PAX CHRISTI INTERNATIONAL: Pax Christi marks 70 years of pursuing peace

By Tom Roberts, NCR

Jose Henriquez gestures during an interview in Washington Sept. 23. Looking on are Bishop Kevin Dowling and Marie Dennis. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Jose Henriquez gestures during an interview in Washington Sept. 23. Looking on are Bishop Kevin Dowling and Marie Dennis. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Pax Christi International was born 70 years ago of two people, one a bishop, the other a laywoman, who advanced ideas that were jarringly dissonant in the context of that time.

The bishop, Pierre-Marie Théas, of Montauban in the south of France, was a rare member of the hierarchy to both publicly protest the deportation of Jews from France and urge prayers for the enemy, Germany. Marthe Dortel-Claudot, who lived in the south of France with her husband and children, found herself thinking about praying for the enemy. Pondering the suffering of the German people, she wrote in her journal, “Jesus died for everyone. Nobody should be excluded from one’s prayer.”

The two, sharing a vision of reconciliation, went on to form the organization Pax Christi. Germany and France live in peace today; Europe has achieved union and nonviolent means of settling differences. Pax Christi, however, has not gone out of business. The purveyors of violence are endlessly inventive. From child soldiers to the utter detachment of drones, from crude IEDs to sophisticated bombs, from oil wars to the formation of caliphates, those who use violent means no longer observe rules or boundaries.

Perhaps the reality that most solidly links the decades of Pax Christi’s existence is the understanding that confronting violence is a complex and difficult undertaking and involves advancing ideas that are at odds with the prevailing thinking of the day.

Pax Christi has grown increasingly global in its reach, and that is reflected in its three principal leaders: co-presidents Marie Dennis, a laywoman from Washington, D.C., and Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa; and General Secretary José Henríquez, a native of El Salvador who now lives in Brussels, where Pax Christi is headquartered. The co-president arrangement, reflective of the founders, was instituted in 2007…

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