Nonviolence, Our Stories, Peace

PCI’s UN representative Doug Hostetter shares his path of nonviolence

Listen to the part one of the interview with Doug.

Listen to the second part of the interview with Doug.

Pax Christi International has been fortunate to have Doug Hostetter as part of our team of volunteers at the United Nations in New York for several years.

Doug, a Mennonite and conscientious objector, served in the middle of a hot zone during the Vietnam War supporting the people who lived there. He shared his incredible story with Alan Winson and Rebecca McKean with Bar Crawl Radio in mid-June 2022.

In the second part of the interview, Doug describes his daily activities in and around the Tam Ky battle zone during the Vietnam War – his interaction with the U.S. American Marines and a very different relationship with U.S. officers who saw his positive work with the local population – as sapping GI morale. This led to a decision he had to make when he learned that the CIA was putting out rumors that could lead to his assassination. He describes surviving the violence of the two-week TET offensive of 1968 and the human devastation that he witnessed afterwards.

Doug’s experiences in Vietnam established his life path working for peace throughout the world: in Nicaragua during the Contra War, in Iraq with his attempts to prevent the First Gulf War by trading a plane-full of medicine with the Iraqis for U.S. citizens and UN hostages, and his work to save Bosnian students from genocide in the 1990s.

Listen to the part one of the interview with Doug.Listen to the second part of the interview with Doug.

In a world rife with intense violence, this story of a man of nonviolence should be heard.

Nonviolence, Peace

Nous devons promouvoir la paix a tout prix!

par Pere Godefroid Mombula,
Directeur du CIC

(a l’occasion de l’ouverture de l’atelier de formation des formateurs du reseau Pax Christi des Grands Lacs, Kinshasa, 18-22 aout 2019)

Monsieur le coordinateur régional de Pax Christi International pour l’Afrique, et mesdames et messieurs les participants:

Il m’est un grand plaisir et un grand honneur de me mettre devant vous pour vous adresser ce petit mot de bienvenue. Je le fais d’abord en ma qualité du directeur du CIAM-Afrique, une des organisations partenaires de Pax Christi International. Ensuite, je me mets devant vous en ma qualité de membre du comité directeur de Pax Christi International. Pour exprimer mes sentiments je n’ai que des mots. Malheureusement, les mots ne traduisent pas toujours fidèlement tout ce qui est dans le cœur de l’homme. Puisque c’est l’instrument que la nature et la culture ont mis à notre portée, je l’utilise tout de même malgré son imperfection pour vous exprimer mes sentiments de fraternité et d’amitié à vous tous ici présents: sentez-vous chez vous!

Mesdames et messieurs les participants,

Nous sommes réunis ici dans le cadre d’un atelier de formation des formateurs du réseau Pax Christi des Grands Lacs dont les objectifs sont:

  1. Apprendre les méthodes d’actions non violentes, à être artisan de paix et à les appliquer aux problèmes auxquels on est confronté;
  2. Aider les candidats-formateurs à découvrir en eux cette force de vie intérieure, libératrice et transformatrice des injustices;
  3. Connaître le réseau Pax Christi des Grands Lacs, son projet et son exécution; concevoir des outils de gestion de ce projet;
  4. Entrepreneuriat des jeunes: création et gestion des AGR.

Mesdames et messieurs les participants,

Comme vous le savez peut être, Pax Christi International est une organisation catholique non gouvernementale pour la paix. Elle a été fondée en 1945 après la seconde guerre mondiale comme mouvement de réconciliation entre les français et les allemands. En effet, l’année prochaine en mai 2020, PCI fêtera ses 75 ans d’existence. Cependant, l’aspiration pour la paix est encore loin d’être réalisée. Des conflits persistent; pensez au cycle de violences et de guerres dans la Région des Grands Lacs.

Nous avons besoin désespérément de la paix: « Pax vobis » (Luc 24, 36). Ce sont les paroles de Jésus adressées à ses disciples après la résurrection. Ces paroles ont été utilisées par les pères de l’Eglise et continuent à être utilisées dans la liturgie catholique dans l’échange de paix. Le monde, loin d’avoir besoin de la nourriture d’abord, le monde et surtout la Région des Grands Lacs ont plus besoin de la paix. Si nous avons la paix, nous aurons la nourriture pour tout le monde.

Mesdames et messieurs les participants,

Permettez-moi de vous raconter une histoire qui me parait très suggestive. L’histoire est écrite par un certain Mr. Nassan:

“There is a huge statue of Christ holding a cross on the Andes, between the countries of the Argentine and Chile. The story of that statue is worth knowing. Once the Argentine and Chile were about to go to war with one another. They were quarreling over some land which each said belonged to them. So both countries started to prepare for war. Then on Easter Sunday, bishops in Argentine and Chile began to urge peace. They went round their countries crying out for peace in the name of Christ. The people did not want war and in the end they made their governments talk peace with one another, instead of war. … The big guns, instead of being used for fighting, were melted down and made into the great big bronze statue of Christ. It now stands on the mountains between the two countries.”

Mesdames et messieurs les participants,

Nous devons promouvoir la paix à tout prix. La paix n’est pas conquise par la force, elle est plutôt l’aboutissement d’une compréhension d’ensemble. Albert Einstein disait: « Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding ». C’est malheureux que notre monde et surtout la Région des Grands Lacs puissent sombrer dans une recrudescence de violences et de guerres pendant que la jeunesse est là, croisant les bras. En effet, la jeunesse est une période de la vie qui devrait plutôt nous donner l’opportunité d’accomplir quelque chose de neuf et de devenir un nouvel homme: « Rien n’est trop difficile pour la jeunesse », dit-on. Nous espérons que la paix est possible pourvu que la jeunesse s’y engage. Et le moyen pour y arriver c’est la non-violence. Mohandas Gandhi déclarait: « My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God and non-violence is the means to reach Him ».

Que vive Pax Christi International! Que vive la paix dans la Région des Grands Lacs! J’ai dit et je vous remercie!

Nonviolence, Peace, Women and Peacemaking

The metamorphosis of a female fighter into a peacebuilder

by Sawssan Abou-Zahr

The story you’re about to read is that of armed conflict and gender, ideologies and the business of war, self-criticism and healing, peacebuilding and education. It is that of a woman who went from being a fighter, to fighting for peace. It is a story that proves how easy it is to get caught at a young age in the labyrinth of war, and how hard it is to detox oneself.

“I practice nonviolence and believe in the power of peacebuilding. I want to live in peace and help young men and women do so. I tell my story hoping to be a catalyst for change.”

Salwa Saad is a retired Lebanese educator. Instead of resting, she takes every possible chance to promote the role of women in peace education and peacebuilding as well as convincing vulnerable youth not to fall for sectarian discourses that end in armed conflict.

“I hate killing”, she told me when I started the interview with a perhaps rude question. I asked whether she got involved in killings directly. She answered: “I didn’t kill. Something inside me prevented me from taking lives although I was as good as any man in shooting… Some female fighters were notorious like their male counterparts. They still don’t show any remorse… As for me, I cried for years.”

She added: “When we became combatants, we cancelled the others’ rights; we didn’t perceive them as humans… After the war (1975 – 1990), I met fighters from the other end. It wasn’t easy to reach out to people who used to be enemies. They had their cause and I had mine. I disagree with their thinking, but they have another version of the story of the war.”

A villager in the war

Salwa was a rebel child in a mountain village. At the age of ten she experienced gender inequality without knowing this discrimination had a name. Her conservative father sent her to a public school whereas her brother was enrolled in a private one despite the fact that she was a better pupil.

At the age of 14 or 15, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that had headquarters in her village started military training for young women. She used to watch secretly and dreamt of being among them, out of her support for the Palestinian cause and admiration to the equality between male and female freedom fighters.

Salwa is Muslim Shiite by birth. When I told her that I have to mention this to help non-Lebanese readers understand the motives of a young woman in a sectarian and still divided country, she was reluctant out of her secularism and refusal to be defined by inherited traits she didn’t choose. She only agreed when I told her I would write she was “Muslim by birth” instead of “Muslim”.

Early in the morning of Sunday April 13th, 1975, the Kataeb (Phalanges) Christian militiamen opened fire on a bus carrying Palestinians passing in the suburb of Ain Al-Rummaneh, killing over 30 people. Retaliation happened shortly after on a nearby church. The war erupted.

Salwa was then enrolled at the public university studying to be an educator. Shortly after, some communist colleagues invited her and other female students to visit their party where she would later sleep over by herself in the ammunition room…

Read this entire article at this link.

Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality, Social Issues

Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself: Peace within one’s own society

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

To work on peace in one’s own society constitutes working on opportunities for everyone. Of central importance is the notion of human dignity for everyone. Human dignity and security are the same for everybody and shall be inclusive. It is important for every individual to experience leading a meaningful life. In order to do so, people require sufficient opportunity to think and act.

This reflection is based on the notion that our own society has both ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ elements: It is small, it houses a diverse array of people, languages and cultures, and it displays an open attitude to the world. Our own society is concerned both with domestic and global injustice. Our regions encounter tensions from abroad like (armed) conflicts between population groups through migration.

There are so many things that move us and that could shape concrete initiatives to strengthen democracy and peace in our own society. In order to contribute to peace in our own society in a meaningful way, we shall search the depth and the width of what moves us; through the ensuing peace spirituality, we shall make a difference in our society and in the international community.

From the experience of injustice to indignity

The road to peace in our own society starts with one’s own perception and experience of injustice, unfairness and immorality. A high degree of indignity accompanies this process. This human reaction can lead to passivity or activity and – in case of the latter – either to nonviolent action or to armed resistance (such as the new IRA[1]).

Radicalisation can be both violent and non-violent. To think radically can lead to radical behaviour. People can radicalise, with different outcomes as a result: From the Occupy movement to Al-Qaeda or IS (Islamic State). In the past, such as in the 1980s, we knew both radical extreme-right and extreme-left groups in Europe that did not shy away from the use of force. Left- and right-wing extremism continues to exist and religious fanaticism has become more visible.

It is important to systematically analyse why people radicalise. What is the situation? How do they think? How do they behave and how does this evolve? Society should seek to act preventively with regard to extremely radical behaviour.

It is important to be aware of feelings and sentiment as these can contain cues that something is not right. They point to possible problems in the environment that require attention. This indicative function of feelings is an important factor in human behaviour.

Political radicalism is the consequence of isolation and threats, which result in strong communal feelings among group members, but which also speaks of the experience of being excluded from the larger environment. Others are confronted with an unclear identity, perceptions of exclusion, humiliation, and direct experiences of discrimination, racism and exclusion.

Working toward social change

Our society is not perfect and requires a patient and consistent approach when it comes to working toward social change. Change starts bottom-up. If people feel like they are being treated unjustly and experience injustice within society, this can nourish forms of social unrest and can lead to a strong need for societal change.

We shall transform our individual or collective indignation into responsibility and action. Peaceful actions have the power to transform social questions, injustice and conflict into social change and they shall promote the common good. Most people are social beings who consider honesty and justice important and who want to do the right thing.

Aspects of social imperfections

The societal challenges that we see both in our own environments and globally are centred around poverty; employment; migration and asylum seekers; the use of social media and Internet; global warming and/or climate change. Gender inequality constitutes another problem: in many regards, women are being treated differently. This is a huge injustice that also hinders development: the productivity of many population groups is severely hindered because women are denied opportunities. Other examples, within Western societies, that require our attention concern sufficient educational opportunities for children and youth, as well as the ageing of the population (an ever-growing number of people gets older and older). Care is at the heart of society!

Quality of life

Our grounding principle is that all people should be treated equally, with equal respect. This concerns decent quality of life. Authorities should treat people respectfully and should refuse to humiliate them. Sometimes, some people require a bit more help and care, and they should be able to receive that. The means to the disposal of the authorities should be distributed as equally as possible among all citizens, yet with special care for the weaker and more vulnerable. People have to be taken seriously. In general, people want to participate in society.

A just distribution of goods and means is an important basis for peaceful coexistence. Human rights offer moral guidance that help the vulnerable against the powerful. Respect for human rights constitutes a ‘basic ingredient’ for peace and for nonviolent dealings with conflict.

A nation’s richness lies with her population and her quality of life. Human development should contribute to the creation of an environment that enables people to enjoy a long, healthy and creative life. Development is a dynamic concept and entails that things can improve. A simple and basic rule is that injustices should be decreased and eliminated.

Diversity is a treasure

Our world needs more critical thought and more respectful discussions. To think critically by entering into dialogue with others. Also in public debates, there needs to be respect for all people’s equal dignity. Diversity is a treasure. Uniformity is boring!

Philosophy’s Golden Rule goes as follows: treat others the way you want to be treated.[2] This regimen also dates back to the command of charity from the Biblical book Leviticus 19:18. People desire to be treated as full members of society and want to feel like their opinion matters. Of course, this is not solely about the rights but also about the responsibilities, that all people have with regard to humanity.

Freedom of opinion is a primary right, but it also comes with certain restrictions. Some freedoms limit others. It is for instance not allowed to incite violent extremism or to idealise terrorism.

There is much to do about civilians’ identity. Someone’s loyalty should in the first place lie with complete humanity and only then with his or her country, region, religion or family. Often, a Frenchman is first and foremost a Frenchman, and only then a human being! A Christian Palestinian is a human being first and then a Palestinian. All of us are human beings first and foremost.

Displaying loyalty or identity can take place secondly, with regard to ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on. Nations can be large and diverse. India alone is home to 320 languages and 1.2 billion people. Flanders has many different dialects and most of the larger cities are home to tens of different nationalities and a mix of Christian and other religions.

Religion and society

One’s religion does not automatically lead to radicalisation. The belief in a just world may provide meaning and direction. The convergence of state and religion is not a positive thing, especially not if it is codified in the constitution. No against state religion doctrine! No against religious ideology! But yes against a doctrine of freedom of religion that provides the necessary protection of human possibilities and equality with regard to religion.

The free practice of religion is a given. A situation in which a religious majority is dominant vis-à-vis religious minorities is an unhealthy situation. Here too, the rule states that all people should be respected, no matter their religion or ideology. Minorities require equal treatment. A democracy shall protect the rights of both its majority and its minorities. This requires decent governance by the authorities.

All religions and churches shall take their responsibility for society’s well-being, but they shall do this from a viewpoint of both critical reflection and distance. One religion cannot impose its rules and laws on a population, just like an ideology should not be able to do this.

Religion can provide extra value to a population’s growth and development. Religion – from the Latin relegare or ‘to reconnect’ – can inspire public life and can stimulate moral and social behaviour. This is closely related to reconciliation work, which means the restoration of relations – reconciliare or ‘to arrange anew’.

As meaningful frame and moral compass, religions often satisfy a wide array of fundamental needs, such as the need for meaning, social identification, connection, certainty and stability. It is true that some (ab)use religion to interpret it in a violent way and to promote violence. Religion cannot and should not be used to accept and justify the use of force.

Religious singularity can be used to work toward a pluralistic society. Freedom of speech, of association and of conscience, political access, and so on, are each crucial elements of a society that protects cultural and religious pluralism.

Humanitarian interventions

Sometimes, one’s society is violated within or by a democratic state. Democracies are not perfect either. Intervention may be considered, especially in failed states. Military and economic sanctions are only justified under certain grave conditions, for instance in case of a crime against humanity like genocide.

Even when such crimes take place, intervention may often be a mistake from a strategic point of view, especially when the country in particular is sufficiently democratic and can be convinced to reject its own actions. As long as there is a reasonable chance that the democracy in question can solve the issue, intervention by force is completely unwarranted.

However, authoritarian regimes where the mechanism to resolve such severe crimes is absent – for instance through suitable criminal tribunals – provide an altogether different context. Each person who is not safe in his/her own country or society has a right to protection. We shall reject indiscriminate use of force against civilians. There is a duty to guarantee all people’s safety. Authorities have the duty to protect their civilians. A secure society is a free society.

Emotions control people and policy

Civilians’ (peaceful) coexistence is dominated by emotions. Compassion is about empathetic concern, respect and solidarity. Compassion may never be used passively or selfishly. Compassion is only real once it is used actively and when it is directed toward other people. It is important to try and understand underlying emotions. Emotions can support policy that is aimed at furthering peaceful coexistence and the notion of human dignity and equality.

Conclusion: choose nonviolence

Democratic rules can bring about the nonviolent resolution of conflict. The authorities shall allow their citizens to act in accordance with their conscience, as long as this entails that they act according to democratic principles and to norms of nonviolence. Civil obedience is acceptable when it takes place in a public, conscientious and nonviolent manner.

Active nonviolence is a way of life and a way of treating others. We shall work towards a ‘warm’ society in which everyone is respected, no matter their beliefs or origins, a society free from prejudice, discrimination and repression. We shall cooperate with other religions and ideologies and work towards trusting one another.


Nonviolence, Peace

Signs of the Times: From Just War to Just Peace

by Jane Deren, Education for Justice

The early Church understood Jesus’ call to redemptive suffering and rejected the concept of redemptive violence, which only destroys. On the cross, Jesus showed his followers “how to hold the pain and let it transform us, rather than pass it on to others around us,” a tenet of nonviolence. But the pacifism of these early Christians was challenged as they became part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Church’s Just War doctrine was first proposed by St. Augustine in the 4th century who sought to reconcile nonviolence with empire building. The Just War doctrine was fully developed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 14th century and was used for centuries.

But in light of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in WWII and afterwards, the Church has been re-examining this doctrine: civilian deaths and vast devastation have become too commonplace in modern conflicts and warfare. The belief that modern weapons of war and the threat of nuclear mass destruction make all violent conflicts unjust is reflected in Pope St. John Paul II’s declaration during the Iraq War that “war is always a defeat for humanity,” and that “violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man.” He proclaimed that “only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united global society.” In declaring “May people learn to fight for justice without violence,” John Paul was affirming the beliefs of his predecessors Blessed Pope Paul VI, who taught that “peace is the only true direction of human progress,” and Pope St. John XXIII, who realized authentic development which supported the human dignity of all members of the human community could only be realized in a peaceful world.

Just Peace

Pope Francis has continued developing the concept of a just peace in his writings. In his January 2017 World Day of Peace message Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace, he makes clear that “violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering…” Francis laments because vast amounts of resources are being diverted to military ends and away from human needs, especially of those suffering at the margins; he calls again for disarmament and abolition of nuclear weapons and the rejection of fear as the basis of co-existence…

Click here to read the entire article.

Nonviolence, Peace

Nonviolence: A matter of choice

by Sr. Veena Jacob, RA

Assumption sisters are working with migrants in the Patna slums. The slum dwellers come from the drought- and flood-affected villages of Bihar and Jharkhand. These people are mostly landless and are agricultural labourers. They are illiterate and unskilled and belong to the Dalit (low caste) community. A number of them do not have legal papers as citizens to get the entitlement of government welfare programs.

When migrants come to the city they live near the waste dumping ground, the canal and the sides of the railway with makeshift houses. The atmosphere in the slum is very violent. We have been working with women for their empowerment and development of their children in this slum for the last eight years.

Stalin nagar has been a slum for more that the last 50 years. Due to our interventions many families have gotten their ration cards which entitle them to government food security for people below the poverty line. They are supposed to get subsided food (wheat/rice/ sugar) and kerosene (fuel) from the ration shop every month according to the number of family members.

The owner of the ration shop is a powerful man of this area. He and his workers refuse to distribute rations to the Stalin nagar slum people who have a right to get the rations. Due to corruption in the distribution system, the rations never reach the poor. Rations were sold out before they reached the ration shop. Poor people were frightened to demand their rations. Anyone who challenges the owner of the ration shop is beaten up, their women and children were raped, or their huts burned down. The law and order of the state is very poor; hence no action was taken against them.

Sisters trained around a group of 30 illiterate women from Stalin nagar slum in self-help to demand their rations from the ration shop. They went and stood in front of the ration shop owner with empty bags in protest till he gave them rations. Now they get their regular rations every month.

The method used by the women is Satyagraha. One of Gandhi’s teachings is Satyagraha. Satya means ‘truth’ and agraha means ‘firmness’. Satyagraha is the vindication of truth — not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but on one’s self. This principle reverses the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ policy which Gandhi says is blind and destructive. It returns good for evil until the evildoer tires of evil…

Click here to read the rest of this post.


* Photo credit: TerraUrban blog,