Lent, Nonviolence, Women and Peacemaking

Reflection for Holy Saturday, April 15 – The liberation from fear

by Greet Vanaerschot
Secretary General, Pax Christi International

Readings for the Easter Vigil Mass

The readings of Holy Saturday –  Genesis, Exodus, the texts of Isaiah, Baruch, Ezekiel, the Epistle to the Romans, and finally the Gospel of St. Matthew – shine a special light on this day of ‘emptiness’ – a day of the ‘Great Silence’ between death and resurrection, a rebirth, the meaning of which, at that moment, no one yet apprehends.

In Genesis, there is mention of a ‘formless wasteland’, of darkness and water; also of the sacrifice of Isaac, and of the passage of the Red Sea.

In Isaiah, God speaks to his people, “I have abandoned you, ignored you; I have left you in the storm, but now I will never rebuke you again, and I will make with you an eternal covenant.“

Baruch, on the other hand, regrets that when the source of wisdom is abandoned, all roads go to death.

Ezekiel puts his finger on the behaviour of the sons of Israel, the defilements and profanations of the holy name of God; but he adds that in spite of this, this Holy Name will be revealed to others and God will purify his people.

St. Paul goes further. Our body has been enslaved to sin, but Christ, through His Passion and the Cross, makes us reborn with Him, and keeps us alive for God.

Finally, St. Matthew relates in detail the appearance of the angel to the women who came to embalm the body of Jesus, the fear of the guards, and then the encounter with Jesus.

The readings speak of confusion, treason, sin, violence and terrible fear: the fear of the high priests, elders, guards, disciples; the women at the tomb; a fear that made them hide, run away, keep doors closed, stones sealed…

Why shouldn’t there be fear and “chaos” on Holy Saturday? The day before the people of Israel witnessed a cruel and savage murder of a nonviolent man, one who had promised to save the world. They heard His loud cry to God! Why did You forsake me? Had they misunderstood Jesus? Were these past years of hope all in vain? What else could they do then but be fearful of the future?

How do we in our present time react to events when innocent people are massacred? Aren’t we also fearful? We see nowadays that many people live in fear.  Each day we hear and see awful things happening; cruel terrorist attacks all over the world; the cold-blooded killings of Coptics in Egypt; the shocking gas attacks in Syria; the bombs killing the faithful in Pakistan; thousands of men, women and children drown in the Mediterranean Sea; the stealing of land from the indigenous. We hear about nuclear states refusing to negotiate a ban on nuclear arms, a weapon that can destroy humanity; about the famine in Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen ad Somalia which serves as a deep cause in war and conflicts; politicians who think of the world as their playground where they pursue their personal interests and prefer to bomb and destroy… The list is long. Is it a surprise that, in a world where violence seems to be dominating the world scene and where there is little knowledge and education about the effectiveness of nonviolent approaches, people live in fear? And that apparently our leaders see no other options then building walls, closing borders, increasing weapon budgets, and ignoring climate change?

Pax Christi members, in the midst of violence, however, find strength in the message that is given by the angel to the women when they visited the tomb: that Christ offered himself as a nonviolent victim to strip humanity of its veil of violence. The words of the angel liberated the women from their fear and made them the first privileged messengers of the start of a new era.  Women, who even in the most difficult moments, show tenderness, devotion, and moral strength. They tell us to keep courage, patience, lucidity; to keep a solid hope, a living faith – that the stone placed at the entrance of the tomb has been rolled away and a new life has arisen. “Women,” as Marie Dennis has said, “are bringing their experience and creativity to the challenging long-term vocation of healing and reconciling both peoples and the planet.”

It is this belief that allows peacemakers of Pax Christi, through their words of truth and nonviolent action, to share the suffering of the poorest and the most destitute, those who suffer, who are persecuted and weak, who are exposed to violence and exploitation; but also to work vigorously towards eliminating the causes of violence that produces suffering.

I wish you all a Holy ‘Silent’ Saturday in which you will allow the crucified to enter your life, and that we will never close our eyes to the suffering in our world and the senseless violence.

Greet Vanaerschot is Secretary General of Pax Christi International.

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.