Nonviolence, Our Stories

OUR STORY: The Denis Hurley Peace Institute of South Africa

This is the latest installment of a regular feature on the Peace Stories blog featuring the stories of our 120 member organisations on five continents around the world. For May 2017, we’re getting to know the Denis Hurley Peace Institute, one of our member organisations in South Africa. This interview was conducted by email with Director Danisa Khumalo and Jeanette Lesisa.


South Africa (SA), for historical reasons, commanded world attention for decades. The word that best describes this attention is the word ‘Apartheid’, a form of constitutionalised racism. It united socialist and capitalist countries against it; it brought about a unity of purpose between rich and poor, East and West, in their opposition to it.

Rather than being an ugly aberration, South Africa was really an extreme parable of an entire global system. This bleeding land was and is a microcosm of the oppressive dynamics which now govern the world order.

When, why and how did the Denis Hurley Peace Institute start?

Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI): Since the democratic transition in 1994, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) has received numerous requests for assistance in the area of conflict management from the Catholic Church across the African continent. South Africa owes a huge debt to its African neighbours for the support they gave to the country during the dark days of Apartheid. The Bishops felt the need to repay that debt by responding as best they could to the requests they received.

The lot fell on the Justice & Peace Department of the SACBC to actually go to those countries and support them in whichever way they could. The outcome was that the Justice & Peace Department was spending much of its time outside the country and that the Justice & Peace work in the country was suffering. Therefore, the Bishops decided to establish a Peace Institute, which would have the specific mandate to respond to the call of Africa.

Archbishop Denis Hurley

Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg Diocese, working with the then Coordinator of the Justice & Peace Department, Mr. Neville Gabriel, were mandated to propose how this Peace Institute would come into being. Numerous consultations took place across a wide section of South African society, and indeed beyond the borders, and the final result was the establishment of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute in October 2004. Archbishop Denis Hurley, a legend in the struggle against Apartheid, had passed away the year before and so it made every sense to call the new Peace Institute after him.

Was there some particular event or issue that served to bring the Institute into being? 

DHPI: South Africans did not stand alone in their struggle against Apartheid; the world stood with them and not least their African neighbours who received, sheltered, educated and helped train thousands of young South Africans to return home and take up the fight.

This was done at enormous cost to their own countries that paid a heavy price for this solidarity and support. It is a scandal that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996 to 1999) did not investigate gross human rights violations in neighbouring African countries that bore the brunt of the vicious South African regime’s capacity to strike back with impunity on foreign soil. Somehow those innocent people killed for offering a safe haven to so many South Africans, did not seem to count.

It is important to clearly state that the work being carried out by the DHPI is the work of the SACBC, as DHPI is an Associate Body of the SACBC. The Bishops from the SACBC have made numerous solidarity visits to various countries such as Sudan, DRC, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, Swaziland and Lesotho, that have been hugely appreciated in particular by the local Church and in general by the local population.

It is further important to point out that DHPI work takes place outside of South Africa, in various countries scourged by war and conflict. However, DHPI does have a close working relationship with both the Justice & Peace Department of the SACBC and the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO) which is also an Associate Body of the SACBC.

What is the structure and who are the people involved in the Institute? Who are the main leaders or personalities behind the work?

DHPI: DHPI basically functions with four different structures: The Board, the Staff, the Associates, the Consultants and the Contact People.

Past and present board members of DHPI

The Board was constituted by the SACBC because DHPI is an associate body of the SACBC but has its own Board of Governors. The Board is constituted by less than 10 members of which three ex-officio members, a Bishop, the SACBC Secretary General and a priest, the CPLO Director.  In addition there is the DHPI Director, another priest with Justice & Peace experience, and the rest of the members are people with various expertise and experience such as project management and financial management.  The Board serve for a minimum of three years and a maximum of six years and meets twice a year.

The Staff of DHPI has expressly kept the staffing to a minimum because most of its work is done outside the country though the office is based in SA. The staff is constituted of a Director, an Office Administrator and a Financial Manager. DHPI is in a process of getting M&E personnel.

The Associates are people we liaise with on the ground who very often do the preparation work in each country before the DHPI’s intervention. The Associates assist DHPI in identifying country problems and avenues for DHPI’s intervention with the mandate of their Bishop.

The Consultants are people (some Bishops and priests from SA) that the DHPI call on a regular basis to assist in our work in various countries. Most have a particular skill such as legal (lawyers) versed in the issue of constitution writing; some have experience in election monitoring, others in conflict management while others are called upon to share the South African experience.

Internal Partners are mostly local organisations that DHPI has developed a very close working relation with, like the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).  DHPI is also closely associated with NGO’s in South Africa who share the same concerns and sentiments on peace building and who monitor what is going on in the same countries as DHPI does. These also include the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), Southern African Liaison Office (SALO) and Crisis Action among others. At times DHPI attend their seminars organised by these internal partners on topics pertaining to the countries DHPI works in and at times we are invited as guest speakers at their conferences and dialogues.

External Partners consist of the Catholic Commissions for Justice & Peace (CCJP) in various countries as well as funding partners from international community who supports the work of DHPI in the countries DHPI works.

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

DHPI: The Institute is very much concerned with the current issues that are affecting various countries in Africa. DHPI is current working on capacity building in peace building, conflict management, leadership skills, trauma healing and counseling, constitutionalism, electoral processes, advocacy and through its intervention DHPI also promotes the Catholic Social Teachings (CST).

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

DHPI: Nonviolence approaches are the essential message of the work of DHPI. All our interventions are shaped by nonviolent philosophy and approach. Peace is seen as something more than the absence of war or overt violence. DHPI in its work champions nonviolent ways of building peace. Approaches such as conflict management, mediation, advocacy for peace, using eminent persons as envoys for peace and giving negotiation a chance are nonviolence approaches that DHPI work with and encourages other communities to adopt. As a South African organization, we have learnt that violence begets violence and it should never be encouraged. Nonviolence is seen as an important tool to disarm others and to bring them to a point of talking without carrying weapons.

The manuals that we use and one that we developed on leadership cements the nonviolence approach to dealing with conflict.

What is the greatest accomplishment of the Institute during its history?


  • Working with and supporting CCJP and Civil Society organisations toward independence of South Sudan.
  • Solidarity visits in Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Lesotho and Swaziland of which the Bishops wrote and public statements condoning the situation of these countries.
  • Dialogues on Lesotho where the Former Prime Minister of Lesotho Dr. Thomas Thabane was the guest speaker and Mrs. Maaharanye Mahao, the widow of General Mahao who was brutally killed in Lesotho. Among those who attended the dialogue were the wives of the policemen who were in prison without trial accused of mutiny.

Is there any particular story about the Institute that stands out for you?

DHPI: In September 2015, DHPI facilitated a solidarity visit by the leaders of the Catholic Church to Lesotho. During this visit, our host conference expressed the sadness of living in a troubled state where the army and police were supporting individual politicians and not protecting the people. During the visit, our leaders listened to what leaders from the opposite political parties had to say. They also listened to the relatives of the slain former commander of the Lesotho Defence Forces, Lt. General Mahao. They met and prayed with the wives of 23 detained soldiers who were being charged of mutiny. Their cases (of the arrested soldiers) were so serious that if found guilty, their sentence would have been death.

Solidarity visit to Lesotho, the SACBC delegation and Lesotho delegation after visiting the detained soldiers

The Bishops decided to go into the maximum prison to visit the detained soldiers. The Bishops spoke words of consolation to men (soldiers) who were facing an uncertain future. The Bishops expressed their solidarity and the solidarity of the Catholic Church in South Africa including people of goodwill. I saw some tears from some soldiers and some of the Church leaders. This was solidarity lived in reality. I saw a face of a concerned Church. A visit to the king was also undertaken and concerns were raised by the Church leaders. The relationship of solidarity has continued to date. The challenges of Lesotho are many but the care and solidarity is still alive.

Any story that is particularly meaningful to you?

DHPI: At the celebration of 10 years of Denis Hurley Peace Institute’s existence, the Former President of South Africa who was a guest of honour, delivered a lecture. In his lecture, he pointed out that the Denis Hurley Peace Institute’s work complements the work of government.

As some African countries lack peace, he saw enough room for the co-operation of Church and his foundation in working towards peace. He also underlined the concept of Africans working to solve their own problems. That for us in Denis Hurley of appreciation that our work is still acknowledged in our Country and leaders like Former President Thabo Mbeki are prepared to work with the Denis Hurley Peace Institute to contribute to peace building.


Nonviolence and peacemaking: lessons from Oscar Romero, Denis Hurley and Pope Francis

by Bishop Kevin Dowling
Co-President of Pax Christi International

Sisters and brothers, good evening to you all. I wish to thank Raymond Perrier, all those involved in planning this evening, and all of you who have come for this annual event….thank you for the privilege of being with you this evening. I am hoping to share something of my journey with others in the search for a better world based on a commitment to active non-violence and just peacemaking – in the light of three important historical figures: Archbishop Romero, Archbishop Hurley and Pope Francis. But I take you firstly to a true personal story and experience. “We open our doors to everyone – even though they might come in to kill us”. I heard those powerful words from a soft-spoken Syrian Jesuit with pain-filled eyes during a ceremony in a church in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on Sunday evening, 8 June, 2014. That evening I was privileged to give the Jesuit Refugee Service Syria the 2014 Pax Christi International Peace Award together with my Pax Christi International Co-President, Mrs. Marie Dennis from the USA. The two Jesuit recipients, accompanied by a member of their Leadership Team from Rome, were Fr. Mourad Abou Seif on the right of Marie Dennis and Fr. Ziad Halil, on her left.

Earlier that day in Sarajevo we had listened to Fr. Mourad and Fr. Ziad describe the terrible suffering in that protracted war, and their work with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Homs and Aleppo where both of them have remained, in spite of the assassination of Fr. Frans van der Lught, a brother Jesuit priest in Syria in April, 2013. Yes! They did come in and they killed him, but yes! those Jesuit priests have stayed with their people and are witnessing to non-violence and peace together with groups of Muslim and Christian peace activists with whom they work in providing humanitarian relief, education, health-care, and above all hope, which few know about. But, as Fr. Mourad said: “We open our doors to everyone – even though they might come in to kill us. And we will never stop opening our doors. We can only find our safety in God”.

And last month Sister Annie Demerjian gave a heartrending account of her ministry in war torn Aleppo when she addressed the Annual Meeting of the organisation Aid to the Church in Need at Westminster Cathedral Hall in London. “Aleppo is a broken city where life hardly exists…. Aleppo has become a city of death.” She concluded by appealing for prayers: “Our world is a gift from God. Part of it is bleeding. Be peacemakers for us and our children.”

Examples of Church personnel fulfilling the witness of “presence”, of “staying with in solidarity”, of responding to human need in a situation of horrendous suffering, fraught with danger. It is appalling experiences like this in Syria with over 400,000 people killed already – but just one example of wars, atrocities and violence – that has driven Pope Francis to state that we are in the midst of a “third world war in installments”. Our whole world – from the international arena, right down to experiences at the local level in many countries in the world, including our own in South Africa – seems to be trapped in a cycle of never-ending violence. We recall the crime statistics for the year till April 2016 released by the Minister of Police on 29 September: among other very worrying statistics on violence, the murder rate had risen to 17805, or 49 homicides per day.

Atrocities and wars, the use of violence to force through whatever one wants to get, the destruction of property, the violation of the human rights of others, the culture of impunity and so on and so on….has this to be accepted as the norm today in our world, and here in South Africa?

Surely there has to be another way to deal with divisions and conflict between nations without going to war and killing thousands of innocent children and people?; surely there is another way here to seek objectives like a wage increase or to solve issues like municipal demarcations, without resorting to violent protests and destruction of property? There is a great, great need for healing in our land. But even with the analysis of all the reasons why people opt for violence, and the causes behind their anger and despair about change, does that justify violence – and if not, what is to be done about this? Surely at all levels of society and the world we need to promote and consolidate another mindset, another way of thinking based on real values and on a commitment to respectful encounter and dialogue as the first step in conflict resolution?…..Or does the sheer level of violence throughout the world, and here in South Africa, make one stop and think, and perhaps begin to doubt that there is an innate goodness in humankind which can motivate people to solve problems peacefully instead of through violence?

A few weeks ago, an article appeared in The Tablet about Amos Oz, widely regarded as Israel’s greatest novelist. In an interview he said this: “Jesus Christ is very close to my heart. I love his poetry. I love his wonderful sense of humour. I love his tenderness. I love his compassion. I have always regarded him as one of the greatest Jews who ever lived……“But Jesus Christ believes in universal love,” he continued. “He believes that the whole of humankind can live as one happy family. He believes we can quench our internal violence and prejudices and become better human beings. I don’t.” He pauses, carefully choosing the right words to continue with his train of thought: “I defer from his faith in the basic goodness of human nature. It is very hard to believe in this as a child of the twentieth century….”….Amos Oz is a person who has doubts about humankind’s essential goodness when he looks at the evil and violence which people are capable of doing.

For me, it is people like Oscar Romero, Denis Hurley, Pope Francis, Mahatma Gandhi – and in my own faith, the person of Jesus – who give me hope that there is another way….all of them were or are the very antithesis of the violence that this world and so many seem committed to consign to the children of the future, and indeed to the planet…

Click here to read the rest of this speech.

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.