by Johnny Zokovitch
Executive Director, Pax Christi USA
Yesterday was the 37th anniversary of the U.S. Bishop’s The Challenge of Peace which addressed the issues of war and peace in the context of the Cold War and the nuclear age. It’s one of the peak contributions of the U.S. Catholic Church to Catholic social teaching and we’re proud of the numerous Pax Christi USA bishops who were influential in crafting and promoting the pastoral letter — including, of course, our former bishop-president, and now Bishop-President Emeritus, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton.
The beginning of the letter, interestingly enough, resonates again today. Quoting the Second Vatican Council, the letter starts out:
“The whole human race faces a moment of supreme crisis in its advance toward maturity.”
Since the writing of those words, we have yet to remove the threat that the U.S. bishops addressed — nuclear weapons and the potential to destroy all that we hold dear. But those words take on another meaning in the context of the global pandemic we currently live under too.
I’ve been disheartened this past week with the images of armed protesters at state capitols and by how vulnerable communities — as is always the case — are especially victimized by the coronavirus and the long-standing systemic injustices that exacerbate their suffering during a time of crisis such as this. In my more depressed moments, I’m taken aback at the disregard for others that so many of our sisters and brothers evidence in the actions they take that put others at risk. I know that incredible acts of self-sacrifice and generosity are taking place all across our nation — and yet I am still brought up short by how prevalent are indifference, self-absorption and lack of basic human decency when people are dying, loved ones are grieving, and so many are scared and anxious because of all of the collateral damage the pandemic has caused. And though it shouldn’t surprise me, the embodiment of our culture’s worst characteristics are magnified in the leadership we have in this administration, from the White House.
I pray that somehow, some way, this “moment of supreme crisis,” as it is written in those opening words from The Challenge of Peace, does indeed result in an “advance toward maturity”. I believe that this is exactly why we come together as Pax Christi USA.
As people of faith, as activists and organizers, as teachers and ministers, as people rooted in the peace of Christ, our calling is not to help things return to “normal”. If this current pandemic teaches us anything, I hope it teaches us how inadequate and impoverished “normal” was for our country and for the impact we have on the rest of the world.
What has energized me in this crisis is how many other people in our movement and among our partners and friends are asserting that there should not be a return to normal, that “business as usual” is not what we long for. What we need is change: deep, meaningful, constructive, world-altering change that brings us closer to a more human, more just, more peaceful and more sustainable world — to that which author Arundhati Roy directed us a generation ago:
During those moments of quiet stillness I sometimes experience under my own state’s “stay-at-home” order, that is what my ears are straining to hear.