Readings in Nonviolence features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
When it comes to the Christian churches and thinking, nonviolence in our part of the world often tends to be thought of mainly in relation to a Protestant church or group like the Quakers. However there is an important peace stream within Catholicism associated particularly with religious orders such as the Franciscans and Columbans, and with Pax Christi as a Catholic-associated NGO. In Ireland both Pax Christi Ireland and Kerry Diocesan Justice Peace and the Integrity of Creation Committee are members of Pax Christi International.
One of the best written expositions of Christian nonviolence has been given by Richard McSorley SJ, a US Jesuit of Irish extraction (as his surname reveals) in his book "The New Testament Basis of Peacemaking" (out of print but should be available easily online).
We publish below two pieces on a recent Catholic gathering in Rome in April 2016 on nonviolence and just peace. The first is a report by Pat Cunningham which indicates an important possible departure, or considering the story of the early Christian church rather a renewal, point for Catholicism and Christianity. It is followed by a piece from Mairead Maguire who says that "I believe we are at an important and hopeful turning point in human history from violence to nonviolence – from war to peace...." Here's hoping….
by Patrick Cunningham SSC
I welcomed the opportunity to represent Columban JPIC* at a recent conference on 'Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence'. It was hosted by Pax Christi International and the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace, and held in Rome 11-13 April.
Participants gathered from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania and included lay people, theologians, and members of religious congregations, priests, and bishops. It was a landmark event, the first of its kind within the Catholic tradition in seeking to explore fresh new perspectives on nonviolence from within the lived experience of the 85 participants and the communities from which they hailed. A message from Pope Francis, delivered by Cardinal Peter Turkson during the opening ceremony, set out the task for the gathering, namely: "your thoughts on revitalising the tools of nonviolence, and of active nonviolence in particular, will be a needed and positive contribution".
The need to abandon the tired old chestnut of 'Just War' theory to envision a fresh, new and creative 'Just Peace' paradigm was undeniable as it was profound. Time and again the overwhelming message from participants living in situations of conflict was that their communities are weary of violence. They reiterated constantly that in their experience violence never works and is never the answer – it only leads to further violence, bloodshed and chaos.
The strongly worded statement: 'An appeal to the Catholic Church to recommit to the centrality of gospel nonviolence' (see paxchristi.net) states unambiguously: "We believe that there is no 'just war'. Too often the 'just war theory' has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. Suggesting that a 'just war' is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict". A new framework consistent with gospel nonviolence has been unfolding for some time and is evident in the statements of Pope Francis referring back to Pope John XXIII, but that the Catholic Church needs to develop further a paradigm shift to a 'just peace' is abundantly clear.
While there was almost complete unanimity in calling for the Catholic Church to officially renounce 'just war' theory, perhaps the most passionate call came from Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire who stated that the "misguided age of blessing wars, militarism and killing must be abolished". She called on Catholics never to take up arms, thus enabling the church to return to the nonviolence of Jesus' life and teachings. She said, "a Just Peace approach offers a vision and an ethic to build peace as well as to prevent, defuse, and to heal the
damage of violent conflict".
The most immediate task however is to initiate a global conversation on nonviolence within the Church, with people of other faiths, and with the larger world. The statement then would not be the exclusive ownership of those who endorsed it at the conference, but would be endorsed by Catholics and faith communities the world over. A process of dialogue and exchange, of theological reflections and views, which the conference facilitated and initiated, will be indispensible in helping to foster and develop Catholic social teaching on nonviolence going forward. The call on Pope Francis to issue an encyclical on Nonviolence and Just peace, which Cardinal Turkson has suggested is 'plausible' in a recent interview, is indeed heartening and, like Laudato Si', would hopefully speak a worldwide conversation.
At the conference it came to light that Pope Francis would be visiting Lesbos to highlight the urgency of the refugee crisis, once again making the connection between war and the resulting humanitarian crisis which forces people in distress to flee, seeking refuge. In 2015, the International Peace Bureau made a similar connection in its highly symbolic awarding of the Sean McBride peace prize to both Gangjeong village on Jeju and to Lampedusa. For Gangjeong, this recognised the exemplary nonviolent struggle of the people and their international supporters to halt the militarisation of their island. For Lampedusa, situated off the southern coast of Italy, it recognised the example of meeting human need and showing mercy. Lampedusa has given the world an extraordinary example of human solidarity, offering food to those who have arrived in distress, and literally rescuing hundreds of children stranded off their shore by forming human chains. All this in stark contrast to the behaviour and official policies of the European Union which continues to cement its reputation as 'fortress Europe' which is becoming more militarised to keep migrants out.
It strikes me that if the same resources made available for war were redirected for peace and the common good, the world would be in a better place. With our Church uniquely positioned through its global network, let's hope and pray that, with Pope Francis to inspire us, we will redouble our efforts to work for peace and lift up the prophetic voice of our Church to challenge unjust world powers and to support and defend those nonviolent activists whose work for peace and justice puts their lives at risk.
Pat Cunningham is the Columban JPIC coordinator in Korea. He has been involved in the 'Save Jeju' campaign against the militarisation of Korea's Jeju Island.
Taken from Vocation for Justice, Summer 2016 issue, produced by The Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC)* Team of the Missionary Society of St Columban in Britain, www.columbans.co.uk
by Mairead Maguire
"I believe we are at an important and hopeful turning point in human history from violence to nonviolence – from war to peace...."
It was a joy for me to join eighty people from around the World meeting in Rome 11th / 12th April, 2016, to contribute to the important discussion 'Nonviolence and Just Peace Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence'. Members of the three day event co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the International Catholic Peace Movement Organization, Pax Christi, strongly called on Pope Francis 'to share with the world an encyclical on nonviolence and Just Peace; and on the Church to 'no longer use or teach 'just war theory'; and continue advocating for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons'.
The statement of Appeal to the Pope also said: 'we believe there is no 'just war'. Too often the 'just war theory' has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. Suggesting that a 'just war' is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict'.
The Gathering in Rome consisted of lay people, theologians, members of Religious congregations, priests and bishops from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania and the welcoming address was given by Cardinal Turkson of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who read a Statement from Pope Francis.
The Final Statement entitled 'An Appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence' can be read on Pax Christi
This was indeed a historic Gathering and the participants made a brave and history-making call to Pope Francis and the Church. It calls upon Pope Francis to give strong Spiritual Leadership to the World's Christians and reject war for peace and nonviolence. We are all conscious of the growing militarization of our societies and countries and the myth being perpetrated that militarism, nuclear weapons and war, are acceptable. I hope that Pope Francis calls Catholics not to join the military and so reminds them that killing cannot be with Christ. I believe the misguided age of 'blessing wars, militarism and killing' must become abolished and the responsibility lies with Pope Francis and Religious/Spiritual Leaders to be true shepherds of Peace and Nonkilling/nonviolence following the command of Jesus to love our enemies and not kill each other.
I hope also that Pope Francis will unambiguously proclaim that 'Violence is always wrong, it is not the way of Jesus' and reject militarism thereby calling upon Catholics not to join armies and take up arms to kill people, thus becoming a true peace church.
The Appeal is now in the hands of Pope Francis, and we can now work, fast, pray, for an Nonkilling/Nonviolence Encyclical, and hope that Pope Francis will continue to show courage, be brave and bold, a true Prophet, a loving Shepherd and a bright light in these dark days for all the human family, which he has so rightly describes as 'this unique and terrible world war in instalments'.
Mairead Maguire is a Nobel Peace Laureate and Co-Founder of the Peace People www.peacepeople.com