conscientious objection to military service for Catholics. Consider a lay youth movement that takes a vow of nonviolence.
  • Institute an archdiocese for nonviolent peacekeepers to provide the Catholic church’s full range of pastoral ministries and spiritual services to those representing the Catholic church on the front lines of violent conflict.
  • Advocate for funding, research, models and legislation for nonviolent civilian-based defence in national and international settings.
  • Review church-related investments at all levels to screen out revenue from military-related products and services or weapons manufacturing. Support positive shareowner action to address the underlying problems that lead to armed conflict and target investments to address conflict triggers and build positive peace.

As Erica Chenoweth noted: ‘We have a critical mass of actors within the Vatican institutions and outside who could mobilise, effect change.’…

Read the rest of this article in Peace News by clicking here.

Nonviolence, Peace, Peace Spirituality

Active Nonviolence: rediscovering a central teaching of Jesus

By Tony Magliano

“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

“To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (see Luke 6: 27-35).

Do we really take Jesus seriously here?

His first followers certainly did.

Christian literature from the first three centuries affirms that the earliest followers of Jesus Christ completely rejected all forms of violence and bloodshed – no abortion, no euthanasia, no capital punishment, no war.

But this drastically changed when Emperor Theodosius I issued the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., making Catholic Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. This marriage of church and state swung open the doors for Christian participation in the military of the Roman Empire. And sadly, Christians have been fighting for empires ever since. But not every Christian…

Click here to read the entire article.

Nonviolence, Peace

Working inside the Catholic Church to revitalise the tools of nonviolence

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Peace News readers will be familiar with the names of Gene Sharp, Jean Paul Ledarch, George Lakey, Martin Luther King and Gandhi, as among those who have lived, taught and supported nonviolent peacemaking through the decades. For some of those named, the Christian Gospels and the life and witness of Jesus will have been a source of motivation and inspired their thinking and practice of nonviolence.

In 2016, Catholic peace practitioners, academics, theologians and members of Pax Christi International gathered to urge ‘our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices.’

As a Catholic international movement for peace called ‘Pax Christi, the Peace of Christ,’ we had hatched a plan to take the experiences of peacemakers to the Vatican and open a process to move the institutional church closer to a commitment to nonviolence.

Pope Francis, we knew, would be open to this process, as he has never minced his words or shunned controversy in speaking out against global violence and warfare today: ‘Never war again. With war, everything is lost’ (2014); and ‘We plead for peace for this world dominated by arms-dealers, who profit from the blood of men and women’ (2015)…

Read the entire article at Peace News by clicking here.

Nonviolence, Peace, Refugee Stories

Building bridges of hope, not walls of despair

By Scott Wright,
Director, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

A Gathering of Parents and Children at the US – Mexico Border

I have just returned from the US – Mexico border, on a journey of accompaniment sponsored by Maryknoll and hosted each year by the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas. I have been to the border many times, but this time in particular was especially heart-breaking and painful. There we met immigrant parents and children who had been detained and cruelly separated from each other for two months; there we witnessed their joyful but often painful reunion at a refugee shelter; there we prepared and shared a meal with them at the Columban Mission Center.

At Nazareth Hall, a former nursing home for Catholic nuns converted into a refugee shelter, I spoke with a young Honduran father who had made the journey north with his three-year old son Jose, now lying face-down on the ground, rejecting his father’s attempts to console him. A young teacher in our group who works with pre-school children on an Indian reservation tried unsuccessfully to console him. In the end, as we left the shelter, Jose gave his father a tearful hug, as his father’s eyes filled with tears.

Later that night, at the Columban Mission Center, I sat across from a Guatemalan father, who talked about how he was treated in an immigrant detention center north of El Paso. “We were treated worse than animals,” he told us. “They didn’t even call me by my name, only the number over my bed.” As he spoke, his 12-year-old daughter Jasmine sat silently next to him, only her eyes indicating she was listening attentively to every word. They had not seen each other for more than two months; both had been detained in separate immigration detention centers, with little communication between them.

Today, of the 2,500 children who were forcibly separated from their parents under the “Zero Tolerance” policy of the current administration, only 1,800 have been reunited with their detained parents, who have been released with ankle bracelets to monitor their activity as they pursue their asylum claims. Nearly 700 children remain in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and at least 400 of their parents have already been deported or have opted to depart voluntarily, often with the promise that they would be reunited with their children.

As a nation, and under successive administrations, we have failed miserably to build bridges, not walls.

A Critical Time for Bridge-Building Everywhere

Last week, more than 500 moral theologians from 80 countries around the world gathered in Sarajevo, Bosnia to reflect on the theme: “A Critical Time for Bridge-Building, Catholic Theological Ethics Today.” During the Balkan war in the early 1990s, a war in which entire Muslim villages were “ethnically cleansed” and the city of Sarajevo – once was home to Bosnian Muslims, Croatian Catholics and Serbian Orthodox – was besieged for three-and-a-half years by the Serbian military. More than 100,000 people were killed in the conflict, and entire communities that once lived peacefully together, were torn apart.

Pope Francis sent a greeting to those gathered last week and acknowledged the great symbolic importance of Sarajevo to “the journey of reconciliation and peacemaking after the horrors of a recent war that brought so much suffering to the people of that region”:

“I encourage you to be passionate for such dialogue and networking … to be faithful to the word of God which challenges us in history, and to show solidarity with the world, which you are not called to judge but rather to offer new paths, accompany journeys, bind hurts and shore up weakness.”

He noted that Sarajevo is “a city of bridges,” and called attention to “the need to build bridges, not walls,” and he highlighted the many challenges facing the world today, including the global climate crisis and its impact on the environment, the crisis of migrants and refugees, and the failure of political leaders to respond effectively to these tragic human situations.

What we witnessed last week on the US – Mexico border must be set against a global context in which millions of people are crossing borders every day, sometimes fleeing violent conflicts in their home countries, sometimes fleeing from climate disasters or extreme poverty, and more and more facing rejection rather than welcome at the borders of neighboring countries. In the past twenty years, the numbers of migrants in the world has increased 60%, reaching its current number of 257 million. Many of these migrants, 68 million this year, are forcibly displaced by violent conflict, and of those 68 million, 40 million are internally displaced, 25 million are refugees, and 3 million are asylum-seekers.

Each one of them has a story, like the Honduran father and his 3-year-old son Jose, or the Guatemalan father and his 12-year-old daughter Jasmine. Many of them, perhaps more than half, have a child’s story to tell, and a child’s tears, like Jose’s, or a child’s tears that have dried up from too much pain, like Jasmine’s.

Return to Gospel Nonviolence

What is the message at the heart of the drama of families and children separated at the US – Mexico border, and the survivors of war and ethnic cleansing a generation ago in Sarajevo? In a word, it is to remind us that we are one human family, that we have a special obligation to welcome migrants and refugees fleeing violence as we would welcome Christ in the world; and we have a special obligation to address the root causes of war and violence so that people are not forced to flee in the first place.

Sarajevo is also known as the city that set in motion the greatest war known to the world a century ago. The assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire that took place in Sarajevo in 1914 set the stage for the First World War, a war that convulsed the world and ended one hundred years ago this November. Sixteen million people were killed in that war, and another 20 million injured. The First World War and an imperfect peace gave way to the Second World War, a war in which 60 million were killed and many more injured, and we are still living with the consequences of our failure to live together on this planet in peace.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Sarajevo with my wife, a third generation Croatian. In that brief visit, we heard stories from Bosnian Muslim survivors, and we visited the museum to commemorate the horrendous killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. We heard also the amazing story of the cellist who played his cello every day for 22 days in a market square in Sarajevo during the war, to mark the place where a Serbian mortar shell killed 22 people waiting in line for bread. It is a story of moral courage and outrage at the destruction of war, but also the power of beauty and culture to remind us of our common humanity, to invite us to build bridges to embrace our differences, not walls to divide and separate us.

Pope Francis chose to take the name “Francis” as the saint who would inspire his witness as the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. In the five years since he was elected pope, he has woven together St. Francis’ love for the poor, for creation, and for peace, and encouraged us by his example to care for our common home, and to embrace migrants and refugees as our sisters and brothers.

At the heart of this witness of justice and mercy is Pope Francis’ growing desire to affirm the vision of Gospel nonviolence at the heart of the Church’s witness for peace. That was the theme of his 2017 World Day of Peace message, following a historic gathering convened by Pax Christi International in Rome of peacemakers from nations around the world, including many that had experienced the cruelty and pain of war. They gathered to address the theme “Nonviolence and Just Peace” and to urge the Church to return to the witness of Gospel nonviolence.

In his 2017 message following the gathering, Pope Francis concluded: “When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promoters of nonviolent peacemaking … To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.”

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Pope Francis is no stranger to these places of suffering. In 2017 he visited the U.S. – Mexico border, and two years earlier, in 2015, he visited Sarajevo, where he addressed tens of thousands of people during a morning mass in the city’s stadium, acknowledging the pain and suffering of “children, women and the elderly in refugee camps,” and “countless shattered lives.” During that visit to Sarajevo, Pope Francis heard stories from survivors of the war that brought tears to his eyes:

“We see so much cruelty,” he began, and he urged those who had shared their stories with him to “always do the opposite of cruelty. Have attitudes of tenderness, of forgiveness … and be small witnesses of the cross of Jesus … Today, dear brothers and sisters, the cry of God’s people goes up once again from this city, the cry of all men and women of good will: War never again!” he exclaimed.

What unites the U.S. – Mexico border to Sarajevo is a cry that goes up from the victims of violence and war, the cry of the migrant and refugee parents and children, the cry of the victims and survivors of war.

This week we commemorate the tragic conclusion of another war, that ended in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945.

As he did at the U.S. – Mexico border, and as he did in Sarajevo, Pope Francis reminds us that we share a common humanity, and we share a common home. That is both a gift, but also a responsibility: “The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing are a lasting warning to humanity … Nuclear weapons create a false sense of security, and the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is firmly to be condemned.”

We have a choice to make, and each day we are invited to choose life, to embrace peace.

At the conclusion of his World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis reminds us that “Jesus himself offers a manual for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount … Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.”

So we must continue to hope, with eyes wide open, but our hearts firmly planted in our faith. The Gospel invites us to build bridges of hope, not walls of despair.

* Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera.
Nonviolence

Review: “Choosing Peace,” by Marie Dennis

choosingpeacebookA review of “Choosing Peace – The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence”, ed. Marie Dennis. Orbis Books, 2018, 270 pages.

Reviewed by Rob Fairmichael in Nonviolent News 

This important book is based on the April 2016 conference “Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic understanding of and commitment to nonviolence” which took place in Rome with some eighty participants. Marie Dennis, as a long time activist and co-president of Pax Christi international, is well placed to ‘pull it all together’, and
that she does, in a book which includes contributions at and for the Rome conference, and other reflections on the topic. While of most interest to Catholics and other Christians, some parts may be of considerable interest to other people as well.

You might say that when thinking of Christianity and nonviolence, the Catholic Church is not the church which comes foremost to mind. However a listing of some notable figures, particularly in a chapter on “Catholic Practice of Nonviolence” (p.125) by Ken Butigan and John Dear, made me think a bit more deeply. And with this 2016 conference 14
and the Pax Christi International ‘Catholic Nonviolence Initiative’, and Pope Francis being well disposed to nonviolence, well who knows what the future may bring.

The basic argument behind it all is that the church should cease to think in terms of ‘Just War’ but rather of ‘Just Peace’ (p.168) and the principles that should go with that. An apposite quote from Pope Francis, used in a few different places in the book, is that the current international situation is “world war in installments”. The conference did
make “An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence” – and its analysis of the early Christian church practice in relation to violence and nonviolence is well covered, starting with Terrence J. Rynne on the scriptural evidence from the life and teaching of Jesus.

One of those attending and contributing to the Rome conference was Mairead Maguire, whose reflections afterwards appear at http://www.peacepeople.com/2016/04/. Part of what she said at the Rome conference includes, “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 for Pope Francis and the Church to renounce war and develop a ‘Theology of Nonkilling 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 ways of solving conflict.”

Although obviously well disposed to nonviolence, exactly where Pope Francis does stand is not as yet clear, though there is some analysis in the book, and the call from the conference is, “We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence. A Just Peace approach offers a vision
and an ethic to build peace as well as to prevent, defuse, and to heal the damage of violent conflict.” (p. 25)

‘Loving your enemies’ is a very clear Christian message which many Christians have done amazing wonders and somersaults to avoid…you would think Jesus spoke about ‘loving to hate your enemies’! The book is interspersed with the stories of Catholic and other Christian activists and one reflection on ‘loving your enemies’ which comes across
very strongly is that of Katarina Kruhonja, a cofounder of the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights in Osijek and her thoughts on the violence that engulfed her in 1991 in Croatia. She decided “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 violence.” (p. 44)

There are plenty of strong stories from a variety of violent situations around the world. One other brilliant quote for Christians is from Gandhi: reading The Sermon on the Mount “made him admire Jesus as the ‘Prince of Satyagrahis’ (practitioners of nonviolence), a person of creative, nonviolent action.” (used by Terrence Rynne on p. 87).

I would consider the book a well balanced mix of theory/theology, practice and analysis and a very useful resource on Christianity and nonviolence in general, but essential for those with a concern for the Catholic Church’s stand on the matter, and hopefully a harbinger of greater things to come.
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“Choosing Peace” is available via the publisher and agents or by mail from Pax Christi UK at http://paxchristi.org.uk/shop/ (UK price about £20 plus postage).

The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative website is at https://nonviolencejustpeace.net/ including the papers prepared for the 2016 Rome conference.

An INNATE interview with Marie Dennis in 2012 about the work of Pax Christi International appears at http://www.innatenonviolence.org/editorials/ed204.shtml. Her photo, taken at the same time as the interview, is at
https://www.flickr.com/photos/30253151@N07/8124769153/