by Manuel Padilla, Pax Christi USA Program Associate
I recently gave a workshop at the Pax Christi Michigan Annual Conference on the state of the nuclear weapons issue today and where we, as members of Pax Christi USA, go from here. I have to admit, this is a big topic and I could have chosen to narrow it down some. But with the recent, and still unfolding, nuclear energy catastrophe at the Fukushima site in Japan, and what has now been dubbed the ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ (you can decide whether that is a positive or negative term), I thought it best to leave the topic open and see what came out of it.
The surprising upsurge of focus on nuclear weapons, and desperation from the international community to finally develop a plan to rid ourselves of them, is so strong in the last year that President Obama was given a ‘preemptive’ Nobel Peace Prize for his April 2009 Prague speech. This is where we started our conversation. A unique set of paradoxes exist in the speech itself, specifically that we 1) have a special moral obligation, as the only country to use nuclear weapons on a civilian population in (and outside of) war, to lead the world in creating a world free of nuclear weapons, but 2) will make sure that, until everyone else has disarmed, we (the U.S.) will maintain a robust nuclear deterrent. It is difficult, if not impossible, to square this circle. How can we both lead in disarmament and yet insist on being the last nuclear weapons holder standing? Such is the security policy conundrum of our time.
The frustration of trying to divine a path forward within such a framework, though, was countered by the joy I felt in attending the conference itself. I was struck by the passion, dedication, and organization of Pax Christi Michigan, all qualities that I imagine exist in our local and regional groups around the U.S. As an intern based in D.C., in some ways I feel I have been ignorant of all the activities happening on the local level of our membership. I had always hoped to be able to be ‘out there’ more during my time at the national office and I see now what I had been missing these last months. In short, I felt very honored to be among such good people and to be able to bring about a closer connection between the national office and Pax Christi Michigan through being present there.
Even more energizing for me was the youth and young adult focus that Pax Christi Michigan has as a standard component of their group. The conference included the recognition of Kati Garrison with a young adult award and a noon time youth caucus which I had the privilege to attend. I was inspired at how diligent, thoughtful, and competent this group of Pax Christi Michigan youth is. Highly organized and with great insight into the issues of their own geography, they have formed action groups, a community living house, and sustainable living projects. Within Pax Christi USA, we all like to talk about how young adults are the cornerstone of our future as an organization. This seems obvious. Our members have been energized and extremely generous with their support of the new internship program (which I am a part of). I have felt this generosity personally and want to express my deep gratitude for all the opportunities this generosity has provided me, and the other interns, during the last 15 months. We look forward to the continued support of PCUSA members, in the multitude of ways it is given, and which is absolutely essential to the mission and continuity of Pax Christi USA.
So, having experienced this myself, I wanted to lift up the immense support that young people are getting at the local level, in Pax Christi Michigan, and urge each one among us, at the local and regional level, to see if we cannot find ways to draw in and encourage more youth and young adults in our own Pax Christi groups. Perhaps we can suggest that a contingent of youth close to us form their own Pax Christi local group? Could such a core set of groups serve as the frontrunners in a nationwide Pax Christi young adult network? I think the answer to this is yes. But we first must create inviting spaces for young adults to occupy and then play a supporting role, letting the ownership of their work come first.
Finally, we need activity! “Building the New in the Shell of the Old” was the theme of the Pax Christi Michigan Annual Conference this year. How appropriate, yes? Let’s search for ways to reinvigorate our commitment to youth and young adults currently and potentially active in Pax Christi who are so vital to our future! We invite you to share the work of youth at the local and regional level with us here at the national office. We also invite you to communicate amongst yourselves, and with us, to generate ideas for building the new in the shell of the old.
From what I have recently seen, the next generation Pax Christi is already with us. Let us see them, meet them where they are, and help to usher in the new, energized, and highly capable talent that is the latent and kinetic peacemakers of our future.
Manuel Padilla is a program associate with Pax Christi USA.