Nonviolence, Peace, Peace Spirituality

The courageous witness of Saints Oscar Romero and Paul VI

by Tony Magliano

Two very different men, facing different sets of dire challenges with prophetic courage, faithfully journeyed along two different paths to the same destination: sainthood!

Who would have predicted it?

Who would have imagined on Feb. 23, 1977, the day of his appointment as Archbishop of San Salvador, that the highly conservative Oscar Romero – who was suspicious of the Catholic Church’s involvement in political activism – would die a martyr’s death for courageously defending his people against the murderous assaults of the Salvadoran government, military and right-wing death squads?

Romero’s appointment was welcomed by the government, but many priests were not happy. They suspected their new archbishop would insist they cut all ties to liberation theology’s defense of the poor.

However, as Romero started getting to know the poor and how they were oppressed by the government and rich coffee plantation owners, his conscience seemed to gradually awaken.

But the most important event affecting Romero’s decision to wholeheartedly stand with the poor and oppressed was the assassination of his close friend Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande; who was promoting land reform, worker unions, and organizing communities to have a greater voice regarding their own lives.

Romero, who was deeply inspired by Grande said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘if they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’ ”

In a letter to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Romero warned that continued U.S. military aid to the government of El Salvador “will surely increase injustices here and sharpen the repression.” Romero asked Carter to stop all military assistance to the Salvadoran government.

Carter ignored Romero. And later, President Ronald Reagan greatly increased military aid.

During his March 23, 1980 Sunday national radio homily, Romero said, “I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army … You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters … The law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God … In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people … I beg you … I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

The next day while celebrating Mass in the chapel of the hospital compound where he lived, Saint Romero’s loving heart was pierced with an assassin’s bullet.

With numerous armed conflicts raging in various parts of the world, and the Vietnam War worsening, Pope Paul VI on Oct. 4, 1965 proclaimed before the U.N. General Assembly: “No more war, war never again. It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind.”

Unfortunately, in 1965 the world did not heed Paul VI’s prophetic words. And sadly, it has not heeded them since.

Saint Paul VI in his prophetic encyclical letter Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”) wisely said, “When we fight poverty and oppose the unfair conditions of the present, we are not just promoting human well-being; we are also furthering man’s spiritual and moral development, and hence we are benefiting the whole human race. For peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day toward the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect form of justice among men.”

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.

Nonviolence, Peace

Creating a culture of peace in our schools

by Matt Jeziorski
Schools and Youth Education Officer, Pax Christi UK

There was great joy in the Pax Christi office recently when the news broke that a miracle due to the intercession of Blessed Oscar Romero had been approved confirming what so many of us were already sure of – that Oscar Romero is a Saint. His faithful witness to the Gospel, his readiness to speak truth to power, his solidarity with the oppressed, and his tireless work for peace and justice make Romero a hero for us. He is one of those peace people whose lives we often look to for encouragement and inspiration.

Reflecting on work for peace and the power of nonviolence to transform situations of injustice Archbishop Romero said that Christians are peacemakers, not because they cannot fight, but because they prefer the force of peace. This is a force that is not passive nor cowardly, neither it is the easy option, but it is a force that faces the violence and injustices in our world and transforms them through faith and love.

This is the force that Pope Francis speaks of when he reflects upon the need for us to us to banish violence from our hearts, words, and deeds, and become nonviolent people and build nonviolent communities. Everyone can be an artisan of peace was his bold and ambitious claim in his 2017 message for World Peace Day.

That Pope Francis desires artisans of peace is telling. The need is for skilled workers; craftsmen and women, trained and qualified in peace and peacemaking. The world wants for a deeper pool of people able find creative nonviolent means to address the root causes of war and violence. Our schools can play a crucial role in responding to Pope Francis’s call by ensuring that their work of Christian formation includes an apprenticeship in Christian peacemaking – and peace education is the key to achieving this.

Schools can sometimes appear nervous about peace education. I have lost count of the number of anxious phone calls I have received from teachers who have booked some of our Pax Christi peace education workshops and find themselves having to reassure a senior member of staff that I am not visiting to campaign, to criticise, or to brainwash. I have had Heads concerned that my workshops might be seen as promoting extremism under the Prevent agenda, and I had one Head take me to task for sowing seeds of dissent amongst my staff during an INSET day.

Yet at the heart of what we are doing in our work of peace education is exactly what Pope Francis demands of us – helping young people to critically explore how they are called to be a peacemakers in the world today. We follow Christ who, in telling us to put down your sword, points us towards the path of peace and nonviolence – peace education breaks open this Gospel call to nonviolence and challenges us in how we live our lives. It may not always be comfortable but any nervousness is misplaced for this is wholly authentic Christian witness.

The Church of course has long held up for us examples who, like Bl Oscar Romero, point to what it means to be an artisan of peace: St Martin of Tour in refusing to fight in the army due to his Christian faith; St Francis of Assisi – the Pope’s own patron – in his radical poverty and great efforts to negotiate peace in the Holy Land; Blessed Franz Jägerstäter and Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser both executed for following their conscience and refusing to fight in Hitler’s army; and the Servant of God, Dorothy Day, in her radical pacifism and steadfast commitment to campaigning against war and the injustices that perpetuate it. Pope Francis is building on a rich heritage.

Much of Pax Christi’s peace education work is one-off, an invitation to work with groups of students over the course of a day in support of their GCSE or A-level religious studies, part of the schools chaplaincy or citizenship provision, or as part of sixth form general RE. Whilst sure of the quality and importance of these workshops, their value can be limited to some extent if they remain a one-off encounter.

Our work is at its best when it is complimenting and supporting the wider mission of the school. This is why Pax Christi encourages schools to make a firm commitment to peace and to nonviolence as part of their Christian vocation.

Becoming a Pax Christi school means recognising that peace and nonviolence are at the heart of the faith life of the school and can touch every area of school life. A Pax Christi school begins with the prayer and liturgical life of the school. Prayers for peace are incorporated into the regular rhythm of prayer life of the school. The feast days and secular memorials with a peace link throughout the school year are observed and celebrated. These prayers are rooted in the sometimes messy realities of the world and the heartbreaking stories of violence in our communities and our world.

Joining acts of public prayer, such as the Ash Wednesday witness against nuclear weapons at the Ministry of Defence, has engaged one Pax Christi School over several years. In reflecting prayerfully on these realities we pray that, as peacemakers, we may grow in understanding of our role in bringing peace.

Special care is taken over acts of remembrance that ensure that war is never gloried nor celebrated but recognised for the failure that it always represents. As we remember sacrifice and the heroism of various forms, our prayer will always be that most basic one for peace: Never again!

A Pax Christi school educates for peace. Peace issues are included in the curriculum but, more than that, the way teaching is practiced models the principles of nonviolent peacemaking including respect, empathy, and nonviolent conflict resolution. The practical skills of being a peacemaker are also taught. Conflict resolution skills are promoted across the school with student leaders being specifically trained in peer mediation. In modelling the principles of peace and nonviolence the school might reflect on the role of the military and arms companies have in supporting work experience, careers events, or STEM days. Alternative, more life-affirming, options are available.

A Pax Christi school stands in solidarity with the victims of violence and those working nonviolently for peace around the world. They are supported through prayer and fundraising, their stories are shared to raise awareness, and advocacy is done on their behalf to those in positions of power and influence in our own country. A pilgrimage to Palestine to meet children and young people living under occupation is a profound and transformative experience for school groups. Closer to home, participation in the Pax Christi International
young journalist project has connected young people with refugees in their area – creating an opportunity for them to write articles and produce podcasts to amplify the refugee experience.

A Pax Christi school campaigns for peace at home and abroad. Having carefully considered a situation and reflected upon it in the light of faith members of the school community are confident in taking action to bring about positive change for peace. Joining together with other peacemakers they stand in vigil, they protest, they write, they lobby, and they raise their voice to demand action.

When a culture of peace is fostered and allowed to prevail in our schools then an apprenticeship in peacemaking becomes a natural consequence. In this way our schools are training those artisans of peace that Pope Francis so desires and our world so desperately needs.

Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 2 – With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption

by Martha Inés Romero
Latin America Regional Coordinator, Pax Christi International

Ezekiel 37:12-14 | Romans 8:8-11 | John 11:1-45

In the midst of the suffering caused by poverty and marginalization, in Latin America and the Caribbean, every day people build stories of change, resistance and resilience. These stories witness the involvement of many missionaries – religious and lay, women and men – promoting peace-building and nonviolence, forgiveness and reconciliation. We hear stories about the incarnational humanness of the work for just peace and overcoming violence, the work that brings meaning to life.

Archbishop Oscar Romero said:

“When the church hears the cry of the oppressed, it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.”

This message caused a great impact on our people to continue fighting against injustice. These days good news occurs in our context: El Salvador’s Congress approved a law prohibiting all metal mining projects in its territory. At the same time, in a small town, Cajamarca in Colombia, 99% of its inhabitants voted to ban mining. It implies that a big gold mining company may not be permitted to extract gold – a $2 billion potential investment that could yield 28 million ounces of gold – because people voted to defend their water. Both cases have been deeply supported by the Catholic church, as a way to care for the Creation, as Laudato Si’ demands to us.

We must believe that Creation is life offered, and that we shall commit ourselves to contribute to a new lifestyle, according to suma kawsay or “buen vivir”, the Andean cosmovision that promotes a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically balanced and culturally sensitive. We defend life when we defend our respect for the dignity of every person and the harmony of Creation as a whole. Transforming conflicts from a nonviolence approach is a way in which we can react towards violence and injustice.

Let’s pray for those who defend life and Creation, with their life if necessary, as in El Salvador and Cajamarca, and with Psalm 129, we shall reaffirm: “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

Martha Inés Romero is the Latin America Regional Coordinator for Pax Christi International.

Nonviolence

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

by Bishop Kevin Dowling
Co-President of Pax Christi International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the rest of this speech.