Nonviolence

Charlottesville: A clear and urgent invitation

by Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International Co-President

Despite decades of faith-based activism, I remember very few occasions when the invitation has been so clear and urgent. As their town became a lightning rod for white supremacists, Charlottesville faith communities issued a call for clergy and religious leaders from other parts of the country to come to Charlottesville to participate in carefully orchestrated nonviolent resistance to the public demonstration of racist violence planned by extremist groups for August 12th.

I was able to get to Charlottesville for the interreligious service at St. Paul’s Memorial Church on Friday evening. The standing-room-only gathering was solemn and prayerful. Traci Blackmon, Cornell West, Lisa Sharon Harper and other leaders from many different communities and traditions spoke a powerful message in word and music – that fierce, risky love is stronger than hate, a message repeatedly affirmed by all of us present. “CongregateCharlottesville” organized a response to expected violence that was intentionally nonviolent and very articulate in addressing the roots of racism and white supremacy.

As a Catholic, however, I was very disappointed that no Catholic clergy or leadership person participated in the service itself. Were Catholic religious leaders invited and did they refuse to participate – or are we so invisible in the struggle against racism and hatred that no one in Charlottesville knew a Catholic leader to invite?

During the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in early July, I was on panels in two different breakout sessions focused on violence and racism. A repeated plea from African American deacons who were also on the panels was for the institutional Catholic Church to be more visible in response to the violence of racism. They were particularly focused on bishops being “in the streets,” but how do we as the Church/people of God become more visible and engaged in a consistent way? Pax Christi USA has been working for over 20 years to become an anti-racist organization. Lots of important effort has been dedicated to recognizing our own participation in the mortal sin of racism and to rooting out our ways of living and organizing that perpetuate racism. But I am convinced that is not enough. Racism is systemic in U.S. society – woven into the fabric of the structures that shape our ways of life.

Some of us have been deeply involved in the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative for the past few years. That effort to engage the institutional Catholic Church worldwide in teaching and developing our understanding of active nonviolence is very clear that one major form of violence we are trying to counter is the institutionalized violence of racism. But what does that mean? How do we live that commitment?

Strategic nonviolence has to be contextual. Racism is the context here. I believe those of us who live white privilege have to be attentive to our own racism but we also have to be more visibly in the streets and engaged in dismantling racist structures in our society. Our statements of shock and solidarity are important but insufficient. Holding a candle in front of the White House is a good step but not the only important step. If we take Catholic social teaching seriously we have to figure out why there was no visible Catholic presence in Charlottesville and do something about it!

Nonviolence

Nonviolence: A style of politics for peace and the EU

by Judy Coode, Project Coordinator for the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
and Alice Kooij Martinez, Senior Advocacy Officer

(Ed. note: This article appears in europeinfos, the newsletter of COMECE and the Jesuit European Office.) 

How can the EU contribute more proactively to the development of nonviolent strategies? Can it help forge an alternative style of politics when responding to conflicts and violence?

Seeking to build on Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message: A Style of Politics for Peace in which Francis invited the international community to make better use of nonviolent strategies, on 21 April, Pax Christi International hosted a lively panel discussion at its Brussels office. Pax Christi believes that the EU, along with its member states, has an important role to play, having employed and supported financially a wide array of external assistance instruments for the prevention of violent conflict and peace building.

Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi UK, moderated the panel discussion, with panelists Marie Dennis, Co-President of Pax Christi International; Teresia Wamuyu Wachira, a Sister of Loreto, professor at St. Paul’s University in Nairobi and member of Pax Christi International’s board; Canan Gündüz, mediation adviser at the EU External Action Service (EEAS); and Joachim Koops, dean of Vesalius College, Free University of Brussels (VUB) and director of the Global Governance Institute (GGI). The panelists thus represented a variety of backgrounds (grassroots, policy, research) and were able to speak about the potential for using nonviolent strategies and tools in responding to conflicts in the world. They also identified the challenges facing nonviolent strategies. The second part of the panel discussion looked at the link with EU policies…

Click here to read the entire article.

Nonviolence, Women and Peacemaking

Nonviolence: A style of politics for peace (part #1)

by Marie Dennis
Co-President, Pax Christi International

The following piece is the panel presentation given by Pax Christi International Co-President Marie Dennis at the Nonviolence as a Style of Politics for Peace panel discussion in Brussels, April 21.

For Pax Christi International members around the world nonviolence is a spirituality, a way of life, a deep commitment to live the values we believe shaped the community that formed around Jesus in the first century context of occupied Palestine where violence was a way of life. For us, the so-called “hard sayings” in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are central. But the challenge is how to interpret that message in the context of a 21st century world immersed in extremely complex situations of violence. What does “love your enemy” or “blessed are the peacemakers” mean now – yes, at a personal level, but maybe even more importantly, what does this worldview offer in the public arena?

In his recent message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis explicitly challenged “political and religious leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives: to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge,” he said, “to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. … Active nonviolence,” he continued, “is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict.”

Seventy-two years ago the global community was yearning for a way to move beyond the war and violence that had engulfed Europe and consumed so much of the rest of the world. In many ways, the European Union itself is a fruit of that yearning – and of the creative, courageous imagination of leaders willing to risk a step into the unknown … committing to using peaceful means to resolve conflicts …

As Pax Christi International with other partners in the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, we believe that much more creative energy as well as intellectual and financial investment in the development of effective nonviolent approaches to peacekeeping and peacebuilding are essential to addressing the huge challenges of the 21st century.

Tuesday this week I was at a meeting with World Bank President Jim Kim and a number of religious leaders. The picture he painted of the coming decades was painfully bleak, due particularly to the growing tragedy of human stunting from chronic under-nutrition. On everyone’s mind was famine in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria.

On Wednesday at Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore I listened to the staff of Caritas International and CRS who work with refugees and migrants describe in detail the violence from which people are fleeing in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras.

We’ve all watched the unending horror in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and on and on …

The human community simply cannot sustain the levels of war and vicious violence that repeatedly have such unconscionable consequences. We simply have to find a better way to live together on this small planet.
Repeatedly since 1945 Europe – the world – has been confronted with an enormous challenge, facing complex and dangerous situations with relatively underfunded or underdeveloped nonviolent strategies. At the moment of crisis – in Aleppo or Mosel, Rwanda or the Balkans, the Philippines, Haiti or South Sudan, we have time and again opened a toolbox that is flush with military might, but woefully under-invested in the tools of active nonviolence.

In the public arena, nonviolence is often misrepresented, misunderstood, too narrowly defined or wrongly dismissed as either passive or utopian. Very strong evidence, however, suggests a different conclusion, which Pope Francis seems to accept. In his 2017 World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis presents active nonviolence as both powerful and effective, a realistic political method that gives rise to hope and he recognizes the importance of both nonviolent resistance to evil and constructive nonviolent work for peace.

Countless movements around the world have shown that action which is both nonviolent and determined is often essential to overcoming the roadblocks to a just and peaceful solution in situations of oppression and violent conflict. Nonviolent action can dramatize the issue at hand and foster the creative tension that encourages all parties and the larger community to find a path to justice and peace.

But we should also think about active nonviolence as much broader than that. In the past few decades we have learned a great deal about how to build and sustain just peace – much of that body of knowledge was referenced in the recent High Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations’ report.

In fact, one of the great gifts of our age is the growing recognition of active nonviolence as a positive and powerful force for social change, and as a means of building a global community committed to the well-being of all. It is a process for ending violence without lethal force; for transforming conflict; and for protecting the vulnerable. Active nonviolence is a stand for justice and a method for helping to create it. It pursues this goal, not with passivity or violence, but with creative engagement and determined resistance.

There is actually strong empirical evidence for the superior effectiveness of active nonviolence. One of participants in last year’s Vatican Conference on Nonviolence and Just Peace, Dr. Maria Stephan, is co-author with Erica Chenoweth of a landmark study of nonviolent civil resistance campaigns over the last one hundred years, Why Civil Resistance Works: the strategic logic of nonviolent conflict.

Stephan and Chenoweth collected data on all major nonviolent and violent campaigns for the overthrow of a government since 1900. The data covered the entire world and consisted of every known case where there were at least 1,000 observed participants, hundreds of cases.

They found that from 1900 to 2006, nonviolent campaigns worldwide were twice as likely to succeed outright as violent insurgencies. Not only that, this trend has been increasing over time, so that in the last 50 years, nonviolent campaigns are becoming increasingly successful and common, whereas violent insurgencies are becoming increasingly rare and unsuccessful. This is true even in those extremely brutal, authoritarian conditions where you would expect nonviolent resistance to fail.

The answer seems to lie in people power itself. Chenoweth and Stephan’s data showed that no single campaign has failed during the time period they studied after the campaign had achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population.

Every single campaign that surpassed that 3.5% was a nonviolent one. In fact, the nonviolent campaigns were on average four times larger than the average violent campaigns, and they were often much more inclusive and representative in terms of gender, age, race, class, and the urban-rural distinction. Moreover, 75% of the violent campaigns failed, while a majority of the nonviolent civil resistance campaigns were successful.

Civil resistance allows people of all different levels of physical ability to participate including the elderly, people with disabilities, and children.

Of course, just because a campaign is nonviolent does not ensure its success. Just as for violent campaigns, flexible and creative leadership is crucial to success. A poorly managed, disunified campaign will fail.

While Chenoweth and Stephan’s work was groundbreaking, there is much more empirical research being done (including by them) that speaks to the effectiveness of active nonviolence and to the importance of increased investment in developing, teaching and scaling up nonviolent strategies – from conflict transformation in neighborhoods and restorative justice practices in schools to early warning and atrocity prevention mechanisms, to unarmed civilian protection and a massive shift of resources into diplomacy and just, sustainable development.

A rich diversity of nonviolent strategies is being employed in different contexts. They have been the “bread and butter” for Pax Christi member organizations for decades: building empathy and respectful relationships across differences between youth and migrants or refugees through interviews using the principles of peace journalism; trainings in strategic nonviolence for communities negatively affected by extractive projects throughout Latin America; accompaniment of communities at risk in the Middle East; sports for peace programs in Haiti and South Sudan; reintegrating former combatants into their communities in the DR Congo; creative advocacy to reduce military spending and support diplomatic solutions to seemingly intractable violent conflicts – the list is endless.

The High Level Independent Panel report specifically highlighted a number of nonviolent approaches to prevention and protection in a violent world: The panel emphasized the importance of preventing armed conflict and of mobilizing partnerships to support political solutions; of employing unarmed and civilian tools for protecting civilians, of emphasizing inclusion, healing and reconciliation, of addressing the underlying causes of conflict, of revitalizing livelihoods in conflict-affected economies, of rebuilding confidence in political processes and responsible state structures, of reforming police, promoting the rule of law and ensuring respect for human rights.

But as we struggle ourselves to understand the power and potential of nonviolence, we believe there is a great need to make nonviolent strategies much more central to public policy at a local, national and international level. One interesting illustration is the research of Elizabeth Wilson on “Nonviolent Civil Resistance and International Human Rights Law” through the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. Her critique of the “responsibility to protect” for failing to incorporate the power of nonviolent civil resistance into its analytical framework suggests a possibly important rethinking of the RtoP to include a “privilege of nonviolence” that Wilson thinks could create the legal, moral and political basis for an affirmative duty to assist nonviolent civil resistance movements in dangerous situations.

Nonviolence as a style of the politics for peace (Pope Francis’ phrase) sides with those who are most impacted by the monumental violence and injustice of our time, joining with them to mobilize our communities, our nations, and our world to accomplish the agenda set forth by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, promoting the things that we know make for peace: economic justice, human dignity, a flourishing planet, and a world free from every form of violence, whether physical, structural or cultural.

Societies committed to nonviolence will be well trained in approaches to active nonviolence that both construct the society they envision and, when needed, disrupt unjust systems through carefully organized resistance efforts, such as boycotts, strikes, and civil disobedience. They will increasingly shift their justice system toward a restorative justice model, deploy unarmed civilian protection units in their communities, and seek nonviolent tools for reducing violence and addressing criminality.

Given what we now know about the consequences of war – physical economic, psychological, ecological, environmental, ecological – and what we have witnessed over and over as wars fail to accomplish whatever was their stated purpose and war begets violence begets war, it seems evident that if we are ever going to achieve the kind of real security for which we all long, we collectively need to fill the public policy toolbox with effective conflict prevention, peace building and other nonviolent tools.

As Pax Christi we will continue to look for ways to support that effort.

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.

Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2017: Reflection for Ash Wednesday – Proclaim a fast!

by Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International Co-President

ashwednesdayclip

Joel 2:12-18 | 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 | Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

“Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning: Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord, your God.” (Joel 2: 12)

Deep in many religious traditions, including in our own Christian faith, is a recognition of prayer and fasting as essential dimensions of spiritual practice. Particularly appropriate in the face of intractable evil or as an expression of repentance, fasting also carries social and political weight – all of which seem particularly important this year.

As Lent begins, we are intensely aware of the pervasive violence that Pope Francis calls “a third world war in installments”: hate speech, racism, Islamophobia, gang violence, anti-immigrant laws and practices, trafficking in humans and weapons, gender violence and sexual abuse, ill treatment of refugees, environmental and ecological destruction, militarism, war, apathy in the face of the tremendous human suffering we have seen in Aleppo, South Sudan and elsewhere, and on and on.

It is right and timely, then, that we proclaim a fast! Perhaps the most urgent need this year is to fast from violence — to join the vibrant, nonviolent resistance to these and so many other expressions of violence.

As we fast, can we in fact learn to “do” peace – not a peace synonymous with my feeling good or with any one nation’s security but something much deeper than that – an integral well-being that embraces all human beings and the rest of creation – a peace that preempts every inclination to violence and war – a new paradigm rooted in an unwavering commitment to nonviolence and to the value of every life?

A fast from violence might help us grapple with our own fear and insecurity, accepting a challenge to live with vulnerability in a world where a majority of people are always vulnerable. A fast from violence might help us reset our priorities from the accumulation of power, wealth and consumer goods to nurturing right relationships with other people and the rest of creation; move from individualism to emphasize community – ultimately the global community; learn to be present, to listen, to wait – to relinquish our need for instant gratification; and reexamine our symbols and myths to strip them of their ability to isolate and blind us.

A commitment to nonviolence is an act of hope. It requires careful theological reflection on the values of our faith tradition in specific situations of violent conflict and war. It requires presence, accompaniment and the nurturing of relationships across boundaries – boundaries between countries and cultures, even neighborhoods. It requires the creation and application of a moral framework and ethical tools for promoting peace in our daily encounters with violence. It requires vigorous spiritual exercises and creative liturgical expression.

Perhaps our fast in this holy season will move us to make or renew a vow of nonviolence:

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God…You have learned how it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy’; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven.”

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;
  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it. (Pax Christi USA)

Peace

Building a nuclear weapon-free world

by Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International Co-President

Note: The following remarks were delivered by Pax Christi International Co-President Marie Dennis in her position as a panelist at the “Building a Nuclear Weapon-Free World” conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, 28-29 August, 2016. Ms. Dennis was invited by the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND). The conference of parliamentarians, mayors, religious leaders, government representatives and disarmament experts was held in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the closing the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.

anti-nuclear-logoPax Christi, a global Catholic peace movement with 120 member organizations on 5 continents, was founded at the end of the Second World War to support efforts at reconciliation between the French and the Germans after decades of bitter fighting.  As people around the world struggled to rebuild their lives and relationships, a monstrous legacy of that war – nuclear weapons – became increasingly visible and Pax Christi with many others began the long struggle to eliminate them.

For most of these 70 years, any discussion about the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons was subordinated to the debate about national security and deterrence. Yet it is precisely there – before the disastrous human and ecological effects of nuclear weapons production and potential use, whether by intent or accident, that Pax Christi and most faith communities engage.

Let me say a few words this afternoon from the Catholic perspective – although all of the work that we do is with people of many faith traditions and with all people of good will committed to abolishing nuclear weapons.

First, who are we? From which perspective do we approach this challenge?

  • We are part of a local Church – from Hiroshima and (especially) Nagasaki and the Marshall Islands; from communities where uranium miners and downwinders live; from impoverished communities, who, as Pope Francis said, “Pay the price” when resources are squandered on nuclear weapons. (Dec 7, 2014)
  • We are part of a Church with a long track record of working for nuclear disarmament. In December 2014, the Holy See’s statement to the Vienna Conference revoked moral justification for nuclear deterrence and therefore for the design, development or possession of nuclear weapons. At the United Nations last year, Pope Francis said, “An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.”
  • We are part of a global Church that brings to the effort for nuclear disarmament some important resources:
  • A values based way of life that is rooted in respect for the dignity of every person and the integrity of the natural world; the values we cherish are well articulated and very useful in the political arena/the public square
  • Broad, even global, networks of members or followers. In the Catholic tradition this network includes parish and diocesan structures that span many of the nuclear weapons states, hundreds of religious communities most of which work internationally, and international Catholic movements and organizations like Pax Christi International
  • Educational institutions and resources – colleges and universities, high schools, grade schools, seminaries – as well as networks of these institutions (Jesuit universities, Franciscan universities, Catholic universities etc.) – and formal or informal educational opportunities in local congregations
  • Communities of prayer and study – every week around the world we, like other people of faith, gather for a time of prayer that includes a message, a sermon, a homily about living our faith in the world today
  • Communication – we have capacity for publishing, broadcasting and social media
  • Access to every sector of our societies – from national political decision-makers to media personalities to scholars to business leaders to opinion-makers to local leaders.

The recently reframed discussion around nuclear weapons, the humanitarian initiative, is a real sign of hope that citizens of the world – all of us who will be irrevocably harmed in any nuclear weapons exchange – are taking back the nuclear disarmament initiative. This, exemplified in last week’s recommendation from the Open Ended Working Group to begin in 2017 negotiations toward a nuclear ban treaty, is a tremendous sign of hope. And it is an effort that we, as a Catholic peace movement fully support.

The humanitarian impact debate forces states to do some soul-searching about the role for nuclear weapons in their national security strategies, whether or not they now possess nuclear weapons. That, I think points directly to the questions that we as faith communities are askingWhat kind of people are we of the 21st century?  What values shape our political priorities; how do we represent them on the global stage; and what do they say about our concern for future generations?

Nuclear weapons are in essence inhumane and unethical. Only an ethic rooted in solidarity and peaceful coexistence is a worthy project for the future of humanity. Pax Christi International fully supports the position of the Holy See stated so clearly at the Humanitarian Consequences conference in Vienna in December 2014:

“World leaders must be reminded that the commitment to disarm embedded in the NPT and other international documents is more than a legal-political detail, it is a moral commitment on which the future of the world depends…Responsibility for the abolition of nuclear weapons is an essential component of the global common good.”  (Pope Francis, 7 December 2014)

As an international Catholic peace movement we will continue to highlight the ethical imperative for a nuclear-weapons-free world. We recall the noble principles of the Charter of the United Nations, which enjoin the international community, individually and collectively, to spare no effort in promoting a world where all peoples may enjoy freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the freedom to live in dignity. Yes, a nuclear-weapons-free world is a global public good of the highest order serving both national and international security interests.

To that end, in coalition with ICAN and many other international, regional and national organizations, Pax Christi International will (1) support the process recommended by the Open Ended Working Group; (2) work for a WMDFZ in the Middle East; (3) oppose modernization of nuclear arsenals; (4) promote Don’t Bank on the Bomb.

  1. We will support the recommendation of the Open Ended Working Group to the UN General Assembly to convene “a conference in 2017 open to all states, international organizations, and civil society, to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons leading towards their total elimination.” We will engage in that process to the greatest extent possible. Our representative at the OEWG noted that the results of the OEWG process – the clear action, the broad support and the definite timeline – represent “a milestone in the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament.”

Thanks to our geographic spread, the ecumenical advocacy in which Pax Christi actively participates, will engage states on all sides of the issue: states for a ban, states against a ban, and states in the middle. Our goals are to:

  • Help bring governments which rely on nuclear weapons to accept consensus and not vote “No”, or to move from “No” to “Abstain”, or move from “Abstain” to “Yes”.
  • Encourage more of the nuclear-free states to join the debate and demonstrate the majority support, which is the ban’s best asset.
  1. We will work for the creation of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East, including the 21 state-members of the Arab League plus Iran and Israel. We believe that Turkey should also be included in a WMDFZ in the Middle East. This would require the withdrawal of NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons from Turkish territory – a move we fully support. In fact, member organisations of Pax Christi International in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy have campaigned for decades to get US nuclear weapons out of Europe.
  1. We will oppose modernization of nuclear arsenals, especially in Europe and the United States. We fully agree with Pope Francis that “the production, maintenance and deployment of nuclear weapons continue to siphon off resources that otherwise might have been made available for the amelioration of poverty and socio-economic development for the poor. The prolongation of the nuclear establishment continues to perpetuate patterns of impoverishment both domestically and internationally.” (Time for Abolition, December 2014)
  1. And we will promote the growing international campaign, Don’t Bank on the Bomb, which was initiated by our Dutch member organization, PAX, to engage the public in an effective nonviolent campaign to undercut bank participation in the production or refurbishing of nuclear weapons.

Between July 8th (20th anniversary of the World Court case against nuclear weapons) and October 2nd (International Day for Nonviolence, Gandhi’s birthday), as part of Chain Reaction 2016, Pax Christi International and its member organisations are sponsoring a series of nonviolent actions at nuclear-weapons and nuclear-disarmament related sites and political offices around the world to demonstrate that people want peace and nuclear abolition.

The example of Kazakhstan, that dismantled and destroyed Soviet weapons systems and facilities left on its territory following the break up of the Soviet Union and that, in its first decade of independence, signed major international nonproliferation treaties, gives hope to the world that the abolition of nuclear weapons is possible.

Again, to quote Pope Francis: “to achieve nuclear abolition, we need to resist succumbing to the limits set by political realism… The fear that drives the reluctance to disarm must be replaced by a spirit of solidarity that binds humanity to achieve the global common good of which peace is the fullest expression.” (Time for Abolition December 2014)