by Joseph Fahey
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
NOTE: This essay is a personal reflection on the contribution that Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Pax Christi USA made to the creation of the U.S. Bishops’ 1983 pastoral letter on peace. It begins with the early history of Pax Christi USA and discusses activities through the years that led to the U.S. Bishops’ letter on peace in 1983. These activities include: Call to Action 1976; Bishops’ Masses for Peace; the Pax Christi USA Disarmament Commission; a discussion of the debate on May 1-3, 1983 on the letter that resulted in a 238-9 vote in favor of the letter; pastoral letters published by European nations and Japan in 1983; and the impact the letter had on the careers of Bishop John O’Connor and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. The essay concludes with a reflection on the necessity for global governance.
I am grateful to the editors of this distinguished journal–especially to Dr. Ron Pagnucco– for
the opportunity to offer a personal reflection on the contribution of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Pax Christi USA to the United States Catholic Bishops’ 1983 Pastoral Letter, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.”
It is appropriate to begin this essay with the visionary role played by Ms. Eileen Egan and Dr. Gordon Zahn, who transformed the peace group “Pax” into Pax Christi USA through affiliation with Pax Christi International in 1972. Pax Christi USA was strongly supported by Dorothy Day, who understood that the Catholic peace movement needed to reach the millions of Catholics who were not pacifists but who wanted to work for Christ’s peace in the world principally through their home parishes. Hence, from the beginning, Pax Christi USA has welcomed all people who were “on pilgrimage” to the Gospel of Peace.
Although Pax Christi International required a Bishop President for each section, Eileen and Gordon enlisted the support first of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, Michigan, and then of Bishop Carroll Dozier of Memphis, Tennessee, who insisted on being called “Episcopal Moderators.” Eventually, however, Pax Christi USA did have a single Bishop President, the first of whom was Bishop Gumbleton. In 1971 Bishop Dozier published a diocesan pastoral letter on peace that criticized the war in Vietnam and the global arms race. Also, in 1971, Bishop Gumbleton published a letter in the New York Times that challenged the morality of the war in Vietnam. In part, because of this notoriety, both bishops were invited by Eileen and Gordon to become active in Pax Christi USA in 1972. Bishop Gumbleton played a key role in the creation of the 1983 bishops’ peace pastoral letter and served on the committee that wrote the pastoral. From the beginning, they sought to enlist other bishops at Pax Christi USA meetings and encouraged activities (such as the three Bishops’ Day of Peace gatherings in 1977 and 1978) that would both educate bishops and enlist their support for Pax Christi USA’s statements and actions…
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This article appears as “Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Pax Christi USA’s Contribution to the 1983 United States Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter, ‘The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response’,” in The Journal of Social Encounters: Vol. 6: Iss. 2, 130-144. Available at: https://digitalcommons.csbsju.edu/social_encounters/vol6/iss2/15.