What I learned about religious freedom

I just finished reading a new Vatican document on religious freedom. (You were warned.) I didn’t understand most of it. But there were a couple of sections (from the very poor English translation) that I want to ponder at greater depth.

Here’s what I like: it invites a new models of relationship between religious freedom and civil democracy; reminds of the primacy of individual conscience with God; frames Christianity as an alternative to the religious cults of empires; links forced migration to an opportunity for greater religious freedom and respect; a “living faith” sometimes requires conscientious objection; the gospel can unmask even the evil embedded in the Church; any religious violence in word or deed should cause us to rethink our understanding of our own religion; and the Christian response to targeted violence is supreme nonviolence, even to persecution or martyrdom.

Excerpts from RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOR THE GOOD OF EVERYONE (International Theological Commission, Vatican, 2019).

“The imposing season of migrations of entire peoples, whose lands are now rendered hostile to life and coexistence, above all due to an endemic settlement of poverty and a permanent state of war, are creating, within the West, structurally interreligious, intercultural, inter-ethnic societies. Would it not be time to discuss, beyond the emergency, the fact that history seems to impose the true invention of a new future for the construction of models of the relationship between religious freedom and civil democracy?” (#9) 

40. This truth of the human condition appeals to the person through moral conscience, that is, the “judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is about to put, is performing or has accomplished” [33] . The person must never act against the judgment of his conscience – which must be properly formed, with responsibility and with all the necessary aid. On his part, it would allow him to act against what he believes to be the need for good and, therefore, ultimately, God’s will [34] . Because it is God who speaks to us in that “most secret and sacred shrine of man, where he is alone with God” [35]. And, to the moral duty of never acting against the judgment of one’s conscience – even when it is invincibly erroneous – corresponds the right of the person to never be forced by anyone to act against his conscience, especially in religious matters. The civil authorities have a correlative duty to respect and enforce this fundamental right within the right limits of the common good. (#40)

There is no lack, to be in the context of the Roman Empire, of attesting to Christian resistance in the face of the persecutory interpretations of religio civilis and the imposition of the cult of the emperor [60] . The emperor’s religious cult appears as a true alternative religion to the Christological faith – which represents the only authentic incarnation of the lordship of God – imposed by violence by political power [61] . (#59)

A “state theocracy”, as well as a “state atheism”, which claim, in different ways, to impose an ideology of replacing the power of God with power of the State, respectively produce a distortion of religion and a perversion of politics. (#61)

In fact, one of the most striking data, regarding the conflicts that are now the main concern, is the fact that the ruptures and horrors that ignite the outbreaks of a world war “in pieces”[74] , they devastate with sudden fury peaceful cohabitations long experimented and settled over time, and leave behind an endless line of suffering for people and peoples [75] . In today’s troubled context we cannot ignore the concrete effects that migration due to political conflicts or precarious economic conditions entail for the just exercise of religious freedom in the world because migrants move with their religion [76] . (#67)

72. A free and conscious conscience allows us to respect every individual, to encourage the fulfillment of man and to reject a behavior that damages the individual or the common good. The Church expects its members to be able to live their faith freely and for the rights of their conscience to be protected where they respect the rights of others. Living the faith can sometimes require conscientious objection. In fact, civil laws do not oblige in conscience when they contradict natural ethics and therefore the state must recognize people’s right to conscientious objection [81].  (#72)

The Church must examine herself in order to rediscover with ever renewed enthusiasm the way of true adoration of God “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23) and of love “before” (Rev 2: 4). It must open, through this continuous conversion, the access of the Gospel to the intimacy of the human heart, in that point where it seeks – secretly and even unknowingly – the recognition of the true God and of true religion. The Gospel is really capable of unmasking religious manipulation, which produces effects of exclusion, debasement, abandonment and separation among men. (#75)

77. Inter-religious dialogue is fostered by religious freedom, in the search for the common good together with the representatives of other religions. It is a dimension inherent in the mission of the Church [88] . It is not as such the goal of evangelization, but contributes greatly to it; it should therefore not be understood or implemented as an alternative or in contradiction with the mission ad gentes [89] . Dialogue illumines, already in its good disposition to respect and cooperation, that relational form of evangelical love which finds its ineffable principle in the Trinitarian mystery of the life of God [90]. At the same time, the Church recognizes the particular capacity of the spirit of dialogue to intercept – and to nourish – a particularly felt need in the context of today’s democratic civilization [91] . The willingness to dialogue and the promotion of peace are in fact closely linked. Dialogue helps us to orient ourselves in the new complexity of opinions, knowledge and cultures: also, and above all, in matters of religion. (#77)

When, on the other hand, religion becomes a threat to the religious freedom of other men, both in words and in deeds, even reaching violence in the name of God, we cross a border that recalls the energetic denunciation first of all by part of the religious men themselves [97] . Regarding Christianity, its “irrevocable dismissal” from the ambiguity of religious violence can be considered a kairòs in favor of a rethinking of the theme in all religions [98] . (#79)

81. The “martyrdom”, as the supreme non-violent testimony of one’s fidelity to the faith, made the object of specific hatred, intimidation and persecution, is the limit-case of the Christian response to targeted violence towards the evangelical confession of truth and the love of God, introduced in history – mundane and religious – in the name of Jesus Christ. Martyrdom thus becomes the extreme symbol of the freedom to oppose love to violence and peace to conflict. In many cases, the personal determination of the martyr of faith in accepting death has become a seed of religious and human liberation for a multitude of men and women, to the point of obtaining liberation from violence and overcoming hatred. The history of Christian evangelization attests it, also through the initiation of processes and social changes of universal scope. These witnesses to the faith are just cause for admiration and following from the believers, but also of respect on the part of all men and women who care about freedom, dignity and peace among peoples. The martyrs resisted the pressure of retaliation, annulling the spirit of revenge and violence with the power of forgiveness, love and brotherhood [99] . In this way, they have made evident for all the greatness of religious freedom as the seed of a culture of freedom and justice. (#81)

82. Sometimes, people are not killed in the name of their religious practice and yet they must suffer profoundly offensive attitudes, which keep them on the margins of social life: exclusion from public offices, indiscriminate prohibition of their religious symbols, exclusion from certain economic benefits and social …, in what is called “white martyrdom” as an example of confession of faith [100]. This testimony still provides proof of itself in many parts of the world: it must not be attenuated, as if it were a simple side effect of conflicts for ethnic supremacy or for the conquest of power. The splendor of this testimony must be well understood and well interpreted. It instructs us on the authentic good of religious freedom in the clearest and most effective way. Christian martyrdom shows everyone what happens when the religious freedom of the innocent is opposed and killed: martyrdom is the testimony of a faith that remains faithful to itself by refusing to revenge itself and kill itself to the last. In this sense the martyr of the Christian faith has nothing to do with the suicidal-homicide in the name of God. (#82)


Religious Freedom Denied to Catholics in Kings Bay Case

Catholic anti-nuclear witnesses, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, April 4, 2018, prior to entering the naval base in Kings Bay, Georgia.

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 defendants received word Friday evening that Magistrate Cheesbro of the Southern District Court of Georgia, recommended that their motions to dismiss the charges including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act argument be denied.

The seven defendants, all Catholics, had testified with expert witnesses during their November 2018 evidentiary hearings and have waited fourteen weeks for the decision. There is still no trial date set but it is expected to be in two or three months in Brunswick, GA.

Their statement follows:

Elizabeth McAlister, 78 years.

“On April 4, 2018, we went onto the Kings Bay naval base, the largest nuclear submarine base in the world, to make real the prophet Isaiah’s command to beat swords into plowshares. We were charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor which carry a maximum penalty of over 20 years in prison.

We immediately filed motions to dismiss the charges. We argued in detail that all nuclear weapons are both immoral and illegal. The commandment Thou Shall Not Kill applies to us individually and to our government.

On April 26, 2019, U.S. Magistrate Benjamin Cheesbro issued an 80 page report recommending our motions to dismiss be denied. We now have 30 days to appeal his decision to US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood.

In response to our use of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense, the court found our cause is a legitimately religious one and that our faith is sincere. Magistrate Cheesbro concluded, however, that imprisoning us for up to 20 years is not a coercive response to our faith-based actions, but that even if it is, such imprisonment is the government’s least coercive response. Obviously all of us and thousands more have been praying and protesting outside of military bases. We think when the government is prepared to launch weapons which can destroy all life on earth, we must do more.

We are already working on our appeal and look forward to appearing before Judge Wood.

We realize the struggle to rid the world of nuclear weapons is an uphill one. We look forward to continuing to live our lives in a quest for peace and justice.”

Please sign the Global Petition to get all charges dropped and share it to your friends and contacts: https://www.kingsbayplowshares7.org/global-petition .

Hristos voskrese! Christ is Risen!

This is the night … The fire is blessed. The paschal candle is lit (despite gusts of wind and an overzealous candle snuffer). The ancient story of beginnings, enslavement, freedom, death, and resurrection has been told. In the dark night of the Easter Vigil, George from Pittsburgh said to me in old Church Slavonic: Hristos voskrese! (“Christ is risen”). The proper response is: Voistina voskrese (“He is risen, indeed!”).

There nothing quite like the Easter vigil. Happy Easter.

Add red cabbage, vinegar, kosher salt, water and fire. Wait 12 hours. Voila!

Good Friday: The Messiah After the Crucifixion

Remnant of a 1497 Riemenschneider crucifix that hung in front of the altar of the Würzburg Cathedral until the building—and most of the city—was destroyed by fire in 1945. The 150-
year-old cast, probably made for a museum by the sculptor Andreas Halbig.

The Messiah After the Crucifixion

by Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab

When they brought me down I heard the winds
In long lamentation weaving the leaves of palm-trees,
And footsteps receding far, far away. So the wounds
And the Cross to which I have been nailed all through the afternoon
Have not killed me. I listened: the wail
Traversed the plain between me and the city
Like a hawser tied to a ship
That is sinking into the depths. The cry of grief
Was like a line of light separating morning from night
In the sad winter sky.
Despite its feelings the city fell asleep.

When orange trees and the mulberry are in blossom
When Jaikur spreads out to the limits of fantasy
When it grows green with vegetation whose fragrance sings
Together with the suns that have suckled it with their brilliance
When even its darkness grows green,
Warmth touches my heart and my blood flows into its earth
My heart is the sun when the sun throbs with light
My heart is the earth throbbing with wheat, blossoms and sweet water
My heart is the water; it is the ear of corn
Whose death is resurrection: it lives in him who eats
In the dough that grows round, moulded like a little breast, the breast
of life.
I died by fire: I burned the darkness of my mortal clay, there
remained only the god.
I was the beginning and in the beginning was the poor man
I died so that bread might be eaten in my name,
That they might sow me at the right season.
Many are the lives that I shall live: in every pit
I will become a future, a seed, a generation of men,
In every heart my blood shall flow
A drop of it or more. … —Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab

About the poet: Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab (1926-1964) was an Iraqi poet from Basra. His beautiful long poem excerpted above, “The Messiah after the Crucifixion,” was translated by M.M. Badawi. Al-Sayyab came from a family long involved in Iraq’s political struggles for freedom. In 1941, Al-Sayyab’s own political awareness flowered, following the execution by the British of the leaders of the anti-colonial Rashid Ali Al-Kilani Movement of April-May. This poem may have recalled those public executions. Al-Sayyab pioneered Arabic free verse as a way of breaking the shackles of colonial constructs.

The Cathedral is Not the Church

by Rose Marie Berger

The Notre Dame Cathedral reflected in the sunglasses of a Parisian.

Less than a day after fire destroyed much of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, donations have flooded in to fund the rebuilding of the iconic 850-year-old church and world treasure — including nearly $1 billion just from a handful of France’s financial elites and corporations.

As flames consumed 900-year-old oak latticework on Monday, Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain to the Paris fire brigade, ran into the church to rescue the Blessed Sacrament held in reserve in the tabernacle. Along with others, he formed a human chain to rescue priceless works of art, including the crown of thorns believed to be worn by Jesus.

In our Holy Week pilgrimage to Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday, we can meditate on his crown of thorns and the sacred Eucharist redeemed from ashes.

But we must also look deeper. The magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady in Paris is indeed a monument of living praise in stone, glass, and wood. It sits on the birthplace of Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It rises as a work of art built by human hands to the greater glory of God.

But, glorious as it is, the cathedral is not the church.

The church is not the architecture, artwork, artifacts, or sacred objects. 

The church is the living body of Christ found in the wounded, migrant, friendless, and exhausted who live on the streets of Paris. That is the church that Our Lady, Notre Dame, folds into her cloak.

Only in reaching out to these abandoned ones do we rescue what is most sacred. Only in rebuilding this incarnate church can Notre Dame be restored.

To rebuild Notre Dame requires reweaving France’s communal heart and making a human chain to rescue those lost and left behind.

To rebuild Notre Dame calls for a social and spiritual project that even the most secular French can support.

Makeshift refugee camp near the Stalingrad metro station in Paris, France.

Can the wealthy of the world support a Notre Dame project that starts in each French neighborhood, each European neighborhood, each American neighborhood? Can each neighborhood commit to providing housing, healthcare, and friendship to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers living on the streets, living under threat of legal persecution?

Remember, the church is not the building.

For each dollar donated to raise Notre Dame once again, let 2 dollars be donated to bring the body of Christ into a loving family. 

The new Notre Dame must be both an architectural project and a social process that sparks love for the “other,” treasuring the gifts of the other in our hearts, as Our Lady did (Luke 2:19).

The new Notre Dame – both project and process – must make it easier for the overfed to have a meal with the underfed, for the stressed and overpaid to rest with the exhausted and overworked, for the children of wealth and the children of poverty to plant vegetables together and play in a fountain and fly kites. The new Notre Dame must have open green spaces where the Earth and Creation can sprout forth.

Remember, the church is not the building. 

The church is the people of God – believers and nonbelievers, French and foreign, housed and homeless, artisans and CEOs – working together to rebuild France’s communal life.

We will know that Notre Dame is rebuilt when there is housing for the more than 16,000 people, primarily war and economic refugees, living in 497 informal settlements in France. One third of whom are located in Greater Paris.

Out of these ashes a new magnificent cathedral can be built that truly reflects the glory of God.–Rose Marie Berger

Rose Marie Berger, author of Bending the Arch: Poems, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.

Richard Rohr: Jesus’ Death

Deposition from the Cross by Bosnian artist Safet Zec (2015).
“The deep-time message of Jesus’ death is presented through a confluence of three healing images from his own Hebrew Scriptures: the scapegoat whom we talked about on Sunday; the Passover lamb which is the innocent victim (Exodus 12); the “Lifted-Up One” or the homeopathic curing of the victim (Numbers 21:6-9) who becomes the problem to reveal the problem.

The victim state has been the plight of most people who have ever lived on this earth, so in all three cases we see Jesus identifying with humanity at its most critical and vulnerable level. It is God in solidarity with the pain of the world, it seems, much more than God the omnipotent who, with a flick of the hand, overcomes all pain. But Jesus walks the victim journey in an extraordinary way.  He neither plays the victim card himself for his own aggrandizement, nor does he victimize anybody else, even his murderers. He forgives them all.

In the Hebrew tradition, the Passover lamb was a perfect, unblemished sheep or goat that apparently lived in the family home for four days before it was sacrificed (Exodus 12:1-8). That’s just long enough for the children to fall in love with the lamb. What could this symbolize? I personally think it is an image of the first (false) self that is thought of as good, adequate, and even innocent. It is who I think I am before I do any shadow work and see my own dark sides. It is when religion stops at the “cleaning up” stage and never gets to “growing up,” “waking up,” or “showing up” for others. Only when we let go of our attachment to any good, superior, or innocent identity do we begin to grow up spiritually.
Continue reading “Richard Rohr: Jesus’ Death”

Review: Bending the Arch in Franklin Nebraska Chronicle

Bending the Arch is an epic poem about settling the West from the view of native peoples. Several pages are devoted to Rose Marie Berger’s Sullivan/Gingrich ancestors who settled near Riverton, Neb. Many individuals are familiar with the Gingrich and Sullivan names around the Riverton area. Some of the Gingrich family members homesteaded in Smith County, Kan., while others settled in the Riverton area, farming south of Riverton for approximately 60 years. …

She enjoys writing, which she says helps her organize her thoughts. “I want to live intentionally. To do that I need to reflect on my life–and for me that means writing about it What’s happening in my neighborhood? Who are the people involved? Why do they do what they do? What are the larger social or economic forces at play? Or in the case of writing the poetry in Bending the Arch, the questions were: Who were my immigrant pioneer ancestors? how did they arrive in Riverton, Neb.? What was the land like when they first laid eyes on it? Who was already living there? Did they displace anyone to farm the land? What did they suffer? … These kinds of questions help me think more deeply about who I am today, what traits I’ve inherited, and how am I using those traits and my heritage to build strong communities?”

She wants readers to explore more on their own with the hope that the [book’s] end notes will encourage readers to dig into the suppressed historical narratives in their own families and regions. …”–Evone Naden, Editor, Franklin County (NE) Chronicle (20 March 2019)

Lenten Meditation on Chelsea Manning

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tom Nicholson/LNP/REX/Shutterstock (9907709c) American whistleblower Chelsea Manning poses for photos ahead of a public talk as guest of honour at the Institute of Contemporary Arts annual dinner. Chelsea Manning at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, UK – 01 Oct 2018

Since March 8th, Chelsea Manning has been re-incarcerated in Arlington, Va., after refusing to testify before a grand jury convened for unknown reasons, but likely related “to her 2010 disclosures of information about the nature of asymmetric warfare to the public.” She’s been held in solitary confinement for more than a month.

Today’s arrest of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange in London, after 7 years in protected asylum at the Embassy of Ecuador, will bring greater pressure and scrutiny on Manning. Many believe the grand jury wants her testimony against Assange in order to strengthen the U.S. government’s case to extradite Assange to the U.S., where he faces initial conspiracy charges but potential death penalty if found guilty under the Espionage Act.

Manning, 32, is a former U.S. Army soldier who was court martialed in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses, after disclosing to WikiLeaks nearly 750,000 classified and unclassifed but sensitive military and diplomatic documents, which gave evidence of U.S. war crimes. She was imprisoned between 2010 and 2017, much of it in solitary confinement.

Despite not being charged with or even accused of any crime, she could be held for up to 18 months for her refusal to offer further testimony than what she gave in a military court in. For more information on Chelsea Manning’s incarceration and to donate to her legal defense go to: https://xychelsea.is/

Chelsea Manning is a prisoner of conscience that the religious community must defend, protect, and pray for. As one theologian said to me, “She is the Mary Magdalene of our time.” Our traditional pieties make some of us uncertain whether we should stand with a young transgender woman with no obvious religious leanings. We don’t want to look at her. We find Julian Assange distasteful. We don’t know if he’s a “good guy” or not. We find them all guilty by association. Should Chelsea be our hero? Does she deserve our support?

Yes. Chelsea Manning is defending truth and freedom with her life and body. Below is a stunning “open letter to Chelsea Manning” from Edward Curtain offering a Lenten meditation. Today, the trial of truth is enacted before our very eyes. Where will we place ourselves in the story?–Rose Berger

An Open Letter to Chelsea Manning: A Free Woman in An American Jail

April 4, 2019

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity.”– Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam.” Riverside Church, April 4, 1967

Dear Chelsea,

Do not lose heart, for as a prisoner of conscience, your inspirational witness sustains so many of your less free brothers and sisters on the outside.  Our hearts and hands reach out to you with love and thanksgiving.  Your courage is contagious, or so I hope, for it resonates in the soul of every person who senses the meaning of the power of individual conscience to oppose state violence and the beauty of those who will not betray a comrade, who will not deliver the Judas kiss demanded by the killers, as you will not betray your brave brother, Julian Assange, also held under lock and key for the “crime” of revealing the truth.

You remind me of another young woman from long ago and far away whose bravery in the face of radical evil is celebrated today as a sign of hope in dark times.  She is Sophie Scholl, the young German college student who, like you, was arrested for releasing documents exposing state atrocities, who, like you, was prompted by a higher power, by her conscience, who, like you, was arrested for releasing documents exposing such crimes against humanity, in her case those of Hitler.

Little seems to change over the years, doesn’t it?  The killers go on killing, from Golgotha in ancient Jerusalem to Hitler’s Germany to Vietnam and Iraq and on to Palestine and Syria today.  Why bother with the list.  History is a litany of bloodbaths.  Where does it all go, this blood?  Does the good earth soak it up?

But in all the darkness, certain lonely voices of resistance have kept the lighted chain of faith alive.  You stand in that line, a living embodiment of a faithful non-violent warrior.  So does Julian.

I am writing this epistle to you on 4 April, the day in 1967 that our brother Dr. Martin Luther King stood tall in the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City and followed his conscience by breaking with those who urged him to ignore the truth eating at his soul.  The truth that he must not remain silent about the U.S. obscene war against Vietnam.  “A time comes when silence is betrayal,” he said.  Then he added:

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world… This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers…. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring…. When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another (Yes), for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. . . . If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

Chelsea, you have heeded Dr. King’s message and you have put to shame those of us who profess faith in “the living God” that informed Martin’s call for a non-violent revolution.

You, like Sophie and Julian, have released documents that tell the truth about the savage actions of our government.

You have suffered for us many times over.  You have stood strong and tall, like Jesus in front of Pilate, and you have shown the road we must all travel out of the darkness that threatens to consume us.

You have shown us by your actions “that silence is betrayal” when it comes to one’s government’s immoral and illegal actions.

And you have shown us by your sacred silence in Caesar’s court that is a U.S. grand jury, that your conscience will never allow you to betray another truth-teller.

You are, Chelsea, the embodiment of faith, hope, and courage.

You are America’s conscience.

While you are in prison, none of us is free.

We demand your freedom and that of brother Assange.

Here is a song of love to boost your spirits.  I hope you can hear it.  Maybe I send it to boost my own,  to help me carry on as you have done.  Maybe it will help us all.

You keep teaching us what it means to be free and walk in faith.

Blessings for carrying it on.[]

Edward Curtain teaches sociology and religion in modern society at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adam, Mass.

Vatican City: Faith leaders, peace practitioners deepen Church’s commitment to nonviolence and just peace


6 April 2019

Vatican City – On 4-5 April, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and Pax Christi International’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative organised a workshop on the theme, “Path of Nonviolence: Towards a Culture of Peace.”

With a consideration and understanding of current situations of conflict and violence, participants engaged in dialogue about the roots of violence, the hope for peace and reconciliation, and reflected on paths to a conversion to nonviolence. They noted that nonviolence is not only a method but a way of life, a way to protect and care for the conditions of life for today and tomorrow.

“Our conversations on nonviolence and peace filled our hearts and minds with a consideration of the dignity of each person – young people, women and men, people who are impoverished, citizens and leaders,” said Mons. Bruno Marie Duffé, Secretary of the Dicastery. “Nonviolence and peace call us to a conversion to receive and to give, to gather and to hope.”

Robert McElroy (Archbishop of San Diego), Rose Berger (Sojourners), Mary Yelenick (Pax Christi International), Valerie Flessati (Pax Christi UK), Emmanuel Katongole (Notre Dame)

“Pax Christi International deeply appreciates the support and participation of the Dicastery in this workshop, which has been a significant and positive step in the work of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative,” said Marie Dennis, Co-president of Pax Christi International. “We are touched by the interventions from all the participants, who reiterated the importance of nonviolence rooted in respect, patience and spiritual strength.”

Workshop participants hailed from Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Brazil, Canada, the United States, Uganda, Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Fiji, South Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Palestine, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, and included Bishops, Archbishops, peace practitioners, theologians, social scientists, educators and those in pastoral ministry. In addition, the Dicastery’s Prefect Cardinal Peter Turkson (Ghana) was present, as was Cardinal Joseph Tobin (Newark, New Jersey, USA).

Rose Berger (Sojourners) and Peter Chong (Archbishop of Oceania) at Vatican consultation on Catholic nonviolence and just peace (April 2019)

Participants will continue their dialogue and research; their reflections will be shared with the Holy Father, with the hope for a possible encyclical that will address these issues and challenges and will promote nonviolent initiatives as a way for mediation, rights, hope and love.

“We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace that is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skills.” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Gaudate et Exultate, 19 March 2018)


Photos from the conference:


For more information, contact:

  • Johnny Zokovitch, Senior Communications Officer, Pax Christi International, [email protected]
  • Judy Coode, Catholic Nonviolence Initiative coordinator, Pax Christi International, [email protected]
  • Pamela Fabiano, Press and Media Office, Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, [email protected]

“Flood Stage” in American Midwest

Nebraska flooding, Spring 2019

An excerpt from “Confessions of a Westward Expansionist” in Bending the Arch (Wipf & Stock, 2019) by Rose Marie Berger


From the plane I see
acres green with corn
hay rolls full of foam
soy swirling and swaying
the tassels poke skyward
from an ancient interior sea

Before the last glacial maximum
when people were thin on the ground

The planet was in drought
and sea levels fell to expose the plains

The great ice sheets
began to melt

are the people

who came after
the ice

Can you hear
the American Midwest
inhaling, exhaling?

Do you desire to enter into life
the baptismal question
to have life in all its abundance?

Earth lodge to sod house to condominium
in less than a hundred years
less than the span
of three generations

–Rose Marie Berger

An excerpt from “Confessions of a Westward Expansionist” in Bending the Arch (Wipf & Stock, 2019) by Rose Marie Berger