by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
As we gain clearer perspectives with the advantage of hindsight on the events of January 6th in Washington, D.C., several more ominous – and challenging – facts appear. They are particularly relevant for Pax Christi.
It is clear now that the attack on the Capitol building and Members of Congress was the culmination of attitudes and actions which inevitably led to that horrendous insurrection. The New York Times just this week published a lengthy account of this process, entitled “77 Days: Trump’s Campaign to Subvert the Election”. It details the refusal of Ex-President Trump to accept his resounding defeat and his claim of a fraudulent election in November. This obvious, flagrant and endlessly repeated falsehood enraged thousands (millions?) of Trump’s followers and directly brought about the tragic events of that dark day in our nation’s history.
It has become evident that unbridled rage and propensity for violent action continue to expand across the world. These sorts of situations, as Pope Francis declared in “Fratelli Tutti”, “have become so common as to constitute a real ‘third world war’” (FT # 25). We, Pax Christi USA, and all of our fellow citizens who abhor such reactions are called to confront this growing evil here. As President Biden continues to say, we are in a struggle for the “soul of America”. The stakes are incredibly high.
Our Christian/Catholic ethic is quite clear about the proper reaction to conflictive situations. At a moment when an alien town would not allow Jesus and his disciples to enter, he rebuked two of them who wanted to “call down fire from heaven and destroy them” (Lk 9:51-53). St. Peter’s first letter clearly and accurately echoes this same approach: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult” (1 Pt 3:9-14). As humanity has come to know our life on earth as a global, interconnected whole, Catholic Social Teaching has consistently called for “the transformation of conflict as a moral and practical priority”.
Thanks to an initiative begun and cultivated in recent years by Pax Christi International, an ethic of nonviolence in thinking and acting is taking root at every level of Catholic life, including at the highest level of our Church. Pope Francis’s World Day of Peace message for 2017 included notable passages taken directly from what has come to be called the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI). Insights and reflections of the CNI are fast becoming mainstreamed in our global faith community.
Providentially this new gift of the Holy Spirit has taken its inspiration principally from Catholic communities across the world which find themselves in situations of extreme violence. Thus, the CNI is a “ground-up” theological and moral effort – which is the best place from which to begin crafting responses.
CNI has gathered together an extensive compendium of the ethic and praxis of nonviolence in a recently published volume entitled Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World. It contains biblical, theological, ethical, pastoral and strategic resources for all who believe that “violence leads to more violence” and that nonviolence is the only realistic pathway to peace at every level of human encounters. It is a primer for all of us who struggle with the question: “What can we do in this moment of terrible national hatred?”
Principles from the CNI offer a blueprint for answering that question and seeking a just peace:
- Nonviolence is an ongoing conversion of mind and heart.
- Nonviolence engages violence and injustice, not by retreat, accommodation or more violence.
- Nonviolence, therefore, far from being passive, actively confronts all conflicts with love.
- Nonviolent resistance is more effective than violent resistance.
- Nonviolence is an all-encompassing approach to human life on Planet Earth.
No doubt the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is familiar to most of us in Pax Christi USA. Still, it seems vitally important to recall its content and reflect on in the current “struggle for the soul of America”. We are actors in this struggle and the all-embracing ethic of nonviolence as a way of life and style of dialogue gives us practical means of responding. Those who do so, according to Pope Francis, “become stars shining in the midst of darkness” (FT #222).
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.