It is not often that I can actually feel that we are ‘getting somewhere’ in this long-haul journey of peacemaking. I guess I see myself as a plodder anyway, keeping on with the letter-writing, campaigning, production of resources, the “fruit of anxious daily care” that Pope Paul VI spoke of many years ago. The work we have to do whether we are effective or not.
But, there is a shift, a feel that we may just be tipping the balance on a breakthrough with our message of active peacemaking and nonviolence. Part of the shift is the person of Pope Francis – since his appointment in 2013 his words and actions for peace have been crystal clear: from nuclear weapons, Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations, to money making from the arms trade, We plead for peace for this world dominated by arms-dealers, who profit from the blood of men and women. His language reaches hearts and minds and is engaging people of faith, and people of no faith.
The ‘getting somewhere’ is the ground-breaking work coming out of the joint conference of Pax Chrsiti International and the Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace last April which produced the Appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence. This set the cat among the pigeons. Accusations came that the Church was being urged to ditch the Just War tradition. That the naïve pacifists were going to leave the world unguarded. To me, some of this seemed like deliberate mis-representation by those who unwilling to delve into the tradition and practice of active nonviolence and its value in creating long-lasting, sustainable peace.
The gathering offered concrete examples of how nonviolence is twice as effective as violence and is likely to produce more sustainable and democratic communities. The gathering gave a platform to practitioners of nonviolence like Fr Francisco de Roux from Colombia who has worked for justice and nonviolent change for more than twenty years. He challenged the Catholic Church for its support of the just war paradigm which has sustained so much violence in that country.
It was good also to hear of the painstaking work of dialogue and mediation in preventing the escalation of violence in countries like Sudan and Uganda and the DRC. The good news of church leaders and workers confronting those who use violence, facilitating conversations between warring groups, is little acknowledged yet this is politics for peace in action. In recent days the Bishops of DRC have been internationally thanked for the key role they are playing in trying to prevent a new civil war in that country.
Contributing to this ‘getting somewhere’, is the theme of the 2017 World Peace Day message, Nonviolence, a style of politics for peace. The first time in 50 years of messages that nonviolence has featured in a theme and been explored so deeply. Pope Francis gets it. He tells us that violence won’t cure the problems of our world. He reminds us that the Gospel, and the person of Jesus, are about nonviolence – setting out a radically different approaches. He highlights witness of those who show us that nonviolence is about action, risk-taking, confronting injustice, following in the footsteps of Jesus, Gandhi, Khaffer Khan, Martin Luther King jr, the peace women leaders of Liberia, the Christians of Eastern Europe who all brought about change through nonviolent means.
The door is ajar, our work is to push it wide-open by growing these ideas in our schools, parishes in the formation of Christians. Teaching about the active nonviolence of Jesus.
Training church workers in mediation and conflict resolution. Acting up against the arms trade and the mis-use of resources on warfare. This has become the work of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, to develop our imagination, our skills and our resources in the Church towards becoming ‘credible promoters of nonviolent peacemaking’. (646)
Pat Gaffney has been General Secretary of the British Section of Pax Christi since 1990. She is a member of the on-going Catholic Nonviolence working group.
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World Peace Day Message