Pope Calls For Nonviolence in 2017 World Day of Peace Message

Pope calls for nonviolence in 2017 World Day of Peace message
U.S. religious leaders respond

Today in his message “Nonviolence: A style of politics for peace,” for the 50th World Day of Peace, celebrated each year on 1 January, Pope Francis urges people everywhere to practice active nonviolence and notes that the “decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results.”

Pope Francis writes: “The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results. The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten. Women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia.

“Nor can we forget the eventful decade that ended with the fall of Communist regimes in Europe. The Christian communities made their own contribution by their insistent prayer and courageous action. Particularly influential were the ministry and teaching of Saint John Paul II. Reflecting on the events of 1989 in his 1991 Encyclical Centesimus Annus, my predecessor highlighted the fact that momentous change in the lives of people, nations and states had come about “by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice”. This peaceful political transition was made possible in part “by the non-violent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth”. Pope John Paul went on to say: “May people learn to fight for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes and war in international ones”.

“The Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries, engaging even the most violent parties in efforts to build a just and lasting peace. Such efforts on behalf of the victims of injustice and violence are not the legacy of the Catholic Church alone, but are typical of many religious traditions, for which “compassion and nonviolence are essential elements pointing to the way of life”. I emphatically reaffirm that “no religion is terrorist”. Violence profanes the name of God. Let us never tire of repeating: “The name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!”

U.S. religious leaders and nonviolence scholars and strategists are beginning to respond to Pope Francis’ message:

“There is no place for violence in a heart at peace and in a world that is just. As Pope Francis said, “Everyone can be an artisan of peace. ” We all can cultivate peace by looking within, committing to a spirituality of active nonviolence, by moving beyond our comfort zones to embrace the suffering of the world, and collaborating with others for a sustained just peace.”—Sister Patty Chappell, SNDdeN, executive director of Pax Christi USA

“In this advent time of waiting for the coming of the one who is peace eternal, we are grateful for the challenge of Pope Francis to commit ourselves to peacebuilding through active Gospel nonviolence. Let us join in solidarity with all who know the injustice of violence, oppression, and poverty to build God’s beloved community.”—Ann Scholz, SSND, Associate Director for Social Mission, Leadership Conference of Women Religious

“With his breathtaking World Day of Peace Message, Pope Francis has broken new ground by calling on people everywhere to unleash the power of active nonviolence as a way of life and as an effective alternative to the scourge of violence. This first official papal document on active nonviolence offers a way forward to build a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.”—Ken Butigan, senior lecturer, DePaul University, Chicago and Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service staff
Continue reading “Pope Calls For Nonviolence in 2017 World Day of Peace Message”

Vatican to Release Report on U.S. Nuns Investigation

7542756After 5 years, the Vatican has announced it will make public the investigation of U.S. Catholic sisters that has so disturbed American Catholics and others around the world.

In 2013, I wrote in Sojourners:

“Even as Pope Francis washed the feet of women on Holy Thursday—a papal first—he reaffirmed in April the highly controversial interrogation and hostile takeover, initiated under his predecessor, of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an organization representing the majority of U.S. Catholic sisters. On Holy Thursday in the juvenile detention center in Rome, Pope Francis explained the important symbolism of the foot washing. ‘It means, “I am at your service,”‘ he said to the youth. What an opportunity the pope has to extend this same gesture to Catholic nuns in the U.S.”

Some say Pope Francis was not properly informed about the unfolding process with U.S. Catholic sisters. Others say his inclination was not to overturn what was started by his predecessor. But all of his public acts indicated that open, positive, respectful conversation with women religious is something he deeply desires and knows that he needs.

Perhaps, in advance of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. next autumn, this tide too is turning. Here’s an excerpt from the Detroit Free Press:

On at least one front, the Vatican’s perceived war against America’s Catholic nuns may have reached a peace settlement.

On Dec. 16 at the Vatican, top Catholic church officials and three American nuns, including one from Michigan, will hold a press conference to publicly reveal the final report of a five-year investigation of congregations of Catholic sisters in the U.S., the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman told the Free Press.

The inquiry of nuns, known as an Apostolic Visitation, sparked a vast outcry by many American Catholics, who viewed it as an attack on the workhorses of the Catholic church, the women who taught and ministered to generations of Catholics and help run parishes and social outreach programs to society’s poor and marginalized.

Rosica, president of Windsor’s Assumption University, said he could not divulge contents of the report, but said it should allay the fears of many Catholic sisters about the investigation.

“It will hopefully be a very positive message for women religious in the United States,” Rosica said Tuesday, after he spoke at Detroit’s Catholic Cristo Rey High School, where he received hundreds of letters from students inviting Pope Francis to visit Detroit in 2015. …

Read the rest of the article here.

Catholic Sisters are Redefining Leadership

TurkeyCartoonBy Rose Marie Berger

A new model of leadership that’s been refined in the fires of change and conflict is emerging from U.S. religious women.

In June, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, along with Solidarity with Sisters, invited 150 people to Catholic University for an opportunity to discuss the model of leadership that has developed in Catholic women’s communities around the world over the last 50 years since Vatican II. The event coincided with the release of Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times, an anthology of 10 addresses given by Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) presidents.

Catholic sisters are emerging as leaders ahead of their times. From Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, and Nuns on the Bus to Catholic Health Association CEO Sister Carol Keehan, DC, who helped pass the Affordable Care Act, to former LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, who practiced authentic spiritual leadership in the face of the Vatican’s ongoing investigation of that organization (an investigation that Pope Francis should have laid quietly to rest, but has not), religious women are getting notice for their thoughtful, faithful leadership in the face of withering criticism and their own communities’ dramatic changes. ….(Sojourners, Sept-Oct 2014)

Read the rest here or subscribe.

Video: The Seven Sisters – Pleiades Dance and LCWR’s New Leadership


Japanese dance troupe Enra combines light, music, and technology in this 4-minute performance art video entitled “Pleiades.”

The dancers are Saya Watatani and Maki Yokoyama. It was directed by Japanese artist Nobuyuki Hanabusa, who also provided the music. This video is the newest in a series that uses the same visual technique.

Now, here’s the important question:

1. Why did the Leadership Conference of Women Religious show this video at their national gathering last week?

2.How does this performance invite us to be followers of Jesus and “children of the light” (John 12:36) today, especially those of us who live in the American Empire?

3. What does this video teach us about the dynamics of leadership and how energy moves to transform?

Send me your responses. See here for more about leadership practices in LCWR communities.

President of LCWR Addresses Global Gathering of Catholic Sisters

florencedeaconIn Rome on May 4, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sr. Florence Deacon, addressed 800 leaders of women religious throughout the world.

“Serious misunderstandings” exist between Vatican officials and Catholic sisters, said the head of the U.S. sisters’ group that was ordered to place itself under the review of bishops.

Deacon’s 20-minute address was LCWR’s most public statement to date of their relations with the Vatican. Women religious around the world are watching closely how the process between the Vatican and LCWR moves forward.

“It’s had a huge impact in Australia,” Mercy Sr. Catherine Ryan from Australia told the National Catholic Reporter. “We watch it very carefully because the LCWR … has huge significance for our lives,” said Ryan. “I don’t see that the religious women in Australia are any different than the religious women in America.”

Here’s an excerpt from Sr. Deacon’s address:

“What this assessment shows is that there is serious misunderstanding between officials of the Vatican and women religious, and the need for prayer, discernment, and deep listening.

We determined that we would do this negotiation outside of the glare of the media and we turned down thousands of requests. We could have been on every news program on every major channel in every part of the world if we would have said yes. Continue reading “President of LCWR Addresses Global Gathering of Catholic Sisters”

Archbishop Sartain on LCWR: ‘Deeply proud of the historic and continuing contribution of women religious’

Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle issued a statement on Saturday, August 11, coinciding with the close of historic gathering of Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Archbishop Sartain has been assigned by the Vatican to “reform” the organization that represents 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the U.S.

I am very pleased to see Archbishop Sartain respond in like manner and tone to that which was offered by the LCWR at the close of their meeting–one of solidarity, intense respect, and a shared desire to move forward in faith.

“The Holy See and the Bishops of the United States are deeply proud of the historic and continuing contribution of women religious to our country through social, pastoral and spiritual ministries; Catholic health care; Catholic education; and many other areas where they reach out to those on the margins of society.

As an association of women religious, the LCWR brings unique gifts to its members and to the Church at large. This uniqueness includes sensitivity to suffering, whether in Latin America or the inner-city; whether in the life of an unborn child or the victim of human trafficking.

Religious women have made a lasting contribution to the wellbeing of our country and continue to do so today. For that they deserve our respect, our support, our thanks and our prayers.

Along with the members of the LCWR, I remain committed to working to address the issues raised by the Doctrinal Assessment in an atmosphere of prayer and respectful dialogue. We must also work toward clearing up any misunderstandings, and I remain truly hopeful that we will work together without compromising Church teaching or the important role of the LCWR. I look forward to our continued discussions as we collaborate in promoting consecrated life in the United States.”

LCWR: ‘Can’t Hold Back The Spring’

Sr. Pat Farrell

The historic meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in St. Louis, MO, is drawing to a close.

Sr. Pat Farrell gave her concluding address as she ends her time of service as LCWR’s president. As the body that represents 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the United States reckons with how to respond to a harsh rebuke by the Vatican, Sr. Pat offered this perspective. This is what religious wisdom looks like:

Taking the stage to a standing ovation, Farrell said that “some larger movement in the church … has landed on LCWR.”

A key question facing LCWR, she said, is “What would a prophetic response to the doctrinal assessment look like?”

“I think it would be humble, but not submissive,” she continued. “Rooted in a solid sense of ourselves, but not self-righteous; truthful, but gentle and absolutely fearless.

“It would ask probing questions. Are we being invited to some appropriate pruning and are we open to it? Is this doctrinal process an expression of concern or an attempt to control?

“Concern is based in love and invites unity. Control through fear and intimidation would be an abuse of power.

“Does the institutional legitimacy of canonical recognition empower us to live prophetically? Does it allow us the freedom to question with informed consciences? Does it really welcome feedback in a church that claims to honor the sensus fildeum?”
Farrell also said that it would be a “mistake” to make “too much” of the mandate.

“We cannot allow it to consume us,” she said. “It is not the first time that a form of religious life has collided with the church, nor will it be the last.”

“The doctrinal assessment suggests that we are not currently living in an ideal ecclesial world,” Farrell continued.

Yet, she said, the sisters also “cannot make too little” of the Vatican’s move. It’s “historical impact,” she said, is “apparent to all of us.”

Ending her remarks with a reflection on the Gospel parable of the mustard seed, Farrell showed an image of mustard plants growing in a field, saying the seed is “uncontainable” and “crops up anywhere without permission.”

Comparing the seed to the spirit of God, she continued: “We can indeed live in joyful hope because there is no political or ecclesiastical herbicide that can wipe out the newness of God’s spirit.”

Ending with a Spanish phrase she said she learned while ministering in Chile during the military dictatorship there, Farrell said: “They can crush a few flowers, but they cannot hold back the springtime.”

As Farrell left the stage, the audience of about 900 stood slowly, clapping for some three minutes and shouting in affirmation. …

Read the whole National Catholic Reporter article.

Also, in St. Louis Beacon: With prayer and iPads, Women Religious consider response to Vatican

Also, in St. Louis Review: LCWR Sisters discuss complexity of dialogue (really nice photos here)

LCWR Has 300 More Guests Than Expected at Annual Gathering

When the Leadership Conference of Women Religious gather for their annual meeting, they are usually about 600. This year, under threat of hostile takeover from the Vatican, more than 900 gathered.

Among those guests are a number of representatives of national and international Catholic institutes, including a number of heads of international federations of religious orders, a representative from the Latin American Confederation of Religious, head of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and more.

On Sunday, after the official ending of the assembly, LCWR’s national board will meet privately. Part of that session, according to LCWR president Pat Farrell, will include a meeting with Archbishop Peter Sartain, one of the “guides” assigned to LCWR, “for the very first conversation that really he’s had with us in any official way” so that “we can communicate with him something of a direction that comes from this group,” said Farrell. Here’s an excerpt from a recent National Catholic Reporter article by Joshua J. McElwee.

The much-anticipated gathering of 900 U.S. Catholic sisters who make up the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) opened here Tuesday night with song, prayer, and references big, small, and in-between to the Vatican’s attempted take-over of the group.

References to the Vatican’s critique of the group, which came in an April 18 announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, came early in the two-hour event, with LCWR president Franciscan Sr. Pat Farrell telling the assembled that “we don’t have to remind you that our gathering this week is an historic time in the life of this organization.”

The opening of the annual assembly of LCWR, which represents some 80 percent of U.S. women religious, also included a welcome by St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson and details about how the group’s members would discern steps forward during the gathering, which continues through Friday night. … — Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter

‘The Struggle Over Women’s Authority Runs Right Through the Body of Christ’

Today, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the U.S. begins a week of contemplative discernment in St. Louis, MO, to “reason together” about how they will respond to the Vatican’s crackdown on their organization and their work.

We have an opportunity to watch two starkly different modes of leadership at work. The Vatican uses a command-control model aimed at maintaining homogeneity and the status quo. The Catholic Sisters communities draw on a more ancient model that develops shared leadership, communal shaping of vision, and is agile enough to address the “signs of the times,” as well as remain resilient amid diversity.

Not only are U.S. Catholic laity watching and praying for the LCWR this week, but so are Catholic orders and laity around the world. Your prayer this week will be greatly appreciated (LCWR prayer)

Below is an excerpt of my latest column in Sojourners magazine, addressing these issues:

The Presumption of Equality by Rose Marie Berger

…These Catholic sisters represent an unbroken, cohesive expression of faith in the history of American Catholicism and in women’s presumption of equality, completeness, and active moral agency both under law and under God—a presumption that is a shining light for women around the world. The sisters might have once shared accolades for faithful servant leadership with their brother priests, bishops, and cardinals, but over the course of nearly 30 years of unfolding pedophilia scandal and blasphemous mob-like cover-up, the laity has learned to look to the sisters alone for examples of Catholic gospel witness and Christian maturity, strength, and just plain grit.

But let’s not sideline this issue as “a Catholic thing.” We don’t get off that easy. The struggle over women’s authority runs right through the denominational diaspora of the body of Christ.

“Christian churches have long been ambivalent about us,” wrote Protestant female theologians in a letter of support to the women of LCWR. “Women’s roles have been embraced in private, not public forums. Women leaders are affirmed as long as they are seen, but not heard (at least too much).” And as long as what the women say doesn’t contradict male authorities.

Even in Christian denominations that ordain women to leadership, too often they are forced to operate as second-class citizens. Women pastors don’t get called to prominent congregations; they’re not allowed to prioritize the most urgent needs in their parishes; and they face constant friction. Time and again, we see the ideas of men described (and funded) as “entrepreneurial,” “innovative,” and “bold,” while women’s initiatives are “unorthodox,” “suspect,” and “back-burner, support-staff kind of thinking.”

“The plight of the powerless is familiar to the women of the church,” continue the Protestant scholars. “We, however, do not believe that authorities in any church should take away women’s power to determine for ourselves a vision for our ministries and vocations.” Many women—and men—have raised questions similar to those asked by Catholic women religious. Did God plan for an exclusively male priesthood or did it form as a result of the sin of misogyny? Do our baptismal vows anoint girls into the fullness of ministry as “priest, prophet, and king” in Christ or do they not? Is providing for the poor, the outcast, the sick, the prisoner, and the foreigner at the core of the gospel message or is it not?

“What we see in this struggle is not a lack of our sisters’ integrity and authentic witness to Christian faith,” the open letter continues, “but a struggle that has been too familiar for all women of faith—a struggle over authority and who should have the power to define true faith.”…

Rose Marie Berger, author of Who Killed Donte Manning? is a Catholic peace activist and a Sojourners associate editor. Read the whole article here, the September-October 2012 issue of Sojourners magazine.

Theresa Kane: ‘Women are desirous of serving in the Church as fully participating members.’

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious will gather for its 2012 conference from Aug. 7-11 in St. Louis, MO. As we keep this momentous gathering of women in our prayers, I offer former LCWR president Theresa Kane’s address to Pope John Paul II at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, on October 7, 1979.

The most relevant part of her speech was:

“As I share this privileged moment with you, Your Holiness, I urge you to be mindful of the intense suffering and pain which is part of the life of many women in these United States. I call upon you to listen with compassion and to hear the call of women who comprise half of humankind.

As women we have heard the powerful messages of our Church addressing the dignity and reverence for all persons. As women we have pondered upon these words. Our contemplation leads us to state that the Church in its struggle to be faithful to its call for reverence and dignity for all persons must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of our Church.

I urge you, Your Holiness, to be open to and respond to the voices coming from the women of this country who are desirous of serving in and through the Church as fully participating members.”

It is worth noting that Sr. Kane’s speech received thunderous applause. And “when she finished speaking,” newspapers report, “the gray-haired nun moved to the altar of the magnificent National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and knelt before the pope. He gently touched her head.” Such is the agonizing and beautiful paradox and mystery of Catholicism.