It’s been a busy summer! Below is an update on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, a project I’ve been deeply involved in. Amid the chaotic violence in our own country and around the world, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to contribute toward building positive peace–and grateful to Sojourners for supporting me in it!
Keep the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative — and Pope Francis and Cardinal Turkson — in your prayers. (Also here’s the “offering basket” in case you want to contribute. This is, of course, an unfunded global project currently supported by voluntary labor and the barter system!)–Rose
September 2017 — The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI) is focused on promoting a renewed commitment to Gospel nonviolence at the heart of the Church, including the possibility of a new official teaching on nonviolence.
One part of our work toward this goal is to research and elaborate on the theological, scriptural, ecclesial and practical components of nonviolence. In order to do this, we have organized five “roundtables” each of which includes between 7-20 participants from around the world. Each roundtable, addressing a particular topic, ultimately will produce a well-curated document by the end of 2018; hopefully at that time, representatives from each group will meet for a second conference on nonviolence and just peace.
We’re humbled by the number of theologians and peace practitioners who have agreed to participate in these roundtables – all five groups have now started their work via online conversations.
1) Toward a foundational theology of nonviolence: This roundtable process will research, map and elaborate a comprehensive theology of nonviolence as a foundational basis for the Church’s re-commitment to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence. Co-conveners: Ken Butigan (CNI executive committee; DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA), Jose Henriquez (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland) and Maria Clara Bingemer (Pontifícia Universidade Católica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
2) The biblical foundations of nonviolence, including its centrality to the life and mission of Jesus: This roundtable process will illuminate the biblical roots of active nonviolence and the Gospel nonviolence at the core of Jesus’ life, mission, and way, and thus at the core of the life, mission, and way of the Church. Co-conveners: Sr. Teresia Wamuyu Wachira (CNI executive committee; St. Paul University, Nairobi, Kenya) and Terrence Rynne (Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, USA).
3) Nonviolence and Just Peace: A new moral framework for Catholic theology in the context of a violent world: This roundtable process will research and frame a new moral framework rooted in Gospel nonviolence in response to the violence and injustice of our time. Co-conveners: Marie Dennis (CNI executive committee; Pax Christi International, Washington, DC, USA) and John Ashworth (adviser to South Sudan Catholic Bishops, Nairobi, Kenya).
4) Integrating Gospel nonviolence at every level of the Church: This roundtable process will imagine and elaborate concrete ways Gospel nonviolence can be explicitly integrated into the life of the Church. Co-conveners: Gerry Lee (CNI executive committee; Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Washington, DC, USA), Fr. Boniface Mendes (former director of Federation of Asian Bishop Conferences Human Rights Office and member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pakistan) and Fr. Felix Mushobozi (Union of International Superiors General Justice & Peace, Integrity of Creation Commission, Rome, Italy).
5) The power of nonviolence: Concrete experience, principles, methods, and effectiveness – Past, present, and envisioned future: This roundtable will comprehensively profile active nonviolence—its dynamics, its impact, its history, its contemporary applications, and a series of concrete examples—and frame how it can be spread and applied globally to respond to the monumental challenges of our time. Co-conveners: Pat Gaffney (CNI executive committee; Pax Christi British section, London, UK) and Rose Berger (Sojourners, Washington, DC, USA).
“The reasons for moving made sense – closeness to family and new work, but my heart had not consented.”
(5 minute video)
I’m so grateful for the moments I’ve spent with Maria Teresa Gaston and her son, Martin (former Sojourners intern). And so proud that Maria Teresa participated in the Catholic Women Preach video series.–Rose
FIRST READING: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12
PSALM: Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
SECOND READING: Rom 8:28-30
GOSPEL: Mt 13:44-52
Maria Teresa is an organizational psychologist and ICA certified ToP facilitator specializing in facilitation of collaborative discernment and decision-making. She received a BA in theology from Marquette University, an MA in Hispanic/Latinx theology and ministry through Barry University, and an MA/PhD in industrial/organizational psychology from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Maria Teresa served for many years in social ministry in Immokalee, Florida and at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She and her spouse, John Witchger, have three sons Felipe, Martin, and Luke and two grandchildren, Micaela and Theo. Maria Teresa lives in Durham, North Carolina where she directs Foundations of Christian Leadership, a formation program for Christian social innovators through Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School.
Catholics and others around the U.S. have an opportunity in May to write to their local Catholic bishop to encourage them to teach and preach on active gospel nonviolence. This is part of the global outreach offered by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative to support the Catholic Church in re-centering Gospel nonviolence in Catholic life and faith.
Social concerns committees, diocesan social justice directors, youth groups, and individuals can host letter-writing events in May at churches, coffee hours, prayer groups, and other key gatherings.
Write the bishop of your diocese in May. (And you don’t have to be Catholic to join in. See bottom of post.)
Instruments of Reconciliation: A National Campaign to Amplify Active Nonviolence in the U.S. Catholic Church
Three suggested dates below in the month of May have been chosen in the United States to ask Catholics and other concerned Christians to share their hope for greater teaching and commitment to active nonviolence with their local bishop and invite him to affirm active nonviolence as the “nucleus of the Christian revolution” by:
1: Sharing and speaking about Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message broadly within their diocese, seminaries, and other ministries
2: Concretely committing to an initiative to scale-up practices of active nonviolence within his diocese.
As Pope Benedict wrote, “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution.’”
We want to support our Bishops in their efforts, like Pope Francis, who pledged the assistance of the church in “every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.”
Some dioceses – such as the Archdiocese of Chicago – are already experimenting with a commitment to a culture of nonviolence and practical steps to greater active nonviolence to address tensions and crime within the diocese. Pope Francis wrote them a letter of encouragement.
May 3 is the anniversary of The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response (1983), the Bishop’s pastoral letter.
May 8 is the birthday for Daniel Berrigan (b. 1921) and Sophie Scholl (b. 1921).
May 20 is the Feast of Austrian conscientious objector and martyr Franz Jagerstatter who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.
What if I’m not Catholic and I want to participate? Thank you! The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative welcomes support from all people of good conscience who want to see greater teaching from the Catholic Church on effective and active Gospel nonviolence.
You do not need to be Catholic to ask you local Catholic bishop for greater teaching on this. Search for your Catholic diocese’s web site to find the address of the local Catholic bishop.
Washington D.C., Senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine
Marching in Washington D.C. with Sojourners, Swamp Revolt, and members of the U.S. faith community
What is your faith background and what role did it play in your decision to join the march?
I am a Roman Catholic lay woman. My faith has motivated me to stand in solidarity with those who have been targeted by President Trump and his administration. Pope Francis said that the “life of a Christian ought to be courageous.” He warned Christians not to be “parked Christians,” who have found the church lot and then just safely stay there waiting for the end. I’m trying to be a courageous Catholic.
What is it about Trump that concerns you the most?
My neighbors in Washington D.C. who are immigrants tell me they are very afraid. They are harassed in the grocery store, in the taxi, on the bus. Our churches are organizing in immigrant communities in anticipation of increased ICE raids and the repeal of the DACA/DAPA executive action. I’m very concerned about what will happen to police accountability, training, and oversight under a new director of the Department of Justice. And I don’t want my nieces and nephews to learn behavior from a president who insults, bullies, harasses, and is vindictive.
“Mary Magdalene’s official recognition as an apostle, chosen by Jesus, affirms women’s rightful capacity to act “in persona Christi,” and restores her, often maligned, legacy as someone instrumental to our faith and equal to her male counterparts.
Claims of male clerical superiority based on a physical resemblance to Jesus have never convinced nor served the wider Church.
WOW calls on the Church to rid itself of the sin of sexism and model unconditional equality by opening up all ministries to Catholic women who have the talent and vocation to serve their communities as St. Mary Magdalene did.
WOW also celebrates its 20th anniversary in July and will hold their annual gathering in Krakow ahead of Pope Francis’ visit for World Youth Day. During the past 20 years of campaigning, WOW has worked to challenge all remaining arguments against women’s ordination. The official recognition of Mary Magdalene’s role makes an exclusively male leadership model impossible to uphold and strengthens the case for gender justice.
We are calling on Pope Francis to recognize that a “discipleship of equals” and renewed church will only be possible when women are accepted as equals and are able to participate alongside men.”
I’m in Rome this week for the first Catholic conference on Nonviolence and Just Peace co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace. Here’s a first installment about my adventures. (If you want to skip down to the bottom you’ll find links to the pope’s letter to the gathering and Cardinal Turkson’s address to the gathering.)
Arrived in Rome on Sunday morning and to the Church Village center about 1p. Last night a few of us went to St. Peter’s for Mass. It was overwhelming to be there and see the stunning artwork inside, listen to the choir, hear the Mass in Italian, and give thanks with the homily that the great strength of the church is love. (Now, we just need to live that out!) Marie Dennis (co-president of Pax Christi International) and I walked through the Jubilee Doors opened by Pope Francis for this year of focusing on Mercy. Apparently, walking through this door also conveys “indulgences” (which I don’t think the Church believes in anymore). So whatever indulgences I gained (is there an app tracker for that?) I immediately spent in a small act of ecclesial disobedience. In attending communion I held out my hands to receive the host from the priest (as is the custom in the U.S. and accepted worldwide practice I believe for at least 40 years). He refused to offer me the host in my hands. After some “exchange” (ahem) that caused the usher to come forward and indicate I should hurry up, I accepted the host on the tongue. This seemed preferable to having the host become the object of a tug-of-war, especially since I’m here for a conference on nonviolence. However, the entire exchange serves as parable for me. At the Catholics highest point of sacrifice and peace, we are still fighting over rules and power. I’m as guilty of that as he is. After receiving the host, I said “peace be with you” to the priest. May God bless his soul. And mine too.–Rose Marie Berger
The basic premise is that the ultimate and most deeply worthy goal of human beings and of the human community is the abolition of war. In this vein, we recall that the only explicit condemnation issued by the Second Vatican Council was against war, although the Council recognized that, since war has not been eradicated from the human condition, “governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defence once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted.”
Another cornerstone is to recognize that “conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced.” Of course, the purpose is not to remain trapped within a framework of conflict, thus losing our overall perspective and our sense of the profound unity of reality. Rather, we must accept and tackle conflict so as to resolve it and transform it into a link in that new process which “peacemakers” initiate.
Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle while others have to make do as they can. Demands involving the distribution of wealth, concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed under the guise of creating a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority. The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised. (§218)
The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, apologized to Catholics on behalf of priests during the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu City in January 2016.
“Brothers and sisters, our parishioners, forgive us, your lost shepherds, and beg God to show us his mercy … Before you come to us, your pastors and priests and bishops, to confess your sins and seek pardon, brothers and sisters, Catholic laity, please give us your pardon and forgiveness, too, for our sins against you. [And he went on to list]:
Forgive us for homily abuse, or the practice of delivering long, winding, repetitious, irrelevant, unprepared homilies during the Mass. Forgive us for our long homilies and rushed liturgies. All sin is pride. Forgive us for allowing the glitter of gold to dim the glow of the sacred host. Forgive us for getting stuck in dusty, dogmatic formulas, and snuffing out the spirit of renewal. Forgive us for using un-Christlike means to spread the Gospel of love and mercy. Forgive us for our stingy encouragement and hasty prejudices. Forgive us for allowing the Church to age and playing deaf to the joy of the youth and the children. Forgive us for the delivering hindrances instead of being helpful. Pride, it’s the root of all sins.”
“All across the world, plants and flowers, trees and flags, mementoes and framed photographs stand on quiet graves to mark that communion of life that one generation feels with another. Our souls stretch always forward, yes, but our hearts stretch always back. The chain of life never breaks, the shape of soul never strains beyond what formed us, what filled us with life in the first place.
We are bound to one another, each generation a link in the chain, each generation a standard for one to come. The people over whose graves we weep are not simply people we have known or who, though strangers, have had the decency to disappear from an earth already overcrowded. No, we cry tears of loss only for those whose lives touched our own and made them better. We cry both for parents and for politicians, for friends and for public figures, for anyone who has lived out “the communion of saints,” the Eucharist of humankind, the Christening of life and made it real in our own time, in our own neighborhoods, in our own world. We weep for those whose faith has formed our own.
When we visit the graves and say the memorial prayers and tell the family stories over the bodies of the dead, we tell of the Christ we saw in them. We remember how it looked in them. We know in them what it is like to be driven by the consuming power of God, to be totally oriented toward God. The communion of saints stands before us, stark witness to the holiness of God, reminding us always to leave behind us for those yet to come a searing memory of the same.”–Joan Chittister, OSB