Below are excerpts from an article by Dennis Sadowski, published October 6 by the National Catholic Reporter, on the latest efforts by Pax Christi International‘s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative to promote encounter and dialogue within the Church.
The first time Sacred Heart Sr. Mary Atimango reached out to a group of gang members who had been carrying out attacks and robberies around Juba, South Sudan’s capital, she was overwhelmed with fear.
She wanted to learn why the young men embraced violence and to gauge how open they were to an alternative — an alternative that embraced active nonviolence to confront their frustrations.
“You don’t know what will happen,” Atimango told NCR in late September, recalling her first outreach in March.
Her concerns soon eased.
“What gave me courage when I reached out, one of the men told me, ‘Sister you are so good. No one has reached out to us,’ ” she said, describing her encounter. …
Her experience helped in discerning whether to approach the men after learning skills in active nonviolence from representatives of Pax Christi, the international Catholic peace organization, earlier this year. She also teaches those techniques to students in primary and secondary public and private schools.
“From the time I started training them, they have seen a big change in their life,” Atimango said of the students. “Fighting and quarreling has stopped. They are able to solve their problems.”
Six sisters who live with Atimango in the home they share in Juba call her brave to work with the young men. In her mind though, the outreach is a response to Pope Francis’ invitation to go to the margins of society and an opportunity to share the example of the nonviolence lived by Jesus.
Widening call to nonviolence
Prior to talking with NCR, Atimango discussed her experience with the young men Sept. 19 in the third of a series of regional online roundtables hosted by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, a project of Brussels-based Pax Christi International.
Marie Dennis, senior program director for the initiative, said the roundtables were planned to highlight the conversations that have been occurring within the Catholic Church about the need for broader teaching of Gospel nonviolence in schools, parishes and neighborhoods.
Four September roundtables included testimonies from people in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Congo, Kenya, Honduras and Brazil, as well as those working alongside migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border. The discussions focused on ways participants have taken up nonviolent alternatives in response to the violence in armed conflict, government instability, climate change, poverty and the causes of migration.
Among the responders were church leaders who included Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Cardinal Alvaro Ramazzini of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, a member of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; [and] Bishop Rex Andrew Alarcon of Daet Philippines, who chairs the Philippine bishops’ Commission on Youth …
Pax Christi has long maintained that active nonviolence is not a passive pursuit. In her effort to shape the understanding of active nonviolence, Dennis has said the practice is “different from pacifism” and requires a concerted commitment to achieving justice while building right relationships.
Supporters of the effort know the work of integrating active nonviolence into daily life and international affairs will not come overnight, but they are hoping people begin to see the practice as morally imperative in a conflict-filled world.
The series was timed as a lead-in to the first session of the Synod of Bishops on synodality, convening at the Vatican Oct. 4-29.
“What can be more synodal than listening to people working at the grassroots level using nonviolence in many different kinds of circumstances effectively and inviting the church to respond?” Dennis asked. …