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…

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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…

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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 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.
“Choosing Peace” is available via the publisher and agents or by mail from Pax Christi UK at (UK price about £20 plus postage).

The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative website is at 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 Her photo, taken at the same time as the interview, is at