Nonviolence, Women and Peacemaking

My experience of nonviolence in the Philippine People Power Revolt of 1986

by Loreta Castro
Pax Christi Pilipinas

The Context

In 1972, then President Marcos declared martial law in the country and became a dictator, vesting himself with both executive and legislative powers through presidential decrees. He had been President for 8 years (2 terms) and could no longer be re-elected according to the constitution. It was a time of turmoil. All basic freedoms (esp. freedom of expression and assembly) were curtailed. All those perceived by Marcos and the military as belonging to the opposition groups were subjected to warrantless arrests. Thousands were tortured and others simply disappeared and were never heard from anymore. As to be expected so many lost hope and decided to join the underground, the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), and waged an armed struggle against the dictatorship. I was a young teacher then and was struggling with what was happening in the country. I wanted the situation to change and yet the option of joining the armed struggle to overthrow the government was an option that I could not consider because killing or harming anyone was something I knew I could not do. In the rallies that I joined prior to the martial law declaration, I could not even mouth the chants that I felt degraded the humanity of another. Many among my colleagues were in a similar quandary and had the same question: what could we do to resist nonviolently?

The Opportunities

What catalyzed the people’s nonviolent resistance against the Marcos dictatorship was the murder of opposition leader former Senator Ninoy Aquino when he returned to the Philippines from his exile, on Aug. 21, 1983. The August Twenty-One Movement (ATOM) was organized and soon began an almost-daily mobilization of protest rallies. Soon, other groups followed.

The option of Active Nonviolence or ANV was embraced by those who believed that this was a path of resistance that we could take instead of violence. The Catholic Church took a leading role in this movement. An organization called Aksyon Para sa Kapayapaan at Katarungan (AKKAPKA) was organized and was led by a Jesuit, Fr. Jose Blanco. Many ANV trainings involving various sectors of society were held and I can say that the success of the so-called People Power Revolt of 1986 can be attributed to this ANV movement. The ANV philosophy convinced us that counter-violence and passivity were not the ethical and effective responses to the violence of the Marcos regime. The ANV movement also operationalized an important insight about the nature of political power: that the power of the leaders rests upon the obedience and cooperation of the people. Hence, when the regime committed massive fraud during the snap presidential elections (called by Marcos in 1985 to prove to the world that the people would still vote for him if elections were held at that time), Cory Aquino who ran against Marcos called for a civil disobedience campaign. We boycotted products of a crony company, a crony bank and a crony newspaper. These were owned by Marcos’ cronies or friends who continued to prop up the Marcos regime and in return benefited from it.

During a military mutiny led by a general and the Defense Minister on February 22, 1986, Cardinal Jaime Sin called on the people, via the Church-owned Radio Veritas, to protect and support the military personnel who have withdrawn their support from Marcos. The Cardinal asked the people to go to a camp where the said military personnel had set up their headquarters and had expected a bloody confrontation with the loyalist military.

In the few days that followed, more and more people poured into the area surrounding the camp, in a massive nonviolent demonstration against the Marcos’ dictatorship and involved about 2 million people. It was amazing to experience the nonviolent actions that were taken by the people who were there: we were giving food and flowers to the loyalist soldiers instead of throwing stones at them; we were praying and singing, and carried with us symbols of our Faith. We all disobeyed the curfew that was imposed by Marcos so that the people would be off the streets. There were those who made their bodies the barricade to stop the loyalist tanks from proceeding to the camp to attack those who were holed up there. There was nonviolent persuasion as demonstrators shouted these messages to the loyalist military personnel who were advancing to the camp, (translated into English from Filipino): “Join us, let us not fight each other, we are all Filipinos…” On February 25, Marcos and his family left the Philippines.

Towards a Deeper and Wider Practice within the Catholic Community

As a peace educator, I believe that we have to invest more energy and resources in educating about nonviolence beginning with our Catholic schools and the formation programs for the Catholic religious and laypeople. There is much that we still have to do in this area. We need more workers in this NV vineyard. Catholic organizations have to reach out more, too, to other kindred organizations that may be secular or faith-based to promote the spirituality and practice of nonviolence.

I sincerely hope that our Catholic Church would take the leadership in this. I have long felt that in the last decades of my own existence that globally we have not really strongly spoken about the nonviolence of Jesus. The whole tone and spirit of his life was that of nonviolence and love, and yet so-called Christians have accepted killing whether through the state-sponsored death penalty or through war.

Finally, I believe that we as Catholics have to speak more strongly about delegitimizing war as a means of resolving conflicts. War is an inhumane and immoral institution and needs to be abolished along with the tools that go with war such as more and more destructive armaments, including nuclear weapons.

Nonviolence, Women and Peacemaking

Women at the heart of nonviolence

by Marie Dennis
Co-President, Pax Christi International

[Editor’s Note: The following speech was delivered on 8 March 2017, International Women’s Day, in Rome at the Voices of Faith event, “Stirring the Waters: Making the Impossible Possible”.]

Almost a year ago, 85 people from around the world gathered here in Rome for what has been called a “landmark” conference on nonviolence and just peace. Invited by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International, participants came together to imagine a new framework for Catholic teaching on war and peace that could help the world move beyond perpetual violence and war. Central to our conversation were the voices of people promoting active nonviolence in the midst of horrific violence and among them, the voices of women.

Many participants came from countries that have been at war or dealing with serious violence for decades: Iraq, Sri Lanka, Colombia, South Sudan, the DR Congo, Mexico, Afghanistan, Palestine, El Salvador, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Burundi, Guatemala and more. Their testimony was extremely powerful.

Iraqi Dominican Sister Nazik Matty whose community was expelled from Mosul by ISIS said, “We can’t respond to violence with worse violence. In order to kill five violent men, we have to create 10 violent men to kill them…. It’s like a dragon with seven heads. You cut one and two others come up.”

Ogarit Younan, who co-founded the Academic University for Nonviolence and Human Rights in Lebanon, shared her positive experience of equipping youth, educators and community leaders throughout the Middle East with nonviolent skills to end vicious cycles of violence and discrimination.

Jesuit Francisco DeRoux told the story of Alma Rosa Jaramillo, a courageous woman, an audacious lawyer, who had joined their team in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia to support displaced small farmers. She was kidnapped by the National Liberation Army, the ELN, and finally released. Then she was captured by the paramilitaries. “When we managed to recover Alma Rosa,” Francisco told us, “she was lying in the mud, dead; they had cut off her arms and legs, with a chainsaw.” Immediately, another woman stepped in to take her place, as did Alma Rosa’s son, Jesus – and the team continued to talk with the guerrillas, the paramilitaries and the army, searching for a nonviolent solution to a war that had gone on for 50 years. Over and over again they heard from campesinos, native people, Afro-Colombians – people whose youngsters had joined the guerrilla groups, the paramilitary groups and the army: ‘Stop the war, stop the war now, and stop the war from all sides!'”

Gathered in Rome we heard similar stories from many of the conference participants – courageous people in local communities living with unimaginable danger who said … stop the militarization, stop the bombing, stop the proliferation of weapons – rely on nonviolent strategies to transform conflict.

Together during the conference we wrote an Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence, urging the Church to move beyond the language of “just war” that has been central to Catholic theology on war and peace for centuries and to “integrate Gospel nonviolence explicitly into the life, including the sacramental life, and work of the Church through dioceses, parishes, agencies, schools, universities, seminaries, religious orders, voluntary associations, and others.” We asked Pope Francis to write his World Day of Peace message, and someday an encyclical, on nonviolence.

Obviously, we were delighted with his 2017 World Day of Peace message on “Nonviolence, A Style of Politics for Peace”.

But central to the Church’s process of studying and promoting active nonviolence must be the full participation of women:

  • women who are theologians to help develop a new moral framework for Catholic social thought on war and peace, a rich theology of nonviolence, and excellent exegesis around the nonviolence of Jesus;
  • women in politics and social sciences to help articulate effective nonviolent strategies to use in a dangerous world;
  • grassroots women to design nonviolent practices that can in fact protect vulnerable communities;
  • women in Catholic schools, Catholic universities, seminaries and parishes who can teach nonviolence;
  • women who will bring Catholic values to the public debate on the use (or not) of violent force close to home or on the other side of the world;
  • women who will insist that resources be devoted to meeting basic human needs and protecting the integrity of the natural world, not building more weapons for war;
  • women who will help the world shape a just and sustainable peace that responds to the real needs of our families and local communities; and on and on.

What if … Catholics were formed from the beginning of life to understand and appreciate the power of active nonviolence and the connection of nonviolence to the heart of the Gospel – trained to understand the implications in the 21st century of ‘love your enemy’?

What if the Catholic Church committed its vast spiritual, intellectual and financial resources to developing a new moral framework and language for discerning ways to prevent atrocities, to protect people and the planet in a dangerous world?

What if women were central to articulating and implementing this shift in Catholic understanding of and commitment to nonviolence and just peace?

For Christians, nonviolence is a way of life, a positive and powerful force for social change, and a means of building a global community committed to the well-being of all. Active nonviolence is a multilayered approach that is fundamental to the teaching of Jesus and recognises the humanity of every person, even our sons and daughters who are perpetrators of terrible violence. It is a process for ending violence without lethal force, for transforming conflict, and for protecting the vulnerable. It is a process that women own in the depths of our souls.

Now more than ever it is time to put active nonviolence into practice in our own neighborhoods and around the world.

No one knows how to do this better than the women in any society, and so Voices of Faith today honors women: makers of peace and promoters of active nonviolence in a troubled world.

Nonviolence, Peace

Adopting active nonviolence and inclusive love in our commitment to a just peace

by Bishop Kevin Dowling
Co-President of Pax Christi International

I begin with the well-known text from Micah (6:8): “… this is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God…”

edsa-revolution-231x300Who will ever forget the witness of over 1 million Filipinos, accompanied by priests and nuns kneeling on the ground in prayer (and soldiers who refused to intervene or act against them) – a peaceful protest leading to the downfall of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986? How did this happen? Firstly, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, an ecumenical Christian organization dedicated to nonviolent social change, led dozens of nonviolent action workshops across the Philippines. After attending a workshop, Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila joined with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in calling for a “nonviolent struggle for justice.” These training workshops, along with a sophisticated election-monitoring mission led by nuns and priests, paved the way for the mass “people power” movement that prevented Marcos from stealing the 1986 presidential elections. The people challenged violence with nonviolent resistance – and won, and Marcos and his wife left the country.

Fast forward to 2014. In mid-2014, women living in the Bentiu Protection of Civilians area in South Sudan alerted the Nonviolent Peaceforce team living there that women were being raped and sometimes gang-raped by soldiers when they went out to gather firewood and water. The women reported that sometimes the soldiers would describe the assaults as part of their job.

Often older women took on these jobs to protect the younger ones, and hopefully to decrease the likelihood of attack. So these women had to choose between their personal safety and providing for their families’ basic needs. Nonviolent Peaceforce began accompanying the women when they left the camp, sending 2 or more trained civilian protectors along with them. In the year after this accompaniment was offered to the people, no woman was attacked when accompanied. Instead, the soldiers looked the other way.

6701231237_aa5cd7ac49_zIn the past year Nonviolent Peaceforce has provided over 1,000 accompaniments for vulnerable people, primarily women and children, throughout South Sudan. Currently, twelve international and many more local organizations are using unarmed civilian protection (UCP) to effectively protect civilians and deter violence in at least 17 areas of violent conflict. (UCP was cited and recommended in two major UN Reviews last year, “Peace Operations and Women,” “Peace and Security”). Notably over 40% of unarmed civilian protectors in the field are women, compared to 4% of armed UN peacekeepers.

But the wars and violence goes on in Sudan and South Sudan – after years of terrible suffering. In early 2002 I flew into the remote community of Kauda in the Nuba Mountains during the vicious war and oppression of the Bashir regime in Khartoum. I stood at a little shrine in the Holy Cross Church compound where an Antonov plane had flown over the village, and dropped 3 barrel bombs on the compound. The children and their teachers were sitting under the trees to shelter from the sun. One bomb hit right next to a tree and 14 children and their teacher were killed. Over the years, the Sudan Ecumenical Form, which I chaired for 11 years, together with our partners on the ground, engaged in a massive campaign to accurately document and verify such atrocities, and we then took up relentless international advocacy to stop the bombing; and we succeeded … but, sadly, only for a time. This year, at the very same place, the Antonov bombers came over again and dropped their deadly bombs. No wonder Pope Francis stated: “We are now undergoing a Third World War in installments.”

It was accounts and stories like these from all over the world which we shared before, during and after the Rome Conference from 11-13 April 2016 and which, we hope, will place our ideals and goal of promoting active non-violence and just peace at the centre of ongoing reflection and commitment in the Church through what I hope will be an ongoing relationship with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and especially through all the partnerships of our Pax Christi sections and organisations and local co-workers in contexts of violence, war and atrocities.

But a challenge for all of us remains … where can we find the inner strength to keep going, because the forces opting for war, oppression and violence are indeed great? The UN High Commission for Refugees released its report in June 2016. By the end of 2015, 65.3 million people had been displaced; the first time the number has exceeded 60 million. This means that one in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker (3.2 million), internally displaced (40.8 million) or a refugee (21.3 million). The report stated that more and more people are being displaced by war and persecution; people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders; and politics is gravitating against asylum in some countries. Yes, we are truly up against powerful forces.

What I wish to reflect on, while taking inspiration from the stories and indeed heroism we all know so well (who among us will ever forget the witness of the two Jesuits from Syria in Sarajevo?), is the spirituality which we need for our calling and ideals, and which we should also share with those who are present in situations of great stress so that we and they can find the inner strength to continue giving witness to the possibility that there is another viable option to wars and violence.

Given that we, our partners and co-workers almost always work in an interfaith context or in one where there might not be any concept of a God, what we share in terms of the spirituality which motivates us needs to be sensitive to the objective of finding a “meeting of minds and hearts” with others, whomever they may be. That should not be perceived as a problem, but rather an invitation to “find” each other and what can sustain us in working together for goals we believe in or share.

Our inspiration comes, above all, from the person of Jesus and the message of the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount, as we reflect on Jesus’ nonviolent approach to issues in his context – which was Palestine in the first century. This enables us to affirm that the spiritual foundation for our vision and policies, and the way we try to respond to the complex contexts in which we are present and active, is the life and witness of the nonviolent Jesus in his context. We are able to discern from the Scriptures that nonviolence was not only central to the life and message of Jesus, but that nonviolence was taken up as a committed strategy in the lives of the early Christian community in the way those Christians understood their faith and what it called for.

What the scholars have revealed to us – very well described for us by Professor Terrence Rynne who was in my reflection group in Rome which has inspired me in this reflection – was that, much like our present world, Jesus spent his life in a context of real violence. The people among whom Jesus lived and ministered were truly oppressed, were very angry, and they were kept under control by threats of violence being used against them by the Roman occupying power. But Jesus clearly discerned that the experience of meeting violence with violence by Judas the Galilean soon after he was born, and the various uprisings which continued during his life, would only lead to destruction – as happened after his death and resurrection. We remember how he wept over Jerusalem, and could foresee what would eventually happen … “not a stone will be left on a stone” (Matthew 24).

Jesus gives us and all our co-workers a clear and inspiring vision with which to interrogate the current paradigm of war and violence in our age – and the countless local examples like the killings in Orlando, and the murder of the young UK mother and parliamentarian, Jo Cox. Jesus showed that there was and is a powerful alternative to the option for war and violence; but that was not the only option he took up. Like us today, Jesus identified and worked also to transform the causes of the suffering and injustice his people experienced – which made people so angry that some groups chose the way of violence … as happens around the world today also. As we know only too well, there are several structures or systems of injustice which are the root causes of war and violence today … and it was the structures, institutions, policies and systems which oppressed the people of Jesus’ time, opening the way to the real possibility of violence.

Therefore, living out an alternative way to war and violence must go together with the commitment to deal with and gradually transform the underlying causes which lead to war and violence today so that hopefully these can be limited and even prevented; and then, in the aftermath of war and atrocities, to commit to the long process of healing and transformation required by what is termed “transitional justice” and its different facets.

The people of Jesus’s time took up three options in response to the oppression they were experiencing. The Essenes, about whom we learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls, chose flight. They fled into the desert to protect their understanding of the Jewish religion and by refusing to have any dealings with anyone who did not belong to them. The priests and the Herodians of Jesus’ time chose accommodation: they collaborated with the Romans and in this way they were able to continue practicing their religion, and they were able also to build up some wealth for themselves. The Pharisees, and later the group which chose the way of violent resistance, chose to resist. They opted to preserve their identity against the Roman pagans, regarding them as enemies, and eventually they moved to the decision to fight.

Jesus, in what he proclaimed and lived, offered a fourth way to the people of Israel … the goal of building an inclusive community, which would include those perceived to be the enemy, by using the power of nonviolent love of others … and also, to engage in action which involved being open to risk, to take risks and even being willing to suffer for others for the common good, as so many of our co-workers and communities do in very difficult contexts. So, Jesus challenged the way of exclusion, excluding other people: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44). As Albert Nolan wrote in Jesus before Christianity (13): “Jesus’s message was to persuade the Jews that their present attitude of resentment and bitterness is suicidal … the only way to be liberated from your enemies is to love your enemies…”

Jesus reflects further on this insight in the Sermon on the Mount when he says: “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you: ‘Do not violently resist one who does evil to you. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the left; if someone goes to court to take your coat, give him your cloak as well; and if anyone presses you into service for a mile, go a second mile” (Matthew 5:39-41).

This has sometimes wrongly been interpreted as a call to passivity in response to violence … to be passive, and neither show nor give any form of resistance. The scripture scholars through their exegesis show that what Jesus was actually promoting was creative, nonviolent resistance — not passivity. What I have found very helpful is the way the scripture scholars explain the background to that text from Matthew. Jesus is using 3 examples which his disciples at the time would have been aware of. Firstly, the abusive superior insulting an inferior with a backhand slap on the face, on the right cheek; then, secondly, a person taking another to court to sue for the last bit of security that unfortunate person has, viz. the cloak that a poor person, who is homeless, wrapped himself in at night to keep out the cold; and thirdly, the Roman soldier demanding that a Jew must carry his service pack, which weighed 60 pounds or more, for a mile.

Pope Benedict XVI reflected: “Love your enemies … it does not consist in surrendering to evil – as claims a false interpretation of ‘turn the other cheek’ (Luke 6:29) – but in responding to evil with good (Romans 12:17-21), and thus breaking the chain of injustice” (Address in Vatican City, 18 February, 2007).

“(Jesus) was always a man of peace … he came in weakness. He came only with the strength of love, totally without violence, even to the point of going to the Cross. … This is what shows us the true face of God, that violence never comes from God, never helps bring anything good, but is a destructive means and not the path to escape difficulties. … He strongly invites all sides to renounce violence, even if they feel they are right. The only path is to renounce violence, to begin again with dialogue, with the attempt to find peace together, with a new concern for one another, a new willingness to be open to one another. This is Jesus’s true message: seek peace with the means of peace and leave violence aside” (Good Friday sermon, 2011).

So, following reflections like this from Pope Benedict, it is clear that Jesus is not asking that if we experience violence we must just submit to violence passively. Jesus is calling us to respond reflectively and to act as he did, which Jesus affirmed was the same as that of the Father who “sends the rain on the just and the unjust alike”.

What he is asking for is that we respond in the awareness of our dignity which no one or nothing can take away; he is asking that we stand against any hurt or indignity or violence or injustice, but do not respond to that violence with violence. It is a response which does not allow oneself to be infected with the violence one must stand against; and then to be creative by imagining the myriad ways to act against and overcome oppression and violence in a way which can hopefully transform the situation by not perpetuating an endless cycle of violence. The scholar Gene Sharp has identified 198 methods of nonviolent action by people and communities – so creativity in choosing the way of nonviolence is what is called for.

Therefore, the final document produced by the Rome conference called on the church to “promote nonviolent practices and strategies,” including “nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, trauma healing, unarmed civilian protection, conflict transformation, and peacebuilding strategies.”

So, this is a call to inclusive love because that is the way of God who loves all unconditionally, who sends the rain on the just and unjust alike. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is calling on people to live and act in a different way — reaching out to others in an inclusive love for everyone. Jesus constantly revealed this in the way he reached out to all the outcasts of his time, even to the so-called enemy — because for him there were/are no enemies. This approach of Jesus calls on everyone to come together in a search for collaborative action in the pursuit of active nonviolence and just peacemaking which will transform the lot of the poor and the victims through implementing all the facets of what is termed “transitional justice”… which, if implemented fully, may truly bring about a sustainable peace which promotes the common good of all, and indeed hope for a better world.

(Among these facets of “transitional justice” are the search for truth, e.g. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, documentation of the stories of the victims, public testimonies of the victims, the issue of offering amnesty to perpetrators in the hope that they will provide evidence to trace mass graves etc.; the question of retribution – retributive justice versus the call to restorative justice, trauma healing, the pursuit of reconciliation in affected communities with the use of cultural methods of bringing reconciliation between perpetrators and victims, e.g. in Uganda, and then the transformation of the effects of war and violence through the pursuit of economic justice based on Catholic Social Teachings such as the preferential option for the poor, solidarity, the common good, and distributive justice … that the goods of the earth belong to all and need to be shared equitably … these and other dimensions of “transitional justice” are integral to our pursuit of active nonviolence and just peace.)

What is so important in our option for creative and active nonviolence and in our commitment to work for just peace, in contrast to the option to justify war, is the witness this can give to others, the witness of a community of disciples which can inspire and encourage and support others to make the option for the alternative way of Jesus, i.e. nonviolent peacemaking.

As I shared on the first morning in Rome, this option for nonviolent peacemaking comes with a cost; it costs sometimes a great deal on a personal level. That is why it is essential that we and all our co-workers live out of a spirit, a spirituality which gives and renews constantly the inner energy we will all need for the long journey – because nonviolent peacemaking is not something that will be achieved quickly, as we all know. I trust that our source of strength, viz. our personal, prayerful relationship with the nonviolent Jesus whose Sermon on the Mount was and is indeed a challenge to adopt his alternative way of active nonviolent and inclusive love, will also inspire and encourage all our co-workers to search for and live out of their own faith tradition, or their own higher power.


Bishop Kevin Dowing is the Co-President of Pax Christi International and the bishop of the Diocese of Rustenberg, South Africa.


Celebrating Non-Violent Resistance in Aotearoa-New Zealand

As November comes around again, we in Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand turn our thoughts to what we will do this Parihaka Day, 5 November. Last year, we promoted a new film, “Tatarakihi – the children of Parihaka”. The year before, we held a seminar to catch up with the latest developments in the process of trying to get this day and the events it commemorates onto the national calendar.

What is Parihaka all about? What has it to do with peace-making, here in Aotearoa but also, internationally?

Parihaka Village in the 1880s

On 5 November 1881, 1600 fully-armed troops and cavalry assembled outside the village of Parihaka which lies under the shadow of Mount Taranaki. They were hoping for a battle and another chance to show the Taranaki region Maori who was master, to put an end to their resistance to the confiscations of land which had being going on for the past 20 and more years.

They were particularly keen to put an end to the careers of two prophetic leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. These two had established the village on land seized by the government following a series of land wars during the 1860s. The village thrived, expanding to more than 2000 inhabitants who impressed nearby settlers with their industry and the quality of their products. They also inspired a high level of covetousness as more European settlers arrived looking for land on which to set up their own farms and settlements.


The government increased their efforts to claim these confiscated lands and began to survey it and threaten force in the face of growing resistance based on Parihaka. But as the land near the township was surveyed and offered for sale, Te Whiti and Tohu began the series of non-violent actions for which they have become famous. They first of all removed the survey pegs and ploughed across the lines of new roads. Next they put up their own fences where roads and farm boundaries were supposed to be, thoroughly disrupting the process of division and sale by showing that they believed they still had rights to the land which had been unjustly confiscated.

This led to the arrest of eventually more than 400 men. As each small group of ploughmen was arrested, none of them resisted but allowed themselves to be taken and transported around the country, some to the cold areas of the South Island, 1000 miles from their homes. But as one lot was arrested, transported and held without trial, another came and continued their work.

Troops about to invade 1881
Parihaka peace festival, January each year

The non-violence of Te Whiti and Tohu’s resistance was lost upon the settlers and their government and rumours spread about a violent uprising, in spite of clear evidence to the contrary. In October 1881, Native Minister, James Bryce, assembled his troops while the head of state, who had resisted the use of force, was out of the country. They entered the village at dawn on 5 November but instead of armed resistance, they met children skipping up to them and offering them food. The irony of this was ignored by Bryce and his men who arrested Te Whiti and Tohu, committing them without trial to 16 months jail. 1600 of the inhabitants of the village were dispersed around the surrounding countryside without food or shelter and the remainder were put under heavy bond restrictions. In the course of this destruction, soldiers looted and burned the village, abusing and raping women, leaving some infected with syphilis. Subsequently, with resistance quelled, the land was divided and sold and even land to which Maori had clear rights was taken to defray the costs of the invasion of their village.

Although the government did its best to keep its actions out of sight, reporters were in the village and soon filed reports of the invasion which spread around the world. It is believed that the story came to the attention of Mahatma Gandhi, either through reports in colonial newspapers or at his meeting an Irish delegation who had visited Parihaka.

The leaders of the village were released in 1883 and Te Whiti and Tohu returned with some of their followers but they were continually harassed by soldiers and settlers and never allowed to fully revive their community. Both eventually died in 1907 but their legacy of non-violent resistance remained and has gradually been seen as an influence on the use of such means in other parts of the world, so much so that in 2003, an international delegation representing Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King visited Parihaka to honour its founders as “fathers of non-violent action”.

Pax Christi has joined a growing minority who are trying to put Parihaka and its celebration of non-violent resistance in its proper place of honour. So, as November comes around, we turn our minds again to find some way in which we can promote the memory of these two prophetic heroes who tried to integrate their own traditional spirituality with the stories of resistance in the Christian scriptures which they knew well. In doing so, they developed a practice of non-violent resistance which is part of a world-wide movement reaching into our own time. We are working to see that they are given full recognition in this their own land among other such leaders, both international and indigenous, who have sought the path of reconciliation and the non-violent resolution of conflict in the spirit of the peace of Christ.

Kevin McBride (with appreciation for material supplied through Wikipedia)
Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand


Let us Raise our Voices for Change

As people of faith, we have a long and rich tradition of faith-based resistance to violence and faith-based adherence to love, compassion, justice, and reconciliation.

Some events happening in our world today are horrendous and we often feel helpless. However, in the midst of this feeling, let us remind ourselves that any action seeking to address these, however small it may be, has value. A good beginning action is to raise our voices for change.

We need to raise our voices to remind ourselves and others, too, about every one’s responsibility to work for positive social change. We can do this through our education work in our families, social or religious organizations, and in our communities. We may not have given it a thought but we actually educate others daily through what we say, write and do, and through how we relate with others and with our earth home.

An old proverb says: “We did not inherit this earth from our parents; we borrowed it from our children.” Are we living simply so others can simply live? Are we sharing our resources with those living in poverty so they can also experience well-being and decent human lives? Are we not over-consuming and are we resisting environmental abuse so that the future generations can still enjoy the fruits of our earth?


Part of raising our voices is to advocate for the kind of education that will help build a peaceable society, an education that cultivates peaceable values and wisdom, not just knowledge. Likewise, are there policies that are much needed in our context to address certain issues, for example, gun proliferation and violence as well as discrimination against minority groups? What about being an advocate for these needed policies? And if your organization can help address these issues through community-based dialogues, why not take the initiative?

Many women are marginalized, exploited and continue to suffer from violence in their homes and during armed conflicts. This is an important challenge to us. We can serve as catalysts to serve the cause of these women. We also have to find ways of educating and encouraging women so they can transcend this victimhood and to take their rightful place as participants and contributors to positive social change. We can begin by consulting them, because the needed steps will vary depending on the context of the women.

In the Philippines, for example, Muslim women traditionally do not have a strong voice in political matters. But a network of women, peace, and human rights organizations called WE Act 1325, whose secretariat is located in our Center for Peace Education, sought to engage with these women. They consulted groups of Muslim women in the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao, Philippines, and the results (their aspirations for respect for human rights including women’s rights, disbandment of private armies and other armed groups, gun control, etc.) have been submitted to the group tasked to draft a Bangsamoro Basic Law to implement the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Raising our voices through statements, petitions and public actions of our organizations and interfaith networks can be a powerful tool, too. Again using our local experience as example- the Catholic bishops and priests, the Protestant pastors, the Imams and lay-led groups have quickly called for local ceasefires when armed clashes happened. They have assisted in easing tensions, in monitoring the ceasefire agreement, including providing early warning, and have accompanied the peace talks.

A recent advocacy of our Center is to work with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), towards a global treaty that will ban nuclear weapons. We believe that its time has come. Our Catholic Church and various other Churches and Faith Groups have already declared nuclear weapons as immoral and illegal. The humanitarian catastrophe and environmental destruction that result from said weapons have long been recognized as reasons why the human community has to raise its voice against such weapons.

Whatever is the particular challenge that is present globally or in our own communities, one thing is clear: we can respond to the challenge better by being organized and by sharing in the responsibility to resolve it.

Working for peace and social change is a long and arduous road, and here is a quote from Aung Sang Suu Kyi that can help us keep going: “A perfect peace may not be possible because it is not of our world, but still, we should journey to it…”

Loreta Navarro-Castro
Center for Peace Education
Miriam College, Philippines