Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 19 – Water is a gift for everyone; breaking down the dividing walls

by Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

Exodus 17:3-7 | Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 | John 4:5-42

The Gospel readings of this period of Lent 2017 open up ever-deepening aspects of the personality of Jesus and his mission among us.

In the Gospel, Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman in public, a woman from another background and culture. She is from a people ostracised by his own people and she is living publicly in an irregular relationship.

Water wells bring people together. Communication and meeting one another — not least with the enemy, the stranger or those from another culture — is an attitude of nonviolent resistance and is the beginning of peacebuilding. The “other” or the “unknown” encounter is not obvious. “Othering” is a form of excluding other people. It is sometimes “dehumanising” the other as an opponent. Both Christ and the woman at the well are criticised for talking to each other and for taking an interest in each other’s backgrounds. Samaritans and Jews did not mix and were encouraged to keep it that way.

However, Jesus and the woman built a bridge between the two very different cultures. He did not condemn the woman but made her the messenger of good news, despite her being regarded by others as a hated foreigner. Bridge-building is the result of an active nonviolent attitude.

Jesus did the unexpected and requested a drink from the woman. By doing so, Jesus accepts the Samaritan woman as a person: she exists! She is seen as a child of God, a person worthy of the deepest respect just like any other human individual.

He then moves to offer her a share in the life of God which he describes as “living water.” She glimpses the wonder of the moment and dashes off to share it with the neighbours. Drawing water was a humdrum part of the Samaritan woman’s life. Her generous kindness opened the way for Jesus to touch her and change her life and that of her townspeople.

Water is central to the giving of life. Clean water is one of the most precious gifts in the world. Water can give life. Ensuring access to water and sanitation for all is a major goal of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

The witness of Christ in his public life is that he cuts through various forms of discrimination. There should be no obstacles between people(s)! Christ is breaking the cycle of violence by taking at least four steps.

Firstly, he treats men and women equally. Respect the other as he or she is.

Secondly, Jews, Samaritans or people from any other tribe all have a right to food and drink. Human rights are universal, including the right to water.

Thirdly, nobody is excluded from God’s love.

Last but not least, he showed that deeds speak louder than words. The reality is that, if you are thirsty, you don’t want endless debates about where the water comes from or who has a rightful claim to it.

Fr. Paul Lansu is Senior Policy Advisor of Pax Christi International.

Nonviolence, Peace

Sumud: Neither resigning to the occupation nor becoming absorbed by hate

by Rania Murra
Director of the Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem, Palestine

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

My personal, family, work and political circumstances as shaped by the Israeli occupation have motivated me to participate in nonviolence and peacebuilding. During my work at the Arab Educational Institute (AEI)/Sumud Story House in Bethlehem/Palestine, I have been exposed to different kinds of formal and informal education and participated in several of AEI’s nonviolence activities. Examples are interreligious prayers and retreats; singing and acting in front of the Separation Wall; collecting, editing and fixing story posters in the so-called Wall Museum; vigils and marches; encouraging the Bethlehem Sumud Choir; filming, documenting, and interviewing peace activists; and holding an annual Sumud Festival.

Sumud is Arabic for “steadfastness”. It refers to an active, nonviolent lifestyle in which one neither resigns to the occupation nor become absorbed by hate towards the enemy. Sumud is a third way in which one keeps head and dignity high, stays actively connected to the land and the community, and challenges occupation by a peaceful lifestyle with preparedness to suffer. Sumud is about being tested as Jesus was tested in Gethsemane and afterwards. It’s a concept which gives space to stories and voices of individual women, families and communities. Jesus, as well as personalities like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are examples showing the personal leadership of sumud.

Sumud implies a solid strategy, living by example. Strategy means that we have to work on educating and liberating people, and especially raising the voice of women. Women have to participate and present their stories, but they should also be decision-makers in their communities. Each woman has her own way to make a difference. This has also a personal and family dimension. It is about raising your children in the spirit of sumud, against the occupation, against despair and emigration, against bare survival. In the case of women’s rights, you are trying to build your country in a way that aims at ending the occupation. When I fight what are called “honor killings”, it is not only a fight for humanity but also a fight against the occupation because you make your people and community stronger.

I believe that we have several strategies available to deepen and widen the practice of nonviolence in the worldwide Catholic community. All require our energy:

  • Living by example: working with Catholic communities on local and global issues of justice, inequality, discrimination, poverty and peace – and showing the many linkages between the different issues in an increasingly interconnected world. A practice of nonviolence can only be fostered by working together on real world problems.
  • To encourage joint working and living by example it is important for the church to increasingly involve lay people in the church organization. Conversely, it is helpful to have more clergy involved in directly dealing with real life problems.
  • To approach world problems nonviolently, it is important to work on peace/nonviolence education, including the ability of people to raise their voice in different forms and genres.
  • Essential for strengthening nonviolence in the Catholic community is working with women on issues important for protecting her human security and rights. It is also essential to promote women’s participation in society, including her participation in the church.
  • We should try to strengthen the dialogical capacity of the Catholic Church with regard to both ecumenical dialogues within the Christian church and dialogues across religious borders. Dialogues between religious communities are important for allowing a broad-based, global, nonviolent peace movement. While there are many institutional and dogmatic obstacles here, we can use the exemplary practice of the present pope to illustrate the need for inter-religious dialogue and living together.
  • It will be important for believers in the Church to make a direct connection between the example of Jesus’s life of suffering sumud and approaching nonviolently present-day world problems. Symbols referring to Jesus’s life of struggling nonviolently for a just peace are meaningful. Showing the life of the Virgin Mary and the life stories of saints in appealing forms and designs can help to illustrate a nonviolent lifestyle. Some spiritual traditions of the church are inspired by nonviolent approaches including indigenous traditions in newly established churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Last but not least, it is extremely important that the church itself gives a good example of nonviolence, including preventing the abuse of children in its own ranks.

Nonviolence, Peace

Nobel Peace Laureate: “Nonviolence is the path to human security”

by Mairead Maguire
Nobel Peace Laureate

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

I come from Northern Ireland and lived throughout the ‘troubles’ in the city of Belfast, in an area deeply immersed in a violent ethnic/political conflict for over 30 years. The ‘troubles’ started in 1969 and in the ensuing thirty years over 3,500 people were killed and thousands injured. In 1969 the UK Government, at the request of Nationalist politicians, sent in British troops to protect the Catholic population. The British government also brought in emergency legislation removing many basic civil liberties of the population, carrying out such draconian measures as internment without trial, torture, etc. However, these measures only served to increase the anger in the Nationalist community and were counterproductive in that many young people joined the ‘armed’ groups for many reasons, but often in reaction to how they were humiliated by British troops when their dignity was ignored and basic human and civil rights were removed.

Living as we did between the violence of illegal paramilitary groups and state repression, many people in the civil community found themselves having to make a choice between violence and nonviolence. One young man, Danny, told me he was in the Irish Republic Army and joined the ‘armed struggle’ because it was a ‘just war’ struggle, and the Catholic Church, he said, blesses just wars. This conversation with a teenager, arguing the Just War Theory, had a profound effect on me. I realized that though I came from a Catholic background, living in a Catholic community, I had never read ‘just war’ theology and had not been taught Jesus’s nonviolence, much less a clear moral calling to reject violence and follow the Sermon on the Mount.

Living in the midst of state violence, I was forced to ask myself: “Can I ever use violence in face of state violence and injustice? Is there such a thing as just war, just violence?” I then read the Just War Theory and decided I agreed with the late American theologian Fr. John L. McKenzie: “The just war theology is a phony piece of morality.”

Finally, I went to the cross and there found my answer. “Love your enemy. Do not kill.” And I came into my own believe that non-killing, nonviolence is the way of Jesus, the way of the cross and that Jesus’s suffering on the cross, calling us to love our enemies, is the greatest symbol of nonviolent love in action. I also came to know that my life and every human life is sacred and we have no right to kill each other in armed struggles and wars but to seek alternatives to violence. It was then I made the conscious choice to be an active pacifist and not to kill or support nuclear weapons, militarism and war. I also made the choice to commit myself to finding nonviolent solutions to the injustices in society which others took up ‘arms’ to try to change.

Having lived in Northern Ireland, when we witnessed that militarism and paramilitarism did not solve our problems but only deepened the hatred and division, it was only when we began to enter into dialogue and worked on peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, that change began to happen in our country. Peace came to Northern Ireland when people rejected the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence and came to believe that peace is possible, peace is a human right for all.

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 that Pope Francis and the Church renounce war and develop a ‘theology of non-killing 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 way of solving conflict.

Since World War II, over 20 million people have died in wars, and hundreds of wars have been fought often in the name of God and country. Christians have, and continue to participate, in the killing of humans, and the destruction of their countries and environment. We are all aware that since 9/11 many countries have been destroyed in war and proxy wars by allegedly Christian (Western) countries and their armies, made up of many Christian men and women. This is truly shameful and for which we should say ‘sorry’ and acknowledge this is not in the spirit of Jesus, who was so compassionate and loving to all.

maguireI believe we Christians need to deepen our spirituality of nonviolence, and the Church can help by teaching nonviolence as a theology and way of life, in the seminaries, in schools, in Church, and at every level of society, and by encouraging Christians to live the Sermon on the Mount. In an age of increasing violence and war, how can we Christians choose Jesus’s nonviolence if the Church does not teach nonviolence and offer it as an alternative to violence, militarism and war?

But rejecting violence as a means of bringing about change or as a means of defence, leaves us with an enormous challenge: How do we create human security? We, as the human family, have spent so much of our intellect and our resources on building arms, nuclear weapons and war machinery; we have spent little time on building the architecture of peace and instruments of conflict resolution. The Churches and all faith traditions can provide great spiritual leadership in encouraging people to change their mindsets, deepen their spirituality, and through imagination and creativity move to a new consciousness of nonviolence and peace-building for the sake of humanity’s survival and fulfillment, committing to a vision of peace and disarmament.

As we continue to work for peaceful interaction, we need a shared constructive goal of a peaceful, demilitarized world for the human family. Wars start from dysfunctional conditions and relationships, and to solve this we need equality through peaceful interaction. We can build relational equality; for the Catholic Church, this will mean justice and equality for women in the Church and rejecting patriarchy, militarism and war. With fresh thinking, and a new vision, the Church can fulfill its prophetic spiritual leadership role so needed by our human family, seeking a world without militarism and war, based on fraternity among people and nations, no armies, peace and love.

Nonviolence, Peace

Nonviolence is power

by Fr. John Dear

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

First, my work for Gospel nonviolence began in 1982, while I was camping alone by the Sea of Galilee in Israel. I was twenty-one years old and about to enter the seminary. One day I visited the Chapel of the Beatitudes and was quite overwhelmed by their teachings. While pondering them, I saw Israeli jets swoop down over the Sea of Galilee, and drop their bombs a few miles away in Lebanon. Sixty-thousand people died during that summer war. I decided then and there to dedicate my life to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. Within months, I began a serious study of nonviolence, joined every peace group I could find, and started writing a book about professing a vow of nonviolence, as Gandhi did. Since then, I’ve written over 30 books on peace and nonviolence; traveled the war zones of the world, from Central America to Iraq and Afghanistan; organized countless demonstrations; been arrested over 75 times and spent nearly a year in jail; directed the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA; lectured on nonviolence probably to over a million people, and currently work with Ken Butigan on Campaign Nonviolence.

tnvl-cover-rgSecond, Gandhi and King insist that nonviolence is power, that it is stronger than all the world’s weapons combined, that it doesn’t use the means of violence to achieve noble ends, and that when it is tried, it always works. I see this more and more as I study the movements for social change. As I wrote in my recent book, The Nonviolent Life, I think nonviolence requires nonviolence to ourselves; nonviolence toward all people, all creatures, and all creation; and at the same time, active participation in the global grassroots movement of nonviolence, which can tackle any issue, according to Gandhi and King. Erica Chenoweth, in her recent book, Why Civil Resistance Works, has now proven statistically that nonviolence works when it’s tried. But for me, its greatest strength, of course, is that is it the way of Jesus. I completely agree with Gandhi and King that Jesus was perfectly nonviolent, that all his teachings are about nonviolence, that he forbids all violence, and that during his life, he built and mobilized a grassroots movement of nonviolence, which continues today. As I get older, I have become less involved in institutional church work and more involved in global grassroots movements of nonviolence, because I think this is what the nonviolent Jesus wants of me and all of us. I’m very moved too by Gandhi’s statement: “The Kingdom of God is nonviolence.” We are working to welcome the Kingdom of God as a new world without war, hunger, guns, greed, executions, torture, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons or environmental destruction, a new world of nonviolence.

Third, Catholics do not know anything about nonviolence. They do not know that Jesus was nonviolent. They all support violence and war. At best, they compartmentalize their spiritual lives from the world’s realities of war and violence. The Church has to reject the just war theory once and for all, and start teaching the nonviolence of Jesus and the methodology of nonviolence. In particular, priests and bishops need to be taught about Gospel nonviolence. This is the most important work we can do together, and why this Rome meeting is so important. This meeting has to be just a beginning. Ideally, I hope we can push Pope Francis to write an encyclical on the nonviolence of Jesus, the rejection of the just war theory, the church’s complete embrace of nonviolence, and the requirement of every Catholic to try to practice the nonviolence of Jesus. Because we are a hierarchical church, I suppose we need to push Rome toward the truth of Gospel nonviolence. We may never have a better chance than under Pope Francis. I hope we can ask for a second meeting, in a year or two. I certainly would be willing to help in any way.