Readings in Nonviolence, NN 288

“Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World”

Pax Christi International, 322 pages,

Edited by: Rose Marie Berger, Ken Butigan, Judy Coode and Marie Dennis

A review by Sylvia Thompson

This is a timely and comprehensive text or guide book on nonviolence that should fall into the hands of many, from practitioner to academic. I read it alone and straight through…not the best idea even with various breaks.

The title itself ‘advancing’ tells us that this is not a primer text though a student of nonviolence could start here and follow it through.

The text has a Preface, Acknowledgements and four Parts I) Returning to Nonviolence, II) Foundations of Nonviolence, III) The Practice and Power of Nonviolence, IV) Embracing Nonviolence, the list of Contributors and 3 Appendices, but regrettably no Bibliography or Index.

Reading the contents alone gives the sense of its amazingly broad scope and depth and if you peep to the list of the contributors you will understand how this came about. I counted 120 and it states that they came from nearly all corners of our troubled world (but possibly not Northern Ireland…see later).

The title sub heading is “Biblical, Theological, Ethical, Pastoral and Strategic Dimensions of Nonviolence”, which means it will be of equal interest to theologians and those on the ground working in conflict resolution in their local communities and everyone in between.

It is the work Pax Christi International and more specifically a particular project, ‘The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative’ which was initiated in 2016 to affirm the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church.

There are frequent references to Pope Francis’ World Peace Day message of 2017 entitled “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace” but the call is to go further for the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence. Appendix 1 (and elsewhere, see ‘Integrating Nonviolence Throughout the Catholic Church’, p.284).

With regard to the appendices, the impatient reader could go straight to them #1 (above) #2 Nonviolence nurtures hope, can renew the Church and #3 Ten elements of nonviolence.

How to describe this book in a simple way is perhaps to say that it answers these questions about nonviolence: What is it? Where has it come from? Why and Why not? Where? and How? There are clear signposts to further reading and excellent footnotes. It takes the reader to El Salvador, Central African Republic, Mexico, Sudan, to name just some countries.

What is it? It offers many wonderful and inspirational quotes and definitions, e.g.

Nonviolence denotes a paradigm of the fullness of life at the heart of reality”. p.152

but read this comprehensive one on p.59

Nonviolence is a force that resists injustice and violence, a spiritual discipline and a powerful strategy that challenges violence without using violence, transforms conflict, fosters just, peaceful, effective and sustainable resolutions to conflict and seeks the well-being of creation and community.”

and it continues

It promotes human dignity; teaches self-respect and healthy communication; initiates processes of restorative justice to address interpersonal, communal and systematic injustices; and facilitates trauma healing. Its byproducts are creativity, joy, virtue, deeply held relationships and a shared hope for the future.”

It addresses of course, and I am just mentioning some topics, the Spirituality of nonviolence, violence against women and climate and ecological violence (read ‘Hearing the Song of the Earth’ p.245 and other references to Laudato Si’) and pastoral implications p.287 families and parishes p.292 but also addresses, what it terms ‘Sensitive concerns’ towards the end of the book on p.303 looking at the Internal Life of the Universal Church).

This section ‘Glimpsing the Church’s history of nonviolence’ pages 203-218 provides snippets from various corners of the world, so I was curious to read the following about Northern Ireland: “Followers of Jesus in Northern Ireland, including Nobel Peace Prize laureates Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams, finally brought the troubles to an end.’ p.213. It certainly was a glimpse, but for me a disappointing one with regard to its brevity and, possibly, its accuracy.

Advancing Nonviolence’ can act as a guide, lead you to further study and most importantly to action or to evaluate your existing action. You may want more and I can see it becoming the perfect text for a study/reading group. Some recent good news is that study/reading notes to go with the book may become available.

Though a serious academic text as outlined in Part (II), Foundations of Nonviolence, I found it to be a very spiritually nourishing and indeed challenging one too. (Ref. ‘Seeing with New Eyes’, Joanna Macy).

Pax Christi International is to be congratulated on this publication, ‘the fruit of a global, participatory process facilitated by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative to deepen Catholic understanding of and commitment to Gospel nonviolence.’ (from the Preface).

And I close with the closing words:” Faced with the challenges of this age, let us be transformed…. dedicated to faithfully healing our planet, and honouring the infinite worth of every being”.

To order individual or bulk copies, visit

I bought it from Paperback £25.45stg (€30.84 incl P&P). Now also available as an E-book EPUB (575KB) for €16 excl VAT from

See also:

– Sylvia Thompson now lives in Co Kerry, but lived and worked in Belfast where she was actively involved in Pax Christi Ireland & International. Still a member of Pax Christi, she is now a member of the Diocese of Kerry JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation) Committee, the Laudato Si’ Working Group (Irish Bishops). and local ecological & sustainable initiatives.