Pax Christi Invites Church to Embrace Tradition of Active Nonviolence

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By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON – A quiet movement is underway to reaffirm the central role of active nonviolence practiced by Jesus, as told in the Gospels, and to bring that teaching to a new generation of Catholics.

Initiated by Pax Christi International, the global Catholic peace movement founded after World War II to reconcile French and German citizens, the effort and its promoters ultimately hope to see widespread use of nonviolent responses to aggression.

As part of the effort, Pax Christi International has invited the Catholic Church to rethink its stance on the just-war theory that is meant to guide responses to international conflicts.

Marie Dennis, Pax Christi International co-president, said the time has come for the church to reclaim nonviolence as a core tenet of church life.

“One of the big tasks, I believe, is reshaping people’s understanding of what active nonviolence is so that when you talk about it, people recognize it’s different from pacifism, that it’s a different commitment, and that it’s not passive and that it’s not only civil resistance or crossing a line,” Dennis told Catholic News Service.

Supporters of the effort know the work of integrating active nonviolence into daily life and international affairs will not come overnight, but they are hoping to get people to see the practice as morally imperative in a conflict-filled world.

The two-year-long effort has gotten notice from the Vatican, particularly Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, now one of the dicastery’s offices, co-sponsored a three-day meeting in April in Rome after being approached by Pax Christi International to discuss the church recommitting to Gospel nonviolence.

The meeting – attended by more than 80 representatives of Pax Christi chapters, practitioners and educators of nonviolence, and people living in global conflict zones – produced a statement appealing to the Catholic Church to support “creative and active nonviolence against all forms of violence.”

“The time has come for our church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices. In all of this, Jesus is our inspiration and model,” said the statement that participants released as the meeting ended.

Nonviolence is an appropriate response for the church to embrace, said Precious Blood Father Felix Mushobozi, a meeting participant. He is executive secretary of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation for the Commission of the Union of Superior Generals and the International Union of Superior Generals of men and women’s religious institutes of the Catholic Church in Rome.

“For us it is important because really the news we are receiving from all the parts of the world, people are tired of war. The Catholic Church needs to take responsibility in trying to change this scenario,” Father Mushobozi said.

The priest’s office has been collecting stories from men and women religious around the world that illustrate positive outcomes from nonviolent action with plans to share them with the dicastery.