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

Press release
Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
12 December 2016

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

“The Sisters of Mercy express our gratitude to Pope Francis for this call to nonviolence, one which we share. As the Message so beautifully captures, beyond war and violence, nonviolence means “to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society.”—Jean Stokan, Director of Justice Team, Sisters of Mercy

“Pope Francis is focusing his 2017 World Day of Peace message on nonviolence in exactly the direction that Christians need to pursue in order to offer a unified witness on matters of war and peacebuilding – the power of creative nonviolent action to break us out of vicious cycles of violence. Rather than continuing centuries of debate over whether war is ever justified, theologians, activists and policymakers should recognize that even wars and causes which look “just” still plant the seeds of new injustices and new wars. Nonviolence is indeed the only style of politics that bends the cycle in fresh directions.”—Gerald W. Schlabach, Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas (MN)

(See more responses below.)

The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, a global effort to affirm the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church, is heartened by and deeply grateful for the Holy Father’s call to political and religious leaders, heads of international organizations, and business and media executives to “apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. … To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict.”

The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative was formed to advance the requests made in the Appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence, the final statement of the landmark Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference held in Rome in April 2016 and co-sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pax Christi International, and other organizations. This statement has been endorsed by more than 1,300 individuals, 170 organizations, and all the Catholic bishops of Japan.

“It was especially noteworthy that we received Pope Francis’ message at this time,” said Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International. “Last week we gathered with member organizations in Africa for our regional conference, ‘Nonviolence in Africa: Creating a future of hope,’ during which time the attendees endorsed the Appeal to the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence. Much of our time together during those days focused on how to reclaim civil space and how to promote nonviolence in many ways. The Holy Father’s message for 2017 deeply resonates with us as the work Pax Christi International and its member groups has been dedicated for years to finding creative and peaceful solutions to violent conflict.”

For more information, including many World Day of Peace resources for parishes and communities, visit www.nonviolencejustpeace.net or email nonviolence@paxchristi.net. For additional quotes from religious leaders, see below.

 

Catholic Nonviolence Initiative: Affirming the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church. A global project hosted by Pax Christi International. @CathNonviolence #WDP17

Contact: Judy Coode, j.coode@paxchristi.net, 202-425-0576


Responses to Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace 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

“The Spirit is moving the Catholic Church to deepen our understanding of Gospel nonviolence and to significantly scale-up our practices of nonviolent conflict transformation in all areas of our lives, since to ‘be true followers of Jesus means to embrace his nonviolence.’ With creativity and courage, let us walk with Pope Francis on this bold adventure away from legitimating war and violence, since the ‘force of arms are deceptive,’ and instead move toward a new moral framework of just peace.”—Eli McCarthy, Director of Justice and Peace, Conference of Major Superiors of Men

“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

 “The Sisters of Mercy express our gratitude to Pope Francis for this call to nonviolence, one which we share.  As the Message so beautifully captures, beyond war and violence, nonviolence means “to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society.”—Jean Stokan, Director of Justice Team, Sisters of Mercy

“At a time of much violence and conflict around the world, Pope Francis’ message for the Fiftieth World Day of Peace is a stark reminder not just to Catholics but to all human beings that there is a better way forward. Each of us must recognize our shared humanity and work together to resolve conflict through nonviolent means. The Pope once again brings attention to a world war being fought by “piecemeal” a truly pro-life message that emphasizes that weapons dealers and corporations put profits above people and show little respect for human decency or the common good. Each of us must work for non-violence in our own lives but also stand up to arms dealers who only worship at the altar of money—the new “Golden Calf.”—Patrick Carolan, Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network; cofounder of the Global Catholic Climate Movement; recipient of the 2015 White House Champion for Change Award

“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

 “As we struggle in a World War fought “piecemeal,” nonviolent methods of protecting civilians are proving themselves effective in some of the most violent places on the planet. Indeed, more peacebuilders, conflict transformers, mediators, nonviolent resisters and unarmed civilian protectors are at work than any other time in history. We welcome Pope Francis’ pledge of assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.  We need it!”—Mel Duncan, Founding Director, Nonviolent Peaceforce. In one year the Nonviolent Peaceforce trained more than 14,000 people in conflict-affected communities in unarmed civilian protection.

“The  moral crisis of  total war requires a total  moral response. Pope Francis continues to model the Christian way forward for all people of faith and good will. He reminds us in his World Day of Peace message that ‘To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.’ Sojourners has actively sought to model the hard work of Christian nonviolence for more than 40 years—whether in brokering gang truces, meeting with world leaders about the war Syria, or addressing police violence in Ferguson. The faith community and others must speak and act to make sure that our response prioritizes the most moral ­— and the most effective — nonviolent actions possible. In these times of heightened violence, we join with Pope Francis in pledging our assistance ‘in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.’ Every church must be a peace church.”—Rose Marie Berger, Senior Associate Editor, Sojourners magazine; author of “Game Changer? The Catholic Church, with its 1.2 billion members, takes a new look at the theology of war and peace” (Sojourners, December 2016)

“Pope Francis’ call for nonviolence is an historic breakthrough for the Church and the world. As Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Dr. King–and now Pope Francis–taught, nonviolence is a requirement for every Catholic, every Christian, everyone, because it is the only way out of the madness of global violence. I hope his message will be read far and wide and everyone will heed his call for nonviolence.”—Rev. John Dear, author of “The Nonviolent Life” and “The Beatitudes of Peace,” nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Archbishop Tutu

“Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message is a giant step towards the Catholic Church’s recommitment to Gospel nonviolence. He calls us to our full stature as Christians. He reminds us that the Sermon on the Mount is “the nucleus of the Christian revolution”–“unafraid to face conflict, resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a radically new process.” Thank you Pope Francis for this call to discipleship.”—Terrence Rynne, co-founder of the Center for Peacemaking, Marquette University

“We are deeply grateful to Pope Francis for lifting up the power of Gospel nonviolence to transform our lives and to bring peace into our broken and divided world. In this season of Advent and Christmas, let us be true to his invitation: “To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.”—Scott Wright, Director, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, U.S. Region of the Missionary Society of St. Columban

“In a world where violence confronts us everywhere–at every level of society–the dramatic teaching of Jesus rejecting violence for any reason whatsoever is more compelling than ever. As Dorothy Day proclaimed, ‘In the face of violence the only solution is love.’”—Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit, MI

“Pope Francis is focusing his 2017 World Day of Peace message on nonviolence in exactly the direction that Christians need to pursue in order to offer a unified witness on matters of war and peacebuilding – the power of creative nonviolent action to break us out of vicious cycles of violence. Rather than continuing centuries of debate over whether war is ever justified, theologians, activists and policymakers should recognize that even wars and causes which look “just” still plant the seeds of new injustices and new wars. Nonviolence is indeed the only style of politics that bends the cycle in fresh directions.”—Gerald W. Schlabach, Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas (MN)


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