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Grappling with Monumental Violence: A Personal Journey

Posted by Erin Bechtol
10.12.17

On October 6 and 7, the University of San Diego’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture hosted a conference entitled, “The Catholic Church Moves Towards Nonviolence? Just Peace/Just War in Dialogue.”  This event was a follow-up to the landmark “Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference” held in Rome in 2016 and co-sponsored by the Vatican, Pax Christi International and other organizations, including Pace e Bene.  The San Diego conference brought together members of the military, peace educators and activists.  Presenters from the Rome assembly who were in San Diego included Maria Stephan,  Marie Dennis,  Eli McCarthy, Terrence Rynne, Gerald Schlabach and Pace e Bene staff-member John Dear.  The Saturday evening keynote address was delivered by Cardinal Peter Turkson, the prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, who played a critically important role in the Rome conference.

Ken Butigan, who works with Pace e Bene and teaches at DePaul University, was asked to offer the following two presentations during the USD gathering: a reflection on his own journey to nonviolence and a talk on the nonviolence and just peace. 

Part I

Personal Narrative: The Journey to Nonviolence

I am so happy to be at the University of San Diego for this historic conversation!  I am grateful that the university has opened this space for all of us to reflect deeply on the historic journey that the Catholic Church is engaging in now in real time – this journey of recommitting to the centrality of the active and courageous nonviolence of Jesus, and how each of can play a role in responding nonviolently to the critical challenge of violence and the even-more critical challenge of building a culture of peace and nonviolence.

We are grateful for the leadership that Pope Francis and the Vatican have exercised to help us unleash more realistic and effective responses to violence and passivity.  

We saw this leadership in action when Pope Francis issued, this past January, the Church’s first-ever World Day of Peace message on nonviolence entitled “Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace.”  

We saw this leadership in action since then when the pope and other Vatican officials have explicitly used the terms “nonviolence” and a “culture of nonviolence” in response to monumental violence in many speeches and interviews.  

We saw this leadership in action when the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace co-sponsored the landmark conference in Rome on “Nonviolence and Just Peace” last year.  We are grateful for the clear direction that his eminence, Cardinal Peter Turkson, brought to that historic assembly, and we are grateful that he is with us at this important gathering in San Diego.  

The Final Statement of the Rome Conference respectfully asked Pope Francis to share with the world an encyclical on Nonviolence and Just Peace.  Some of us who were in Rome are here this weekend to share the news about that gathering and to invite all of us to reflect on what this growing effort might mean for the Church and the world.  An encyclical would build on many steps over the past century where the Church’s vision of Jesus’ nonviolence has been growing sharper and sharper.  An encyclical would help awaken Catholics everywhere to their call to live the spiritual and practice journey of the nonviolent life.  And an encyclical would help spark a conversation throughout the larger world on the power of nonviolent change to grapple effectively with the monumental challenges of our time, including, war, poverty, racism and the climate crisis.

But I also have a personal reason for rejoicing that we have gathered here at the University of San Diego.  It is now 40 years since I graduated with degrees in History and English at USD, and I am forever grateful for the education I received here.  

Nevertheless, I must report that, for the first three years of my time here, I never heard the word justice or peace or, most certainly, nonviolence, or the nonviolence of Jesus.  

But this was nothing new.  That was true of the Catholic grade schools I went to and the Catholic Benedictine High School I attended.  

This, though, changed in my senior year.  I took a Religious Studies course entitled “A Community Called Church,” which introduced us to the major themes of the Second Vatican Council and how they were being elaborated in our post-Vatican II church.  

The technical term for describing my reaction is “mind-blowing.”  

This was the first time I learned that Jesus was a maker of peace, an agent of restorative justice, and a proponent of what we might call “responsibility to protect nonviolently,” as in the case of the woman accused of adultery who was about to be executed when Jesus intervened, neither with justified violence or hand-wringing passivity, but instead, at great risk to himself, with a creative and thought-provoking nonviolent action that saved the woman’s life and saved the men from carrying the burden and terror of the guilt of homicide.

In this class, I learned that Vatican Two unleashed a profound awareness of justice—and how peace flows from this justice.  Most significantly, I learned that this was meant to be the work of all Catholics and of all followers of Jesus.  We’re all called to follow Jesus the Nonviolent Peacemaker by making peace and justice ourselves.

It was a three-hour night class, and I remember how, at the break, I would wander outside out in the fresh air in a daze.  In fact, I would walk to the very spot where the Kroc Institute exists today.  Long before this building was constructed, this was a field overlooking the city.  It was dark, but I could see the twinkling lights from the harbor to the bay.  

Mostly I was ruminating on what I was learning: that God is a God of peace and justice and nonviolence. This stunning awareness would lead me to follow this thread.  

I would come to learn that nonviolence is at the heart of Jesus’ mission and thus the mission of the Church.  I would come to learn that, in his time of foreign occupation and oppression, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. I would come to learn that that Jesus’ nonviolence was the power of love in action, and that this action wasn’t passive or violent.  I would hear, as if for the first time, Jesus’ command for us to love our enemies and for us to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil, and I was forced to reflect deeply on the actions Jesus took to dramatize this call, including urging people to put down his sword as the soldiers were arresting him in the garden of Gethsemani.  

I would come to learn that nonviolence clearly recognizes there is evil in the world and, as St. Paul says, responds to it with good—relentlessly and creatively and often courageously.

I would come to learn that Jesus is the revelation and embodiment of our Nonviolent God, whose sun shines on the good and the evil alike.  I would come to learn therefore that nonviolence was ontological, at the heart of God, the God who created the universe and said that it was good.  I would come to learn that nonviolence is not ineffective, passive, weak, utopian, naïve, unpatriotic, marginal, simplistic, or impractical, but it recognizes evil in the world and responds to it with good.  

I would come to learn that that nonviolence is actively confronting violence without violence; Creatively engaging conflict; and nurturing just, peaceful, and sustainable alternatives.

This process of reflection was key to my decision to give up thoughts of studying history and, instead, to do graduate studies in theology at the Graduate Theological Union.  I enrolled in the GTU’s Jesuit School of Theology and plunged into the study of our nonviolent God.  Even more, I met people who were taking Jesus seriously when he says that the peacemakers are the daughters and sons of God and to do good to the evil-doer.  I soon joined a group that was studying nonviolence and trying to put it into practice.  This led to participating in nonviolent movements for justice and peace.  

In the 1980s, that included taking nonviolent action to build people-power to support an end to the arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, including public support for arms control agreements and a global Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In the 1980s and 1990s, that mean building people-power to resist and end US policies stoking war in Nicaragua and El Salvador.  Later in the 1990s, that meant being part of a local campaign to build people-power to end policies attacking and harassing homeless people.  And in the 21st century, that has included building movements using nonviolent action to urge a comprehensive just peace in Iraq and end the official policy of torture.   For me personally, this meant leading many nonviolence trainings, being part of many organizing efforts, writing, and, most of all, taking nonviolent action that has meant endless meetings and occasional stints in jail for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience when my conscience moved me to resist violence and injustice.

In 2010, the Archdiocese of Chicago launched Catholics for Nonviolence.  I was privileged to be part of this official church initiative, in which we pursued a vision of each of the 387 parishes integrating Gospel nonviolence in the life of the church.  As part of this I was asked to lead or co-lead 17 trainings throughout the archdiocese.  I found that this kind of teaching had not been done, and how hungry people were for it.  In many way has been a precursor to the city-wide anti-violence initiative that Cardinal Blaise Cupich has recently launched and which Pope Francis supported in a powerful letter where he said, A culture of nonviolence is not an unattainable dream, but a path that has produced decisive results.  The consistent practice of nonviolence has broken barriers, bound wounds, healed nations.”

When I was still in theology school back in the 1980s, I became convinced that the Catholic Church could play a key role in reclaiming the centrality of Gospel nonviolence and calling on Catholics everywhere to the nonviolent life.  I approached key people at the Oakland diocese, but this did not go anywhere.  But at the same time, we were being taught by others in the Church that this is possible.  This took place in the Philippines, during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. I would like to end with this story.

Under this regime there was much corruption, poverty, widespread human rights violations, and a lack of democracy. Systematic violence by the government was aimed at destroying the opposition, including community-based organizations and movements working for change.  There was little hope for social transformation.  There was a growing armed struggle led by a group called The New People’s Army.  At the same time, however, the Catholic Church in this predominantly Catholic country was casting about for an alternative.  Was there an option to passivity on the one hand and violence on the other?

Many people were not too sure.  A bishop was quoted at the time as saying, “I used to believe in nonviolence, but Marcos is too cruel; only a bloody revolution will work against him.”  When he was asked how long such a revolution would take, he said, ‘Ten years.”  The 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino seemed only to confirm the bishop’s gloomy assessment.

It was then that the church’s leader in the Philippines, Cardinal Jaime Sin, decided to see if an alternative was possible.  He put the full weight of the church behind an exploration of Gospel nonviolence and how it could be applied to change the situation in his country.  As part of this effort, he took part in a three-day nonviolence training in Manila led by Hildegard and Jean Goss-Mayr of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and sponsored by the Little Sisters of Jesus.  It was a life changing event that led to organizing “active nonviolence” trainings for scores of Catholic and Protestant bishops and hundreds of other clergy, women religious and laity.  A Philippine chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation was established, which organized hundreds of nonviolence trainings in 30 provinces.

These workshops eventually played a key role in the nationwide mobilization to stop the dictator from stealing the 1986 national election. Cardinal Sin joined with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in formally calling on the country to engage in “active resistance” and “a nonviolent struggle for justice.”  These efforts contributed to the emergence of a widespread nonviolent force, both within the civilian population and key sectors of the military that refused orders rather than attack unarmed civilians organized in disciplined human barricades. Nonviolent activists found themselves in the surprising position of protecting soldiers who defected. Within four days, Ferdinand Marcos boarded a plane bound for Hawaii.  

This is a highly visible example of the power of Gospel nonviolence and the role that the Church can play in spreading it.  The ministry of sharing the Good News of Gospel nonviolence is not limited to such dramatic situations.  Jesus’ nonviolence is needed in every dimension and context in our lives and our world.  Nonetheless, this case illustrates the difference such action can make.  I am confident that the universal Church can, just as the Church in the Philippines did, commit deeply to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence and offer a clear example for the world of the power and potential of active nonviolence.

A Personal Experience

Nonviolence can be seen in such world-historical events as the People-Power movement in the Philippines.  But it is also manifest in small and relatively insignificant moments.  I would like to share one that happened to me.

When I was in my twenties at the Graduate Theological Union, I become quite involved in the nuclear disarmament movement.  On one occasion I was part of a group engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience in front of the South Gate of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which designed fifty-percent of the US nuclear arsenal.  We wanted to signify withdrawing our consent to the weapons work.  We decided to do this with an act of peaceable noncooperation by laying quietly in the street.  When it came time to be arrested, we were determined not to get up on own.

Eventually a police officer came over to where I was laying and, after arresting me, ordered me to get up.  I refused, and explained why.  After ordering me a few times to get up, he grabbed my arm and started tugging on it. All of a sudden, his supervisor, who was standing across the street, barked out, “Don’t fool around with him.  Just break his wrist!” 

As soon as the words were out of the commander’s mouth, the officer grabbed my wrist and started twisting it.  The pain began to accelerate and I am now realizing that my wrist was about to be broken.  

What happened next was thoroughly unplanned.

I found myself leaning up a bit and whispering in a calm voice: “You don’t have to do this.  You don’t have to break my wrist.”

The twisting increased—then suddenly stopped.  This police officer was not going to break my wrist.  He had given me my wrist back, sore but uninjured. As I lay there contemplating this turn of events, I realized that he had given me a gift—my uninjured wrist—and I decided to give him one.

I got up on my feet.

As we were walking over to the police van, he abruptly stopped me and said, “Thank you so much for telling me that I didn’t have to break your wrist.  I actually didn’t want to do it, but I had gotten an order and thought I had to.”  

He went on to say, “I had never done that before.  They brought someone in last week to teach us how to break the wrists of protesters, but I didn’t want to do it.  Thank you for breaking the spell.”

For the next half-hour we ended up having a powerful talk together.

I have often reflected on this exchange.  It was only one, small moment in the larger anti-nuclear weapons movement, but it symbolized in a tiny way for me the potential of nonviolence to resist, to connect, and for all parties to experience unexpected transformation in the midst of the conflicts and challenges in our lives and in our larger world.

Conclusion

I would like to close my reflections with a prayer was written for the Rome conference on “Nonviolence and Just Peace.”  It was written by Hildegard Goss-Myer, who co-led the afote-mentioned nonviolence training that the Church organized in the Philippines.  In this prayer, she refers to the Rome conference, but she could as easily be speaking about our own conference taking place this weekend at the University of San Diego:

A Prayer for the Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference

Holy Spirit, our source of light and strength,
we thank you for having inspired the call to peace-makers from all over the world
to meet in the dramatic situation of humanity to reconsider our responsibility
to deepen and promote the liberating and healing nonviolence of Jesus.

Merciful God, our Father and Mother, you sent your Son Jesus, our Brother,
to reveal through his life and teaching your divine, self-giving Love and thus
incarnate in our world the power of nonviolence capable to overcome ALL forms of violence
and to reconcile humanity in justice and peace.

You have asked us, who are baptized in Jesus’ name, to let ourselves be transformed by this force of truth and self-giving love and to apply it courageously in our violence-stricken world.

We confess that for centuries our Church, people of God, many times has betrayed this central message of the Gospel and participated in wars, persecution, oppression, exploitation and discrimination. This fills us with deep sadness and we humbly ask to be pardoned.

Holy Spirit, as we are going to meet as peacemakers we count on your light and your strength
to help revive in the Theology of Peace the nonviolent message of Jesus in which there is no
place for violence and to offer to all Christians the arms of peacemaking, pardon and reconciliation.

Holy Spirit, we trust in your light and strength
that this Conference may mark a new step of our Church, people of God, on its way
to becoming a Peace Church in the spirit of our Brother Jesus and thus reply forcefully to the cry
of humanity for life in dignity and peace.

 

Part II

Grappling Faithfully and Effectively With the
Monumental Violence of Our Time:
The Call to Active Nonviolence in the
Roman Catholic Church and the World

Introduction

Good afternoon.  As we’re moving to the end of our time together, I’d like to take this opportunity to do two things.  

First, I invite us to marinate on the potential impact of an encyclical on nonviolence.

Second, I’d like to make as clear as possible what those of us who are working to advance active nonviolence in the Catholic Church mean by nonviolence; why it’s critically important; what it may mean for the Church; and what it may mean for our larger world.

What an Encyclical on Nonviolence Might Mean

As we have said, the Rome Conference’s Final Statement invited Pope Francis to share with the Church and the world an encyclical on “nonviolence and just peace.” Of course, it is the pope alone who writes and publishes an encyclical.   Such a clear and straightforward declaration and teaching would be an enormous gift to the Church and the world.  The fact is that, for many centuries, we have lost our way—we have compromised with violence, legitimated violence and organized violence.  As a Church we have often felt there is no other way, but by assuming this, we have lost our way—the way of faithful nonviolence of Jesus.  The history of the world would be very different had we not done this.  Other than confessing this violence, there is little we can do about the past.  But there is much we can do about the present and especially the future.  By publishing a clear encyclical on active nonviolence, Pope Francis will help us find our way again.  

To get a sense of the potential impact this encyclical would have, we need only look to Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment.  It has played a historic role in galvanizing and accelerating the response to the climate crisis.  Just this week it was announced that 40 major Catholic institutions are divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in renewable energy as part of their response to the urgent call Pope Francis sounded in the Laudato Si’ encyclical.  This is in addition to divestment from institutions around the world totaling a value of approximately $5.2 trillion have divested from fossil funds. 

Or consider the high-profile support the Vatican has given to the traction for the treaty abolishing nuclear weapons.  Just yesterday, ICAN – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons–won the Nobel Prize for Peace.  As ICAN Tweeted out on September 20, “The Holy See (Vatican) makes history as the first state to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”  To support this historic process, the Vatican is holding a critically important conference on abolishing nuclear weapons in Rome next month.

Similarly, an encyclical on nonviolence will have far-reaching consequences for the church and the world—marking out a new course for nonviolent options and building a culture of nonviolent alternatives and everything that will make those alternatives possible.

But beyond these potential real-time consequences, an encyclical would contribute to God’s vision for humanity—that we are all called to live together in peace and nonviolence.  This would be another important step in this direction.

If this is God’s longing for us, then all of us must think: How am I supporting this vision?  A papal encyclical on nonviolence would help sharpen this question for all of us.

Nonviolence and Why It Is Critically Important

But what, again, is nonviolence?   Let us be clear about the meaning of nonviolence.

I’m confident that all of us want peace.  What we are exploring today is, “What is the way to peace?”  For the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, nonviolence is key to this.  In fact, nonviolence, I believe, is an even clearer word than peace itself, which sometimes can be ambiguous.  We have a long history in which “peace” is achieved or maintained by lethal force.  Even the word peace can be used to support violence.  This is much more difficult with nonviolence.

Nonviolence, then, can be defined as a methodology for:

  • Actively confronting violence without violence;
  • Creatively engaging conflict; and
  • Nurturing just, peaceful, and sustainable alternatives.

Nonviolence is a method that confronts, engages, and nurtures.  It grapples with violence without using violence.  It wages conflict creatively using two hands: noncooperation with violence and injustice and steadfast regard for the opponent as a human being.  And it envisions and fosters a dramatically different culture than the culture of violence–a culture of restorative justice, of positive peace, and of the healing of our world.  It is a paradigm that embraces all aspects of life.

Of course, we have tendencies toward violence—springing from egotism, fear, and greed—and we are encouraged to believe that violence is the bottom line, that it is inevitable, and that it saves us.  

But even deeper than our violence is our power to live nonviolently.  

If this were not the case we would not have survived.  Our violence would have spun out of control long ago.  In the face of our violence, we have found ways to resolve conflict, to resist injustice, and to create options that, in the midst of retribution and revenge, seemed impossible.  

These descriptions of nonviolence do not come out of thin air.  They describe the lived-experience of nonviolence over the course of history and its accelerating mobilization for change over the past century.  

These conceptions also shed light on the nonviolence of Jesus.  

As widespread work in biblical studies over the past half-century has established, nonviolence lay at the heart of Jesus’ mission—and thus is central to the mission of the Church.  In his age that was rife with structural violence, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. Neither passive nor weak, the nonviolence of Jesus was the power of risky, courageous, and all-embracing love in action, as we’re heard from some of our speakers today.

In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, he wept (Luke 19:41).  He saw the impending destruction that awaited his community if it did not embrace the nonviolent way, especially in its accelerating struggle with the Roman oppressor occupying his land.  As he put it so clearly, “Would that you knew the things that make for peace.”  

The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is appealing to the Church to re-commit to the centrality of nonviolence because Jesus has called his disciples–then and now–to live the nonviolent life.  Recommitting to Gospel nonviolence is, first and foremost, rooted in being faithful to the nonviolent Jesus.  

But we also take this action because Jesus’ vision “of the things that make for peace” is—amidst our own time of catastrophe and threat—a more realistic and effective response than violence and passivity to the monumental violence and injustice of our time.

The Catholic Church Moves Toward Nonviolence

This, then, brings us to the Catholic Church – and its growing turn toward nonviolence.

It must be said, first, that many aspects of the Church—historically and in our own time—have lived and are living Gospel nonviolence.  The Church’s work for justice, human rights, forgiveness, mercy and peacebuilding are important dimensions of Jesus’ call to the nonviolent Reign of God.  A renewed commitment to the theology of Gospel nonviolence will strengthen and deepen the Church’s work for peace and goodness by explicitly standing against all levels of violence, and clearly strengthening our core identity as followers of the nonviolent Jesus.

But this shift will require nothing less than an ongoing conversion.

In a world where violence is so prevalent, so systematically woven through our lives and societies, so normal, we will be called to a determined, risky and courageous formation process as people and as Church. We will be called to confess our violence as people and as the Church, make amends for our violence, and give up our deeply-embedded belief in violence.

Imagine nurturing a new identity as nonviolent people in a nonviolent church, with a clear and deliberate commitment to preaching, teaching, activating and boldly proclaiming the dynamics of Jesus’ nonviolence at every level of our global communion.  

To imagine this is not to imagine that the world will suddenly be nonviolent.  Instead, it is to live nonviolently amidst great violence and injustice, unleashing the force for good in response to it—to return good for evil, to break the chains of escalatory violence and revenge, to fully trust the God of love rather than the power of violence, and to engage in the responsibility to protect nonviolently.

Last year’s landmark Rome conference on “Nonviolence and Just Peace” co-sponsored with the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace concluded by seeking to translate these visions into a long-term, concrete reality.  Specifically, it called on the Church:

  • To integrate Gospel nonviolence explicitly into the life and work of the Church at every level;
  • To initiate a global conversation on nonviolence within the Church, with people of other faiths, and with the larger world;
  • To no longer use or teach “just war theory,” and continue advocating for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons; and
  • To promote the development and use of nonviolent practices and strategies.

For example, what if, from among the 1.2 billion Catholics on the planet, the Church organized a 100,000-person force for unarmed nonviolent peacebuilding—similar to Gandhi’s idea of a “peace army” and modeled on the current Nonviolent Peaceforce— trained and equipped to respond to humanitarian crises, to defuse conflicts, and to create the conditions for peaceful dialogue and negotiations?

Or, what if every Catholic parish envisioned how it could be a center for peacemaking for the community?

These are just two of the countless possibilities that could emerge if the Church to invest spiritually, pastorally and financially in explicitly re-committing to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence.

To support this new trajectory, the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is nurturing the process of building grassroots support in the global Church for this “nonviolent shift.”  

As part of this, we have launched an ambitious research project featuring theologians, practitioners and church leaders addressing critically important topics in five ongoing roundtables.  These themes include the theology of nonviolence, biblical foundations, a new moral framework, the phenomenon of active nonviolence, and the application of Gospel nonviolence throughout the Church.  

Calling on the World to Unleash the Power of Nonviolence

Finally, what might this recommitment to nonviolence mean for our larger world?

Quite simply, it could offer the world and its teeming inhabitants a dramatic new lifeline.

After all, we stand at a profound moment of peril.  The traditional solutions will not resolve our deepest problems.  Neither violence nor passivity will answer the climate crisis, global poverty, racism, and the many forms of injustice that people everywhere face.  Nor will violence or passivity end war and terrorism.  Various forms of violence and passivity have been pursued for thousands of years as the answer to violence and injustice.  If we’re honest with ourselves, these solutions most of the time only exacerbate the problem, or drive it underground, or kick it down the road.

This is not to claim that nonviolent methods will always work.  But neither do violent methods.  In fact, there is widespread evidence now – thanks to Maria Stephan and a growing number of analysts – that nonviolent strategies outperform violent ones.

If our church of over a billion people began to tap the power of active nonviolence, this would not only build the capacity of the Church to live its mission more faithfully and effectively, it would be an example for the rest of the world.  It would encourage people everywhere to explore, experiment with, and practice a clear and powerful alternative to violence and passivity.

In calling on Pope Francis to share with the world an encyclical on nonviolence, the Rome Conference envisioned that this could open possibilities beyond the Church, in the way that the pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, is a message inviting the whole world to actively engage the climate crisis.  We are confident that this thoroughgoing commitment to and activation of nonviolence will have ramifications far beyond the Church itself.  

And it may lead to undreamed of partnerships. As Pope Francis wrote in his World Day of Peace Message on nonviolence, “I pledge the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.”  My guess is that this is not restricted to initiatives in the Church only.

Conclusion

Sisters and brothers, we stand at a critical crossroads, where nonviolent solutions are needed now more than ever.  The potential of active nonviolence as both a spiritual force and an effective method for change offers a profound way to challenge and transform the crises of our time.  In this fraught age, the Catholic Church is taking unparalleled leadership in spreading awareness of the nonviolent “third way” beyond violence and passivity.  We are grateful for this unprecedented initiative, led by Pope Francis, whose World Day of Peace message was the first one ever to focus on nonviolence and who, since this landmark declaration was released this past January, has spoken boldly in many speeches and interviews of the power of and need for “nonviolence” and a “culture of nonviolence.”

Now the momentum is building to translate this vision into a more prominent role in Catholic Social Teaching – including our hope that Pope Francis will share with the world an encyclical on “Nonviolence and Just Peace” – and to integrate Jesus’ active and courageous nonviolence at every level of the Church.  This will be a long process, but not a moment too soon.  The Church is uniquely positioned to call on its global community—but also on the entire planet—to embark on the nonviolent life.  

Admittedly, taking these steps will not be easy. It will cause all of us in the Church and perhaps the larger world to reflect deeply on the structures of violence and our own relationship to it.  After all, the largest part of the word “nonviolence” is violence; the nonviolent path includes grappling with our own violence as we seek to transform violence in the world.  It will be a long process of transformation and healing.  

Yet years from now we will likely look back and realize that this clarion call will have helped the entire world to see that there is a concrete alternative to violence and passivity, and that people everywhere have the power to concretely activate this force for good.  Much will come from this historic work of envisioning, teaching, and practicing active and creative nonviolence.  And much will come from building the infrastructure for fostering countless nonviolent lives, nonviolent communities, nonviolent nations and nonviolent societies.  

To take this journey in this perilous hour—but also this Kairos moment, this time of divine grace and human decision—is not to pretend that we will create an ideal world.  Instead, we are embarking on the great work of our time: confessing our violence; deepening our faithfulness to the nonviolent Jesus; and joining a spiritual awakening that will equip Christians and non-Christians alike—people of faith and people of good will everywhere—with the tools to live nonviolently, to challenge violence and injustice, and to build, piece by piece, a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.  

We look forward to all of us being part of this great, beckoning venture.

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