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Nonviolence News


Readings in Nonviolence

‘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)

The Catholic Church and Nonviolence

A review of “Choosing Peace – The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence”, ed. Marie Dennis. Orbis Books, 2018, 270 pages.

Reviewed by Rob Fairmichael

This important book is based on the April 2016 conference “Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic understanding of and commitment to nonviolence” which took place in Rome with some eighty participants. Marie Dennis, as a long time activist and co-president of Pax Christi international, is well placed to ‘pull it all together’, and that she does, in a book which includes contributions at and for the Rome conference, and other reflections on the topic. While of most interest to Catholics and other Christians, some parts may be of considerable interest to other people as well.

You might say that when thinking of Christianity and nonviolence, the Catholic Church is not the church which comes foremost to mind. However a listing of some notable figures, particularly in a chapter on “Catholic Practice of Nonviolence” (p.125) by Ken Butigan and John Dear, made me think a bit more deeply. And with this 2016 conference and the Pax Christi International ‘Catholic Nonviolence Initiative’, and Pope Francis being well disposed to nonviolence, well who knows what the future may bring.

The basic argument behind it all is that the church should cease to think in terms of ‘Just War’ but rather of ‘Just Peace’ (p.168) and the principles that should go with that. An apposite quote from Pope Francis, used in a few different places in the book, is that the current international situation is “world war in instalments”. The conference did make “An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence” – and its analysis of the early Christian church practice in relation to violence and nonviolence is well covered, starting with Terrence J Rynne on the scriptural evidence from the life and teaching of Jesus.

One of those attending and contributing to the Rome conference was Mairead Maguire, whose reflections afterwards appear at Part of what she said at the Rome conference includes “I would like to see Pope Francis and the Catholic Church call for the total abolition of militarism (an aberration/dysfunction in human history.) Also for Pope Francis and the Church to renounce war and develop a ‘Theology of Nonkilling and Nonviolence’ and reject the ‘Just War’ Theology which has, and continues to lead people to an acceptance of militarism and war as an alleged legitimate ways of solving conflict.“

Although obviously well disposed to nonviolence, exactly where Pope Francis does stand is not as yet clear, though there is some analysis in the book, and the call from the conference is “We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence. 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.” (p.25)

‘Loving your enemies’ is a very clear Christian message which many Christians have done amazing wonders and somersaults to would think Jesus spoke about ‘loving to hate your enemies’! The book is interspersed with the stories of Catholic and other Christian activists and one reflection on ‘loving your enemies’ which comes across very strongly is that of Katarina Kruhonja, a cofounder of the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights in Osijek and her thoughts on the violence that engulfed her in 1991 in Croatia. She decided “that killing my enemy is surely not how Jesus would love his enemy. So I chose to love my enemy as Jesus would. I didn’t know what that would mean, but the choice itself really was my Passover from the logic of violence.” (p.44) There are plenty of strong stories from a variety of violent situations around the world.

One other brilliant quote for Christians is from Gandhi; reading The Sermon on the Mount “made him admire Jesus as the “Prince of Satyagrahis” (practitioners of nonviolence), a person of creative, nonviolent action.” (used by Terrence Rynne on p.87).

I would consider the book a well balanced mix of theory/theology, practice and analysis and a very useful resource on Christianity and nonviolence in general, but essential for those with a concern for the Catholic Church’s stand on the matter, and hopefully a harbinger of greater things to come.
“Choosing Peace” is available via the publisher and agents or by mail from Pax Christi UK (UK price about £20 plus postage).

Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is at including the papers prepared for the 2016 Rome conference.

An INNATE interview with Marie Dennis in 2012 about the work of Pax Christi International and her photo, taken at the same time.

Copyright INNATE 2019