The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative: Affirming the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, a project of Pax Christi International, the Catholic peace movement, affirms that active nonviolence is at the heart of the vision and message of Jesus, the life of the Catholic Church, and the long-term vocation of healing and reconciling both people and the planet.

This bold effort was launched at the Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference held in Rome April 11-13, 2016 and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pax Christi International, and other international bodies (see full list below). Continue reading The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative: Affirming the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church

UN event, March 2: Nonviolence, a style of politics for peace

This Thursday, March 2, the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is pleased to join with the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in New York City and the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns for a panel discussion on Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace (WDP) message, Nonviolence: A style of politics for peace.

Archbishop Bernadito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio to the UN, will moderate and reflect on the WDP.

Panelists will include

Registration is now closed for the event, but it can be followed on the UN’s webcast feed.

Women peacemakers: We need to listen to their voices

Voices of Faith advances the role of women in the Catholic Church and supports them in their infinite potential to create meaningful change for the common good, contributing fully to the life of the Catholic Church and to wider society.

The Voices of Faith event — held on 8 March, International Women’s Day — provides what has been a notably absent: the voices of Catholic women and their capacity to exercise authority within and outside the Church and faith that emerges not from abstract theological ideals but in confronting the reality of those who are poor. This event is a gathering where timely relevant topics are presented by talented, dedicated and committed leaders to create momentum for action and resolution.

Join the event by live stream.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International and key participant in the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, will attend this year’s program to present the Voices of Faith award to honorees who will be announced at the event. Continue reading Women peacemakers: We need to listen to their voices

Join the #ThisIsNonviolence campaign

From Pax Christi International:

Pope Francis began 2017 with a World Day of Peace message entitled, Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace. Pax Christi International is making a special effort to “affirm the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church” during this next year through projects like the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. And we’re inviting all of our member organisations, supporters and partners, Catholics and other people of good will to help us spread the message of the vitality and strength of active nonviolence to create social change in our world today.

In January, we’ve been circulating messages over Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms encouraging people that “This is what NONVIOLENCE looks like” with the hashtag #ThisIsNonviolence. Help us spread the word by sharing these messages now and tagging it #ThisIsNonviolence. The messages are in English, French and Spanish (below).

  • This is what nonviolence looks like
  • Esta es la verdadera no violencia
  • La non-violence ressemble à cela

We’re also including weekly excerpts of Pope Francis’s World Day of Peace message on nonviolence and other addresses he has given which mention nonviolence. You can see and share those also (below).

Pope Francis on nonviolence #1

Go here to find additional resources for prayer, study and action on nonviolence and just peace.

And read articles on the Peace Stories blog featuring the reflections by Pax Christi International member organisations or examples of the ways they’re cultivating and promoting nonviolence in situations of war, conflict, human rights violations, racial and economic injustice. Click here to see stories specially curated on the subject of nonviolence.

Marie Dennis, NCR’s 2016 Person of the Year

In case you missed it …

National Catholic Reporter (NCR) named our own Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International and a member of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative’s executive committee, as its 2016 Person of the Year. Those of us who have the great privilege to know and work with Marie know that this honor is well-deserved. She is a tireless, generous and gifted colleague and friend.

NCR writes that Marie “has long known that making peace in today’s world requires not only new ways of acting, but also new ways of seeing and thinking.

“In this regard, 2016 could prove to be a watershed year. In April, at an unprecedented Vatican conference, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi brought together activists, academics and church officials to re-examine how the church thinks about war and peace, violence and nonviolence. The resulting document, An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Recommit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence, lays the foundation for a fundamental shift in church teaching.

“While some herald the development as a rejection of the church’s long-held teachings on just war, others see it as a more radical redirection. The document states, ‘The time has come for our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence.’

“This initiative could well prove to be the catalyst for the new ways of seeing and thinking that can spark people’s imagination to fresh means of resisting violence of all types.

“… Her efforts might well lead to a papal encyclical. They have already resulted in a substantial pontifical statement, Francis’ World Day of Peace message for 2017.”

Read the entire column here.

Pope Francis’s peacebuilding pedagogy

Following is a commentary written by Dr. Gerald Schlabach, one of the participants in the 2016 Nonviolence & Just Peace conference, on Pope Francis’s 2017 World Day of Peace message. Dr. Schlabach teaches at the University of  St. Thomas, Minneapolis. A longer version of this piece is posted on his blog.

It is not too soon to anticipate the challenge of “reception.”

All signs suggest that Pope Francis’s 2017 World Day of Peace (WDP) message will only be an initial response to the appeal for clearer teaching on gospel nonviolence issued at the historic conference co-sponsored by Pax Christi International and the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace in Rome last April. More is likely to come. Advisers who assist the Holy Father in drafting any future encyclical, as well as activists who seek to amplify papal signals, have some clear markers to follow.

Vatican-ese can sometimes be frustrating but its nuance sometimes serves to balance considerations and forge consensus in a complex global community. Pope Francis exercises an appropriate Vatican savvy as he alludes to the possible use of “just war” criteria his WDP message, yet leaves the theory unnamed – for now, neither rejected outright nor defended.

What Pope Francis names instead is the space that the Catholic moral traditions have hoped the “just war” theory would fill. Section 6 of the WDP message begins this way:

Peacebuilding through active nonviolence is the natural and necessary complement to the Church’s continuing efforts to limit the use of force by the application of moral norms; she does so by her participation in the work of international institutions and through the competent contribution made by so many Christians to the drafting of legislation at all levels.

‍Now because “just war” theory has long provided the framework for those efforts, this sentence might seem to validate its continued use. Yet the papal restraint that left “just war” theory here unnamed also recalls the unease that once prompted Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – later Pope Benedict XVI – to wonder out loud whether “today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war.’”

After all, what Pope Francis does next in section 6 of his WDP message is breathtaking. He insists that “Jesus himself offers a ‘manual’ for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount.” Two things are going on here.

First, calling the Sermon on the Mount a “‘manual’” is a most intriguing word choice. “Manualism” was a neo-scholastic mode of Catholic moral deliberation ascendant until the Second Vatican Council. Whatever its virtues, its rationalistic focus on natural law tended to de-emphasize biblical sources and thus offered a comfortable home for “just war” casuistry. To now, instead, call the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) the Church’s manual for peacemaking hardly seems an accident.

In any case, a second signal is unmistakable: After reflecting briefly on the Beatitudes as a template for the virtues that any authentic peacemaker will embody, Pope Francis describes the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes as “also a programme and a challenge for political and religious leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives” to apply amid “the exercise of their respective responsibilities.” The manual that Jesus provides, in other words, is not just for the personal lives of particularly saintly Christians. It applies to the public realm. It elicits, as the WDP title has already announced, a “style of politics for peace.”

Here, though, is where we must especially anticipate the challenge of reception. Serious biblical exegesis recognizes paradigmatic models in the Sermon on the Mount for a sophisticated practice of active nonviolence that counters injustice with the creativity needed to transform social processes. It is not simply protest and certainly not passivity. Yet the assumption of many is going to be that practicing the Sermon on the Mount in public affairs is a lofty ideal, no more.

Pope Francis certainly knows better. In section 3, he calls Jesus’ message a “radically positive approach,” not just a negative refusal of violence. He pairs Jesus’ teaching about love of enemies with his resistance toward unjust accusers who were about to stone a woman caught in adultery. He also reiterates his predecessor Benedict’s characterization of enemy love as “the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution.’” Then in section 4 he outlines historical examples of how the “decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced effective results.”

Amplifying Pope Francis’s message by tirelessly recounting such histories is obviously one key way to invite a wide reception of gospel nonviolence. Following the exegesis of Matthew 5 by New Testament scholar Walter Wink and Christian ethicist Glen Stassen, another key will be to explain the social dynamics of active nonviolence in which courageously “turning the other cheek” or otherwise loving enemies can expose injustice and turn the tide of bystander complacency into support.

But for a truly wide reception by which jaded opinion-leaders or parishioners anxious about their nations’ security take a second look at Pope Francis’s WDP message now – and eventual encyclical later – we will need still more. Again, though, the Holy Father charts a path in his WDP message, though this time perhaps by papal intuition rather than explicitly.

At various points throughout the document Pope Francis argues for active nonviolence by citing cycles of violence and the need to escape them. The pope does not deny that war may sometimes respond to injustice. Yet, he asks, “Where does this lead? Does violence achieve any goal of lasting value?” No, it leads “to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflict” (section 2). Gospel nonviolence is the truly revolutionary alternative because “responding to evil with good” rather than “succumbing to evil” in kind breaks “the chain of injustice” (section 3).

This line of reasoning can widen reception of the magisterium’s growing body of teaching on gospel nonviolence because the diagnosis of vicious cycles is something with which practitioners of “just war” theory can agree. In war, even winners lose. Even supposedly just wars plant the seeds of new resentments, and thus new rounds of mutually reinforcing injustice.

This was Jesus’ own pedagogy in the Sermon on the Mount itself. Glen Stassen has demonstrated that Jesus’ teachings there reveal Jesus’ very approach to moral reasoning. Jesus’ consistent pattern was to first name the people’s “traditional righteousness” or morality, then demonstrate its inability to escape vicious cycles, then offer “transforming initiatives.” His focus was not on dismantling traditional righteousness per se; a standard teaching such as “eye for an eye” might even be commendable as far as it went. But because traditional righteousness did not go far enough, Jesus’ focus was on “transforming initiatives” that resist evils but not in kind. (Also see here.)

The space that the Church has long hoped “just war” theory would fill does need filling. “Just war” theory has long seemed necessary because it offers a lingua franca across worldviews and ethical frameworks. Even those who doubt the justice of any war have sometimes needed to use it as a second language for engaging in “efforts to limit the use of force by the application of moral norms.”

If we follow Jesus’ lead we will not need to wait until all Catholic theologians, bishops, or other opinion-leaders are convinced to abandon their “traditional righteousness” and agree that there is no “just war.” Church-wide reception of gospel nonviolence and just peace can take root simply by moving on, as Jesus’ did, to a second then third point – the diagnosis of vicious cycles as proper complement to the social power and moral imperative of transforming initiatives.

Catholic peacebuilders can be grateful that the Vatican is listening, but we should also learn from Pope Francis’s pedagogically savvy rhetorical strategy. An eventual encyclical may not take down the “just war” theory at one fell swoop. Everything in church history and the development of doctrine suggests that the magisterium is loath to say that great Christian authorities of the past were outright wrong. Rather, popes and church councils look for clever ways to simply move on. My prediction is that the “just war” theory will be damned with faint praise, or killed with a thousand cuts. Our most realistic hope is the “just war” will go the way of capital punishment, which Pope John Paul II did not quite reject in theory but did reject for modern societies (Evangelium Vitae §56).

Pope Francis’s 2017 World Day of Peace message is exactly what that process is going to look like. The job of Catholic peacebuilders is to amplify its signals.

A fuller version of this article is available at http://www.geraldschlabach.net/2017/01/02/wdp17.

 

Catholic Nonviolence Initiative meets with Vatican officials

Strategizes for World Day of Peace follow-up

En français

En español

ROME, Italy – On 19-20 December, the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative gathered in Rome to reflect on and discuss the Holy Father’s 2017 World Day of Peace message, Nonviolence: A style of politics for peace, and to strategize about next steps for this critical movement. The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative grew out of the landmark April 2016 Nonviolence and Just Peace conference, co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International, and is focused on affirming the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is moved and inspired by this 50th World Day of Peace message, particularly the conclusion by Pope Francis: “May we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. ‘Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace.’”

“We are committed to following up on this statement on a deep level,” said Marie Dennis, co-president, along with Bishop Kevin Dowling (Rustenburg, South Africa), of Pax Christi International. “It has raised many topics that deserve much reflection, and we are ready to help spread this message of nonviolence in whatever way we can.”

The group met with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, and with Archbishop Silvano Tomasi of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In both meetings, the group shared their deep appreciation for the World Day of Peace message and spoke of their plans to continue the implementation of both that message and the Appeal to the Catholic Church to recommit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence, the final statement of the April 2016 Nonviolence and Just Peace conference.

“On-going tragedies such as Aleppo and the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo make our time together all the more significant. As the Holy Father notes, ‘violence is not the cure for our broken world,’” said Bishop Dowling.

Attending the meetings in Rome along with Ms. Dennis and Bishop Dowling were Bishop Marc Stenger (Troyes, France), bishop president of Pax Christi France; Bishop Luigi Bettazzi, bishop emeritus of Ivrea, Italy and one of the remaining Council Fathers of Vatican II; Greet Vanaerschot, secretary general of Pax Christi International; Ken Butigan (Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service and DePaul University); Pat Gaffney (Pax Christi British section); Fr. Renato Sacco (Pax Christi Italy); Gerry Lee (Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns); Eli McCarthy (Justice and Peace office, Conference of Major Superiors of Men); Ann Scholz, SSND (Office for Social Mission, Leadership Conference of Women Religious); Sheila Kinsey, FCJM and Fr. Felix Mushobozi (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission, Union of Superiors General/International Union of Superiors General); along with noted writer and activist Fr. John Dear (Campaign Nonviolence); former Pax Christi International secretary general Jose Henriquez; Sr. Julia Arciniegas (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Promoters, Union of Superiors General/International Union of Superiors General); and Judy Coode, coordinator of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.

Pope to ambassadors: Cultivate nonviolent style

The following article, written by Hannah Brockhaus, was posted by the Catholic News Agency/EWTN News on 15 December, 2016.

On [December 15] Pope Francis accepted the credentials of six new ambassadors to the Holy See, urging them to work toward promoting the common good in their respective countries by adopting tactics of nonviolence at a political level.

In a particular way, those who hold public office on the national and international levels are called to cultivate a nonviolent style in their consciences and in the exercise of their duties,” the Pope said in the Dec. 15 audience.

“This is not the same as weakness or passivity; rather it presupposes firmness, courage and the ability to face issues and conflicts with intellectual honesty, truly seeking the common good over and above all partisan interest, be it ideological, economic or political.” Continue reading Pope to ambassadors: Cultivate nonviolent style