Book Review: Advancing Nonviolence

New book highlights women leaders who advance the practice of nonviolence by pursuing open and sincere dialogue. This article was published in the January-February 2021 issue of Maryknoll NewsNotes by Dan Moriarty.

The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI), a project of Pax Christi International that began with a conference at the Vatican in 2016, continues its work promoting Catholic understanding of and commitment to Gospel nonviolence with a new bookAdvancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World. The fruit of a global, participatory process culminating in a second Vatican conference in 2019, the book includes “biblical, theological, ethical, pastoral and strategic resources, presented to serve as a contribution to Catholic teaching on nonviolence.”

The authors of the new volume – peace practitioners, theologians, and social scientists from 39 countries around the world – describe nonviolence as a spiritual orientation, a way of life, and a practical tool. Presented as “the foundational, universal ethic for building a culture of peace, disarmament and development,” nonviolence has deep roots in scripture and spirituality. 

But the CNI also illustrates the practical ways nonviolence is successfully employed to reduce, resist, and transform both direct, physical violence and systemic, institutional violence and injustice. 

Women lead in dialogue 

Pope Francis and his predecessors have repeatedly called for the faithful to pursue “forgiveness, dialogue, and reconciliation” as alternatives to violent conflict. But to critics, such concepts sound lofty and impractical in the face of real, intractable violence. The CNI offers a concrete counternarrative. 

Dialogue may refer to high-level negotiations between political elites – the kind of talks diplomats and mediators have facilitated between warring parties from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan. But other forms of dialogue – at the middle- and grassroots levels, and often led by women – pave the way for such high-level negotiations. 

In Mindanao, Philippines, violence between Muslim Moro rebels and the government grabs headlines worldwide. But for local peace activist Myla Leguro with Catholic Relief Services, the picture is more complicated: questions of identity, colonialism, extractivism, human rights, and autonomy are all closely tied to disputes over land. 

Leguro developed “the Three B’s,” of dialogue to prepare individuals (“binding” with healing and education) and whole communities (“bonding” by expressing inclusive visions for the future) for negotiations between conflicting groups (“bridging”) to settle land issues. The three-stage process builds skills, trust, and agreements that serve as a basis for addressing wider conflicts. Leguro’s Three B’s have been adopted in conflict zones around the world, including central Africa, where other local leaders have further developed her model. 

In northern Kenya, Pax Christi peacebuilder Elizabeth Kanini Kimau facilitated dialogue amid “disorganized, armed, communal violence” between warring pastoralist communities – “a situation vulnerable to political manipulation by armed militias.” Understanding the respect afforded elders, she invited elders from all sides to a neutral location, where they could dialogue safely. The elders recruited warriors to follow suit, and the warriors invited youth. The elders have now established ongoing dialogue to resolve conflicts before they erupt into violence. 

While Leguro and Kimau bring a local expertise to peacebuilding, other times third parties from outside a conflict zone play a crucial role. 

In Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, Sara Ionovitz with Operazione Colomba (Operation Dove), describes how ordinary Syrians came up with a plan for the creation of safe zones that allow them to return to their country, but because they were not armed actors in the conflict, they were not included in peace talks. 

Operation Dove’s volunteers facilitated conversation between the Syrians and European Union leadership. “We needed schemes of listening that were outside the frames we already knew,” explains Ionovitz. “Mediation is made by dialogue, starting from the ground to the top, to governments. [We are] just the microphone: we go to the Italian government, which possibly talks to the Lebanese or German government or institutions. It’s a popular democratic diplomacy.” 

Inside the camps, the presence of the international nonviolence organization was a deterrent to violent attacks on the refugees. Ionovitz and her colleagues were able to reach out to surrounding communities, building “bridges of dialogue between the local Lebanese host population, who are scared and sometimes hostile, and the Syrians themselves.”

Women at the fore

Too often in the Church and in documents on Church teaching, the indispensable, transformative leadership of women is erased and ignored. Advancing Nonviolence offers a refreshing corrective, highlighting the voices and leadership of women throughout. 

A book on nonviolence could hardly do otherwise, as study after study demonstrates that sustaining peace is only possible when women are fully included. The integral inclusion of women is one of the many ways the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is pointing the way forward for the Church and the world. 

Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World, Berger, R.M., Butigan, K., Coode, J., and Dennis, M. (Eds.) is available in the U.S. from Winchester Book Gallery: http://bit.ly/3ohtBoDDan Moriarty, Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns

Choosing Peace: The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence

Choosing Peace

Posted by Catholic Nonviolence Initiative on Sunday, May 27, 2018

I’m honored to have a chapter included in this book! (And if you want to know what I’ve been working on for the past year, read it.)

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!

 

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
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Marie Dennis: Syrians Need Safety Zones for Humanitarian Relief

Marie Dennis with Syrian women.
Marie Dennis with Syrian women.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, traveled in May to Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, to deliver messages of hope and support to Syrian refugees from people around the world who had participated in a solidarity fast for Syria.

Here’s an excerpt from Marie’s report:

“…According to the OCHA chief Valerie Amos, humanitarian convoys are regularly attacked or shot at, and staff are intimidated or kidnapped. For example, in late March a convoy carrying medical assistance for 80,000 people was hijacked by an armed group on its way from Tartous to Aleppo, and all of the supplies were stolen. And yet, in spite of the threats, humanitarian workers continue their critical work. “I want to pay particular tribute to the work of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) volunteers,” she said at an April briefing. “They have shown incredible dedication, impartiality and courage since the beginning of the conflict. Many of them do not hesitate to risk their lives every day to bring assistance to people in need, whether they live in government or opposition-controlled areas…. Given its network across the country and its capacity to negotiate access to almost all areas affected, SARC is an invaluable partner for the UN and other humanitarian organizations in Syria.”

Continue reading “Marie Dennis: Syrians Need Safety Zones for Humanitarian Relief”