NOTE: In preparation for the international conference, “Pope Francis, Nonviolence and the Fullness of Pacem in Terris”, which concluded Wednesday, December 7 in Rome, Michelle Sherman, one of Pax Christi USA’s representative at the conference, submitted the following document. She was invited to answer the question: What difference would an authoritative teaching on nonviolence from the Vatican make in your own context?
by Michelle Sherman
Pax Christi USA National Staff
To mirror Pax Christi USA’s identity as a grassroots movement, I invited several of our PCUSA Ambassadors of Peace (leaders and members who embody the vision of Pax Christi) to share their answers to this question. My hope is that by including voices of varying perspectives, we might begin to answer this question for the context in the USA. Common threads in their insights are that an authoritative teaching on nonviolence would:
- Confront the racial and cultural wars that are killing people every day
- Challenge the internalized belief system that regards military strength as a god
- Affect catechesis, connect the spirituality of nonviolence to our baptismal promises, affirm the formation of conscience, encourage honoring peacemaker saints
- An authoritative teaching on NV would have to include: inclusion, gender equity, respect, encouragement, solidarity with and for ALL
- Could lead to a Jubilee year of nonviolence
In addition to what they share, I would add that having a teaching on nonviolence from the Vatican would be a powerful witness AGAINST the white Christian nationalism that has deep roots over the course of generations and continues to rise in our context and affects many other issues including migration, war, death penalty, mass incarceration, anti-LGBT, gender inequality, racism, anti-Semitism, and more.
Cathy Woodson: I believe we are called to seek the image of God in each person we meet and to give our hearts and minds to daily tasks of working for the common good for all God’s people. For me, this includes how we interpret the teachings from our church leaders, especially the words and teachings from the Pope. An authoritative teaching on nonviolence should leave no room for questions or personal interpretation on weapons of war (guns or missiles) or weapons used against one another in our communities. Racial and cultural wars are killing people every day; there are declarations from political leaders as well as hate groups. As people of faith, as we grace the pews with our presence, I believe the message from the Vatican should be strong enough to give us the courage to stand for what is right and just; this teaching should help us reimage our sacrament of baptism daily. This includes how we select/elect our leaders at all levels and how we hold them accountable for their actions.
Jean Stokan: Such authoritative teaching on nonviolence from the Vatican would make a tremendous difference in our capacity and effectiveness to work for peace and justice in the U.S. We are in an urgent moment for humanity and for the planet itself. The war in Ukraine has particularly brought into focus what is at stake. Given the U.S. pursuit of military dominance and dismissal of serious diplomacy, as well as the ever increasing and scandalous Pentagon budget which regards military strength as a god, Vatican teaching would help us break through the lies and disinformation and enable the voice of Gospel nonviolence to break through. We need such light and hope in these times.
Scott Wright: Remembering the witness of the martyrs in El Salvador, I would say that Christ cries out to us in the victims, those mothers and children fleeing from the terror of the bombs, hiding by day, fleeing under the cover of darkness, men weary of violence and longing for peace. What can the church do? Be Christ to them, accompany them, oppose all war and all violence, live the Beatitudes, embrace nonviolence and pray without ceasing. Do not offer a rationale for war but be Christ to them and bear witness to Gospel nonviolence.
Bob Cooke: Church teaching should be a primary informant of each Catholic’s individual conscience. There are not enough Franz Jaeggerstaetters, who despite the absence of good Church teaching on the subject (and in fact, strong opposition to his nonviolent stance), are able to reach a firm decision that they should not be part of a government’s military, that it’s intent on forcing its will on its own people and other members of the human family via violence.
The world continues to be at a stage where humanity can end most life in the world via the weapons it has made. Only a strong and unambiguous teaching from the church on the need to follow the nonviolent example of Jesus will challenge enough Catholics in the world to form their own consciences more fully in this way and thus hopefully lead humanity towards the principle of love for all.
As a U.S. senior citizen, I fail to live out my own convictions by paying significant federal taxes that go towards U.S. preparations for, and carrying out, war making. While I should not need strong Church teaching on nonviolence to take more action to prevent my tax money from going towards state-sponsored violence, such teaching would help convince my wife and I to take more risks in not paying such taxes.
Unfortunately, I am not a Franz Jaeggerstaetter, thus like most other Catholics of generally good intent. Strong Church teaching on the great need for us to embrace nonviolence more fully would be a great aid in moving Catholics, and all of humanity, in this needed direction.
Judith Kelly: My context: a wise, fringe Catholic woman who has real problems with male supremacy, even with Francis’ claims… An authoritative teaching on nonviolence would have to include: inclusion, gender equity, respect, encouragement, solidarity with and for ALL… May it be a prophetic decision/finding/action that would free us — liberate us all — to live fully in the power and glory of God. Otherwise, it’ll just be rearranging the rapidly-sinking deck chairs…..
Cathy Crayton: For me, an authoritative teaching on nonviolence is (or would be) an affirmation of my humanity, a validation of my conscience, and my belief and understanding of what I am called to be as a believer in the God of love and peace and justice. In many ways I know that I fall short of nonviolence (and I am thinking of non-physical violence) and it is always a challenge for me to think not in terms of me versus an adversary (real or imagined), but as those who act contrary to what I believe is just as also a beloved child of God. Always challenged by that, but I believe that is where Jesus calls us.
And so, an “authoritative” teaching on nonviolence — which itself can be seen as a form of violence — can be a validation of both my humanity and my conscience and my faith.
Sr. Pegge Boehm, PVBM: After the resurrection, Jesus Christ said, “Peace be with you” three times. As Christians we are called to live the peace of God that Christ bestows upon each one of us. Our creation, each person is crying out for peace and harmony. Our society is in desperate need for peace. There is gun violence, verbal violence, physical violence, psychological violence on display in every facet of our society. How is the Church speaking out? The Catholic Church has been prophetic in its Catholic Social Teaching since 1891, speaking about labor abuses, sins of society. We need to hear the Vatican come out strongly in response to the violence we experience today in politics, in society, in families, in communities, in persons. Why is the Church silent about violence in homilies? We hear about God’s love. We need to hear about God’s peace. The Pope has made a year focusing on Mercy, the family. Why not make a year on CATHOLIC NONVIOLENCE? I don’t think Catholics for the most part embrace nonviolence (I think it is mostly because of ignorance and not ever hearing about it) and yet, if we follow Jesus the Christ, and we say we are Christians, and we say we are resurrection people, people of hope, why can’t we be prophetic once again as a Church?