Pax Christi International’s Secretary General spoke to a Clinton audience last month about the importance of active nonviolence in addressing conflict and injustice in the world. Some practitioners of active nonviolence have given their lives, Margaretha (Greet) Vanaerschot noted. Her observation came three weeks before the Oct. 14 canonization of St. Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who exemplified Catholic nonviolence in action and was martyred in 1980 as he celebrated Mass.
Catholic News Service reporter Rhina Guidos wrote that the archbishop “sought no special protection from the daily violence that the majority of the country lived under and chose not to shield himself and his conscience from the country’s struggles. Instead, he fed the poor who picked the coffee crops for miserly wages and strolled through impoverished neighborhoods with a comforting smile while calling on the country’s oppressors to a path of justice, equality and peace (CNS, Oct. 11).”
The archbishop’s lived experience shows us, today, how to apply some of the tools of Catholic nonviolence to respond to conflict and injustice. He encountered people daily who were vulnerable and oppressed, provided sustenance to the hungry, smiled at people, spoke truth to power and celebrated the sacraments. These are not actions reserved to an archbishop or church leader. They apply to each of us who call ourselves Catholic and have the ability to touch the life of another person who is in need spiritually, physically or emotionally. Nonviolence begins in our hearts and in our homes, as Pope Francis said in his World Day of Peace Message for 2017. It begins in the words we choose to exchange with one another. Those words can be tools of peace or lethal weapons.
Vanaerschot used the analogy of toolboxes filled with tools — one to employ nonviolent methods to resolve conflict and injustice and the other to employ military methods. The disparity in funding of the toolboxes needs to be resolved so that nonviolent methods are our first and most effective choice.
The visit to the motherhouses of the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton and the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport occurred as part of Vanaerschot’s U.S. tour to promote the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI). This initiative, a project of Pax Christi International, “affirms the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church (https://nonviolencejustpeace.net).”
The CNI was launched at the Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference in Rome in 2016 and co-sponsored by other international bodies as well. The conference’s final statement makes the following appeal:
• Continue developing Catholic social teaching on nonviolence. In particular, we call on Pope Francis to share with the world an encyclical on nonviolence and Just Peace.
• 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.
• Promote nonviolent practices and strategies (e.g., nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, trauma healing, unarmed civilian protection, conflict transformation, and peace-building strategies).
• Initiate a global conversation on nonviolence within the church, with people of other faiths, and with the larger world to respond to the monumental crises of our time with the vision and strategies of nonviolence and Just Peace.
• No longer use or teach “just war theory;” continue advocating for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons.
• Lift up the prophetic voice of the church to challenge unjust world powers and to support and defend those nonviolent activists whose work for peace and justice put their lives at risk.
On Oct. 27, the Diocese of Davenport will host “Social Action Saturday,” featuring a presentation on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. The event begins at 9:30 a.m. at St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville and is open to all. Cost is $10. Register online at https://tinyurl.com/y86bazv7 or call Esmeralda Guerrero at (563) 888-4210.
“Endorse the appeal (https://nonviolencejust peace.net), keep studying/learning about nonviolence, growing in understanding of the nonviolent Jesus and the way he lived,” says Sister Jan Cebula, OSF, who is giving the CNI presentation Oct. 27. “Engage others in the exploration including groups within parishes. Make others aware that this effort is happening. Grow in our understanding that the Gospel IS all about nonviolence. As disciples of Jesus we are called to follow the path of nonviolence.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor