Choosing Peace: The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence

I’m pleased to introduce you to Choosing Peace: The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence (edited by Marie Dennis) that includes a chapter by me on Catholic Just Peace Practice, based on the paper that I wrote for the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative gathering in Rome in 2016. Others included here are: South Africa’s bishop Kevin Dowling, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Maria Stephan, Terrence Rynne, Ken Butigan and John Dear, with the guiding voice and direction of Marie Dennis. It includes the voices of many more within the chapters, reflecting a worldwide conversation happening within the Catholic Church on the centrality of gospel nonviolence. This is the first major release of the work that the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is stewarding and curating across the Church, especially in the majority world where Catholics are most numerous.

Action steps for Choosing Peace:

  1. Order bulk copies of Choosing Peace from Orbis, so they know this is a popular title and ask your local bookstore to carry it.
  2. Send a copy of Choosing Peace to the Catholic bishop in your area. Even if you are not Catholic, you can look up the Catholic bishop in your area and send him a letter along with the book asking for him to offer leadership in the area of gospel nonviolence. Tell him that you appreciate that he is a moral leader in your area and you respectfully ask that he give this book and its message prayerful consideration.
  3. Order Choosing Peace for your book group! There’s lots in this book that addresses current conversations in the Catholic Church related to the leadership of Pope Francis. But it’s also useful reading for groups committed to Christian nonviolence. It raises provocative questions and opens up a little know history on Christians and peace. (See Nonviolent Fight Club for more on the provocative discussion!)

It takes a movement to respond to the Holy Spirit’s charge to turn away from violence. Be part of the movement!

 

The Vatican conference call for Just Peace theology gave Dan Berrigan a hopeful departure.

13178780_10153734982017424_1318317997219966761_nAt Dan Berrigan’s funeral celebration on Friday, homilist Steve Kelly recalled Dan and Phil Berrigan as as men who lived the Resurrection and challenged religious leaders to know “bomb-blessing has no place in Jesus’ self-giving.” He said that the Church called the Berrigans many things, but now he suggested they should be called “doctors of the church.”

Many are registering the connection between the watershed conference hosted by the Vatican and Pax Christi International last month calling for the church to develop a robust theology and praxis of active gospel nonviolence and the death and resurrection of Dan Berrigan. Below is an excerpt of a great piece by William Slavick in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald on Berrigan and the Nonviolence conference.

Jesus and his followers were peaceful, practiced love of neighbor, and for three centuries rejected violence, choosing martyrdom over engaging in violence.

The link with Constantine’s empire resulted in contradictory loyalties. Many Christians retreated to the desert; most shelved the Sermon on the Mount and served Caesar. Augustine employed Cicero and contemporary philosophy to fashion norms for just war and war conduct, expanded and refined by Aquinas and Spanish scholastics: Force may be necessary for “the tranquility of order.”

Save for large medieval peace marches, the post-Reformation peace churches, and Catholic Worker movement pacifism, Gospel nonviolence disappeared. Just war norms were ignored more often than respected, i.e., the Crusades and World War I. Yet, in 1957 Pope Pius XII said that Catholics could not be conscientious objectors. But many Christians remained uncomfortable killing those they supposedly loved.

Europe’s post-World War II recognition of the futility of war, John XXIII’s challenge of modern warfare, Vatican II’s embrace of primacy of conscience, and wide disapproval of the Vietnam carnage all challenged war as a means of conflict resolution. John Paul II embraced just war but never found one he could approve. Nowadays, wars have deceitful justifications and predominantly civilian casualties.

Dan Berrigan, who burned draft records to protest the Vietnam intervention and engaged in numerous acts of resistance to war leading to jail time and who died Saturday, argued that the Gospel calls us to be faithful, however remote the prospect of results. The U.S. Bishops’ 1985 pastoral, “The Challenge of Peace,” rejected nuclear weapons and legitimized Gospel nonviolence as an alternative theology to just war theory.

Read Slavick’s whole commentary.

Podcast: Rethinking Just War with Fr. Claude Mostowik

Fr. Claude Mostowik, Pax Christi Australia with Rose in Rome 2016.
Fr. Claude Mostowik, Pax Christi Australia with Rose in Rome 2016.

At the Vatican conference on Just Peace, held in April, I was so pleased to meet Fr. Claude (left), a leader in Catholic social justice movements in Australia-Oceania. He has a delightful artistic eye and brought a stunning image of the Aboriginal Christ by Richard Campbell into our gathering.

Fr. Claude is working with Asylum seekers in Australia who are living in brutal conditions under the anti-immigrant policies of the government. On the eve of ANZAC day, an event marking Australian and New Zealanders involved in military action in World War I, Fr. Claude participated in a discussion on national radio about how we can “rethink just war.” See more below and listen to the podcast.

Last week amidst the news of the Pope’s latest message on the family, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International hosted a conference titled “Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence.”

The three day encounter brought together some 80 theologians and peace activists from many conflict zones, including Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Colombia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

The goal of the conference was to explore ways in which their positive experiences of non-violent activism can shape theological thinking and Catholic teaching in schools, universities, seminaries and parishes, moving away from ‘Just War’ towards the concept of a ‘Just Peace’.

In a message sent to the meeting Pope Francis praised the initiative of “revitalising the tools of nonviolence”.

Around the world it raised headlines suggesting that the Catholic Church was moving to shift ground on one of it’s most venerable teachings, the Just War Doctrine.

So on this eve of ANZAC day, marking Australians participation in the War to End Wars, we are taking a look at just what sort of new thinking may be on the horizon.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

Ryan Hammill: Could Pope Francis Be Ready to Throw Out Just War Theory?

Cardinal Turkson celebrates Mass at Just Peace conference in Rome, April 2016 (Pax Christi International)
Cardinal Turkson celebrates Mass at Just Peace conference in Rome, April 2016 (Pax Christi International)

A shout out to Ryan Hammill who wrote a great post Could Pope Francis Be Ready to Throw Out Just War Theory? following up on the Catholics, Nonviolence, and Just Peace conference in Rome in April. Below are some of the quotes he included from me. Check here for more media round up on the conference.

But Rose Marie Berger, who wrote one of the background papers for the conference (and serves as an editor for Sojourners) remarked that the push to move past just war theory originated among people experiencing violence themselves.

“Too often the ‘just war theory’ has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war.”

“At our meeting in Rome in April we heard a clear call from Catholics in the majority world and in situations of extreme conflict that the Church’s teaching on war and peace was not only insufficient to the level of violence they are facing but it was, in some cases, contributing to that violence.”

She said she would welcome an encyclical on peace and nonviolence from Pope Francis.

“The church is thirsting for fresh teaching here and hungering for this conversation,” she said. An encyclical would not only “add to the church’s wisdom,” but also prompt a “world-wide conversation.”

“Pope Francis has made it clear that ‘peace’ is the third pillar of his legacy,” Berger said.

Read Ryan’s whole article.

 

A Parable of Power

Holy DoorsI’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

Pope Francis’ letter to Conference on Nonviolence and Just Peace:

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.[6] In this vein, we recall that the only explicit condemnation issued by the Second Vatican Council was against war,[7] 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.”[8]

Another cornerstone is to recognize that “conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced.”[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

Cardinal Turkson’s opening address to Conference on Nonviolence and Just Peace:

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)

Just War, Just Peace, Just Catholic: A Gathering in Rome

Bandiera_paceHere’s the news. I’m headed to Rome (Italy, not Georgia) on Saturday, for a week to participate in the first-ever Vatican conference on Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence, co-sponsored by Pax Christi International and the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace.

I was asked to contribute a backgrounder paper titled “No Longer Legitimating War: Christians and Just Peace,” which (by the skin of my teeth and lots of help) I did.

I’ll be gathering with other Catholics, mostly from the majority world (and majority church), who live their Catholic faith and practice peace in the midst of civil war and extreme social violence.

Pope Francis has encouraged us to “put reality before ideas.” In the case of this conference, we’ll listen first to the lived experience of Catholics sorting out their salvation in midst of men with guns and then asking what scripture and church tradition has to offer to their experience. Continue reading “Just War, Just Peace, Just Catholic: A Gathering in Rome”