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Pax Christi co-president Marie Dennis at an audience with Pope Francis Pax Christi co-president Marie Dennis at an audience with Pope Francis 

Pax Christi presidents promote Catholic Nonviolence Initiative

Leaders of the global peace network have asked Pope Francis to write an encyclical and appealed for nonviolence to be taught at all levels of education and parish life

By Philippa Hitchen

Ending the use of war and promoting peaceful solutions to conflicts is the long term goal of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, organized by the international peace network Pax Christi International.

The initiative was launched at a conference held in Rome two years ago, co-sponsored by the Pontifical Justice and Peace Council (now part of the office for Promoting Integral Human Development). In 2017 Pope Francis followed up with a World Peace Day message entitled ‘Non-violence: A style of politics for peace”.

The leadership of Pax Christi International is in Rome this week to meet with top Vatican officials on the next steps of this initiative. Co-president Marie Dennis and project coordinator Judy Coode talked to Philippa Hitchen about the origins and the ambitious goals of the ‘Just Peace’ movement

Listen to the interview with Marie Dennis and Judy Coode

Marie says the 2016 conference was an important opportunity to hear from people in many different countries who’ve lived with violence and war for decades and who insist on the need for non-violent solutions to conflicts. She was especially struck by the testimonies from a Dominican sister in Mosul, whose whole community was destroyed by ISIS and from a Jesuit priest who heads Colombia’s truth commission.

Commitment to Gospel of nonviolence

The conference appealed concluded with an appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit itself to “the centrality of gospel of nonviolence”. Marie says Pax Christi leaders are “in conversation” with Vatican officials about a possible papal encyclical on the subject.

Equally as important, she says, is that the institutional Church moves “to integrate teaching about the power of active nonviolence into our university systems and all of our educational systems, into parish life, into our prayer and sacramental life”, as well as into diplomacy and the media, because “there is so much potential for the Church to help the world see that nonviolent approaches to transforming conflict can be effective”.

Building on Just War theory

Judy talks about the challenges Pax Christi faces and the “very personal feelings” that people have about nonviolence and peace. She highlights the importance of “working together as Catholics who have that shared identity and shared teaching”. She notes the way that conflicts and violence feed into the refugee crisis, as well as “the violence of poverty”, adding that “people are very engaged with that”.

Marie speaks about the need to build on the ‘Just War’ theory, as the Church understands more about the potential of nonviolent strategies, and realizes that “nonviolent actions [are] not only a personal choice, but [also] an appropriate political choice”.

Invest in nonviolent alternatives to war

She not that the U.S. is planning to spend 700 billion dollars a year preparing for military action, yet “we spend almost nothing on the kind of nonviolent approaches that perhaps would be more effective”. This includes investment in diplomacy, trauma healing, restorative justice and civilian protection, yet she and Judy note the influence of the arms industry “that pours so much money into the political system in order to protect its investments”.

Marie says there is no magic solution to conflicts, but unless there is investment in nonviolent approaches, “we will always, only have military means”. When you ask members of the military if we should be investing in nonviolent alternatives, she concludes, “they are the first to say absolutely, otherwise we have no other way to approach some of the serious problems in the world”.

02 March 2018, 17:30