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

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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

World Day of Peace message 2017 calls for lives of “active nonviolence”

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December 12, 2016 – Today in his message Nonviolence: A style of politics for peace, for the 50th World Day of Peace, celebrated each year on 1 January, Pope Francis urges people everywhere to practice active nonviolence and notes that the “decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results.”

The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, a global effort to affirm the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church, is heartened by and deeply grateful for the Holy Father’s call to political and religious leaders, heads of international organizations, and business and media executives to “apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. … To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict.”

“It was especially noteworthy that we received Pope Francis’ message at this time,” said Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International. “Last week we gathered with member organizations in Africa for our regional conference, Nonviolence in Africa: Creating a future of hope, during which time the attendees endorsed the Appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence. Much of our time together during those days focused on how to reclaim civil space and how to promote nonviolence in many ways. The Holy Father’s message for 2017 deeply resonates with us as the work Pax Christi International and its member groups has been dedicated for years to finding creative and peaceful solutions to violent conflict.”

John Ashworth, an adviser to the South Sudanese Catholic bishops, participated in the Nonviolence in Africa conference and also in the April 2016 Nonviolence & Just Peace gathering in Rome. In response to the World Day of Peace message, John said, “After nearly 200 years of ethnic, religious, cultural and political oppression, discrimination and marginalisation, the people of southern Sudan surely had ‘just cause’ for their armed liberation struggle which culminated in the independence of South Sudan in July 2011. But they had less than three years to enjoy their liberation before a new civil war broke out, the third in 60 years. Violence begets violence. The legacy of decades of armed conflict – trauma; a culture of violence; cycles of revenge, bitterness and hatred which had never been reconciled; tribalism and division; the militarisation of society and politics; corruption and nepotism; authoritarianism; poverty and illiteracy; the dehumanisation of the individual and the lack of respect for human life – had left their mark. The cycle of violence must be broken, radically, and it can only be done so by a new paradigm of nonviolent peacebuilding.”

Fr. Pat Cunningham, a Columban missionary living and working in South Korea who attended the April 2016 Nonviolence & Just Peace conference, responds: “It is indeed very positive to see as one of the fruits of the Rome conference the adoption of nonviolence as a theme for World Peace Day. Pope Francis’ reference to the current situation as a  ‘third world war in pieces’ in highlighting the negative social consequences of violence and particularly when it comes to preparations for war in this region his remarks certainly ring true. I believe that the public’s desire for a new politics here will hopefully lead to more people led institutions that are based on nonviolence and I’m sure Pope Francis’ message will bring much thoughtful reflection.”

Another attendee of the April conference, Merwyn DeMello, who lives and works in Afghanistan, said that Pope Francis, with this message, “honored and respected by the people of Afghanistan who crave peace for their day to day living and their nation. [This] proactive stance on nonviolence, nonviolent resolution to world-wide conflict, respect for Islam and its adherents is a beacon of hope for Afghans and their future generations.  From our hearts salaam alaikum.”

For more information, including many World Day of Peace resources for parishes and communities, visit here or email nonviolence@paxchristi.net.

Catholic Nonviolence Initiative’s World Day of Peace 2017 press release

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Pax Christi Africa member organisations affirm Appeal to the Catholic Church

Nonviolence in Africa participants visit the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg on 8 December. Photo by Marie Just, Pax Christi International.

From 5-9 December, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Pax Christi International facilitated a conference which brought together representatives of its African member organisations to explore the theme, Nonviolence in Africa: Creating a Future of Hope. More than 30 member organisations from nine African nations participated, in addition to presenters and facilitators from a number of other countries.

On the final day of the conference, the member organisations affirmed the Appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence.

The following affirmation statement was published on 9 December:

“Africa is a special gift from God to us, and it is bleeding.” These opening words from Bishop Kevin Dowling of South Africa challenged the participants at the Nonviolence in Africa conference on the urgency to come up with the appropriate mechanisms to create peaceful relations where people may live in harmony and with dignity. His words of wisdom also reminded the gathering of the words of Pope Francis to participants of the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference held in Rome in April 2016: “Your thoughts on revitalising the tools of nonviolence, and of active nonviolence in particular, will be a needed and positive contribution.”

After listening to the experiences of Christians committed to building a culture of peace through active nonviolence approaches, to our reflections and deliberations, the richness of the sharing fully resonated with our conviction that active nonviolence is a practical way to create a peaceful coexistence in our African context. Therefore, we, the participants of the Nonviolence in Africa conference and representatives of Pax Christi International member organisations throughout Africa, affirm the Appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence because of our conviction that it will act as an impetus for communities in Africa and throughout the world to integrate gospel values and promote active nonviolence at personal, communal, national, regional and global levels.

Game changer? by Rose Marie Berger

cover-december2016Following are excerpts from Game Changer? What if 1.2 billion Catholics embraced gospel nonviolence?, Rose Marie Berger’s cover story for the December 2016 issue of Sojourners magazine.

“Just war is killing us! There is no just war.”

That proclamation by a Catholic sister from Iraq, and others like it, resounded at a Vatican gathering this spring and fell on surprisingly receptive ears.

Sister Nazik Matty, an Iraqi Dominican, joined others from around the world in Rome in April to wrestle with how the Catholic Church could “recommit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence.” She has watched members of her religious community die for lack of medical care during war.

“Which of the wars we have been in is a just war?” asked Sister Matty, who was driven from her home in Mosul by ISIS, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh. “In my country, there was no just war. War is the mother of ignorance, isolation, and poverty. Please tell the world there is no such thing as a just war. I say this as a daughter of war.”

The Rome gathering on Nonviolence and Just Peace was unprecedented, bringing together members of the church hierarchy with social scientists, theologians, practitioners of nonviolence, diplomats, and unarmed civilian peacekeepers to discuss Catholic nonviolence and whether in the contemporary world armed force can ever be justified.

Of course, with such diverse participants, there was not a common mind on whether just war theory, a doctrine of military ethics used by Catholic theologians, has outlived its usefulness as church teaching.

Some of the academics and diplomats — particularly from the United States and Western Europe — maintained that just war criteria, when properly applied, are useful when working within halls of power, from the Pentagon to the United Nations, for restraining excessive use of military force by a state. One participant cautioned against “broad condemnations of just war tradition, if it means closing off dialogue with our allies.” Another questioned how diplomacy could continue without the just war framework as its common language.

But Catholics who came to Rome from conflict zones — Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Colombia, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Uganda — brought a different perspective. …

Read more on the Sojourners website.

Webinar #4: Outcomes, implementation from Nonviolence & Just Peace conference

The fourth and final webinar of this series on the landmark Nonviolence & Just Peace conference was held on Friday, November 18.

Listen and watch the slides from the webinar here.

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, shared a special message; watch here.

The webinar’s presenters offered their insights into the significance of the Appeal and other outcomes of the conference, as well as ways that listeners can become involved in the spirituality and practice of nonviolence in the Church through the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.
Continue reading Webinar #4: Outcomes, implementation from Nonviolence & Just Peace conference