NCR: Archbishop Chong advocates nonviolence

Published in the National Catholic Reporter, October 8, 2019

Fiji archbishop advocates nonviolence to help stabilize social unrest
by Rose Marie Berger

In late September, thousands of schoolchildren stayed home from school in Suva, the capital city of Fiji, due to rumors of “public unrest” circulating on social media. According to FBC News, people who started fake news stories likely intended to hurt the country “economically and politically” by creating panic and shutting down work. Fiji’s religious leaders acted promptly to calm, instruct and stabilize the population, which is largely Protestant, Hindu, Roman Catholic and Muslim.

“Because of the 1987, 2000, and 2006 coups,” said Catholic Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, “Fiji has been labelled as a country with a coup culture. The coup culture paradigm claims that coups and violence will help politicians and activists achieve their political goals.” However, Chong explained, “studies on political resistance and campaigns show that violent methods have a low success rate.”

Chong, president of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania and a member of Pax Christi International’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, addressed the religious path of nonviolence in his message posted to Facebook on Sept. 28:

“God’s vision for humanity is the nonviolent life: to make peace with one another; resist the violence and injustice that threaten or destroy this peace; and foster a Church and world where the fullness of this peace is the birthright of all. Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King were all social transformers who were practitioners of nonviolence. Peace and nonviolence are fundamental values of the world’s classic religions. Jesus proclaimed a nonviolent vision and showed us a way to live it, even in the midst of violence and oppression. He taught us the unconditional love of neighbor. Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44), which includes respecting the image of God in all persons; to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil (Matthew 5:39); to become peacemakers; to forgive and repent; and to be abundantly merciful (Matthew 5-7).”

Chong, in consultation with Muslim and Hindu leaders, also addressed nonviolence in those religious traditions. “Islam is a religion of peace. The root of the word Islam is ‘silm,’ refers to ‘making peace.’ The basis of Islam is peace. Islam wants peace for its followers and all the other residents of the world. The concept of Karma is essential to Hinduism and is opposed to killing or violence. According to the law of Karma, violence begets violence and this is not the will of Brahman.”

Soldiers and national police performed public “operational readiness checks” by marching through main thoroughfares accompanied by patrol vehicles, increasing public fear of violent outbreaks.

Chong reminded Fijians that violence is traumatic and destructive: “Active nonviolence, in contrast, is a spirituality and a way of life that safeguards human dignity and the integrity of creation. Nonviolence touches all facets of life: from our inmost souls, our relationships and our communities to our social, political and cultural interactions close to home and around the world. Studies on nonviolent engagement in contexts of enormous violence and injustice throughout the world reveal the practical power of active nonviolence.

“Our religious traditions teach that nonviolence is the method for achieving our social and political transformation. Religious traditions condemn violence because it does not belong to God’s nature. Violence gives birth to a spiral and culture of violence,” Chong said.

Chong cited research on political resistance and campaigns by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, which shows that violent methods have a low success rate and that nonviolent resistance is more successful than violent methods. “Our religious traditions and research should inform our political leaders and civil society on how to address and communicate our political and social goals,” he said in his statement.

“Our political campaigns should use nonviolent methods. Violent (coups) methods as we witnessed in Fiji in the last thirty-two years, only beget more coups and denies human and economic development,” he said. “Let us choose wisely how we want to express and communicate our political and social concerns and aspiration.”

Fijian commentator Nemani Delaibatiki wrote that the false social media post warning of violence on Sept. 23 was generated by a Fijian living in Australia. The leadership shown by Chong along with other Muslim and Hindu religious leaders follows best strategic nonviolence practices called “Early Warning-Early Response.” EWER requires clear protocols for verification and communication, especially in the context of the use of social media to generate rumors and propaganda. Social media often are used as a propaganda tool by conflicting parties.

Fiji is part of an archipelago of small island states that control key commercial shipping zones in the south Pacific. As reported by The Guardian, The Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership, a coalition of Pacific island governments, announced Sept. 24 that it wants to raise $500 million to make all shipping in the Pacific Ocean zero carbon by 2050.

According to Fuji Sun, On Sept. 30, Chong met with Pope Francis in Rome as part of the regular visits made between representatives of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific and the pope. Part of their conversation focused on how to combat conflict generated through social media, to offer support for a decarbonized Pacific, and the importance of using Catholic nonviolence as a practiced public response.

[Rose Marie Berger is senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine and a member of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.]

CNI update, August 2019

Photo from April 2019 workshop by Johnny Zokovitch

En español abajo
En français ci-dessous

In April, the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, through its parent organisation, Pax Christi International, hosted a gathering, Path of Nonviolence: Towards a Culture of Peace, at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in Rome. Approximately 75 theologians, peace practitioners, bishops, archbishops, social scientists, educators, and pastoral ministry workers met for two days to share a deeper conversation about mainstreaming nonviolence in the Church and in society.

CNI is a project of Pax Christi International, which now has two new co-presidents, Bishop Marc Stenger (Troyes, France) and Sr. Wamuyu Wachira, IBVM (Nairobi, Kenya). Learn more about Bishop Stenger and Sr. Wachira and their shared commitment to nonviolence in these articles from Catholic News Service and the National Catholic Reporter.

Choosing Peace, a compilation of essays on nonviolence and just peace, and other documents in support of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, edited by CNI executive committee member Marie Dennis, was awarded the 2019 Catholic Social Teaching book from the Catholic Press Association. It is available from Orbis Books.

Pax Christi UK has created a five-session study guide (in English) to enhance your reading of Choosing Peace. The study guide is available for free download from the Pax Christi UK website. Continue reading CNI update, August 2019

Choose just peace framework to respond to conflict with Iran

The following essay, written by Eli McCarthy, was published in The Hill, a newspaper focused on the U.S. Congress. McCarthy, a professor at Georgetown University in Justice and Peace Studies as well as the director of Justice and Peace for CMSM, which serves the U.S. leadership of Catholic men’s religious institutes, serves on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative steering committee and coordinates the Washington, D.C. Peace Team.

As key leaders in the United States government escalate another conflict with threats of violence, we must find a creative way to avoid another war and transform the conflict into an opportunity for mutual growth.

How can we do this? We can shift our approach and reasoning to a just peace framework. This offers more creative possibilities and potential for sustainable peace. Continue reading Choose just peace framework to respond to conflict with Iran

“Choosing Peace” study guide

Thanks to Pax Christi UK for creating a study guide to accompany Choosing Peace, a compilation of essays on nonviolence and just peace and other documents in support of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. The study guide is available for free download from the Pax Christi UK website.Dennis Choosing Peace Final

Before you begin: To understand how Choosing Peace came about, read the Acknowledgements section right at the start of the book. The five sessions of the quick study guide will help you dip into selected parts of the book to help understand five key areas. The book is rich with wisdom and witness. We hope you will be inspired to read more of it.

Choosing Peace was published by Orbis Books.

Faith leaders, peace practitioners deepen Church’s commitment to nonviolence and peace

Vatican City – On 4-5 April, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. for Promoting Integral Human Development and Pax Christi International’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative organized a workshop on the theme, “Path of Nonviolence: Towards a Culture of Peace.”

Final statement affirmed by workshop participants (in English, français, español)

Cardinal Peter Turkson’s opening remarks

Additional materials presented at the workshop are available here

With a consideration and understanding of current situations of conflict and violence, participants engaged in dialogue about the roots of violence, the hope for peace and reconciliation, and reflected on paths to a conversion to nonviolence. They noted that nonviolence is not only a method but a way of life, a way to protect and care for the conditions of life for today and tomorrow.

“Our conversations on nonviolence and peace filled our hearts and minds with a consideration of the dignity of each person – young people, women and men, people who are impoverished, citizens and leaders,” said Mons. Bruno Marie Duffé, Secretary of the Dicastery. “Nonviolence and peace call us to a conversion to receive and to give, to gather and to hope.”

“Pax Christi International deeply appreciates the support and participation of the Dicastery in this workshop, which has been a significant and positive step in the work of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative,” said Marie Dennis, Co-president of Pax Christi International. “We are touched by the interventions from all the participants, who reiterated the importance of nonviolence rooted in respect, patience and spiritual strength.” Continue reading Faith leaders, peace practitioners deepen Church’s commitment to nonviolence and peace

Accompaniment on U.S.-Mexico border

From CNI steering committee member Eli McCarthy:

(Updated) On Dec. 15, 2018, a trained group providing protective accompaniment joined a large posadas gathering at the San Diego/Tijuana border.

Las Posadas is a Christmas tradition, primarily within the Hispanic community, celebrated December 16-24. It is a processional ceremony which re-enacts the Holy Family’s search for welcome at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Some basic goals of protective accompaniment are:
1) Accompany those most in need
2) Prevent and defuse hostility/violence
3) Interrupt de-humanization
4) Re-humanize and cultivate empathy Continue reading Accompaniment on U.S.-Mexico border

CNI update, December 2018

Since its founding in 2016, the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, a project of Pax Christi International in partnership with several other international Catholic organisations, has significantly advanced the conversation and understanding of nonviolence and just peace in the Catholic Church and beyond.

We are convinced that an expanded and strengthened understanding of active nonviolence as the cornerstone of just peace can help build cultures of peace and promote the integral ecology that must be embraced for the sake of our species and all of creation.

The last quarter of 2018 finds us overwhelmed and grateful for the intense and ground-breaking efforts of five working groups (“roundtables”) which wrapped up a year’s work in August. Each group has submitted an extraordinary document focused on the application of nonviolence in our faith tradition: in our study of the Hebrew and early Christian texts; as the basis for deep theological reflection; as an ethical framework for effective responses to violence in this current age; as a subject for preaching and teaching in Church bodies and structures; and as a lifestyle and powerful peacebuilding practice already embraced by Catholics around the world. Continue reading CNI update, December 2018