In 1945, a small group of people in France met regularly to pray for peace. Their concern was not a vague one. What bothered them, what kept them coming together was their experience of an agonizing and dreadful fact: French Catholics and German Catholics, who professed the same faith and celebrated the same Eucharist, had killed one another by the millions in the 20th century. That situation could hardly be the will of God, as they understood it. So they prayed for forgiveness, for reconciliation, for the peace of Christ.
A French woman, Marie-Marthe Dortel Claudot, is known as the leader and founder of the movement. She invited a French bishop, Pierre Marie Theas, to be the first Bishop President. While in a German war prison camp in Compiegne, Bishop Theas had already begun to pray and work for reconciliation.
Soon after the war, Pax Christi centers were established in France and Germany; by the early 1950’s the movement had spread to Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium.
Pax Christi began in the United States in 1972, thanks to the initiative of a handful of U.S. Catholics, mostly lay. There was no national office or full time staff person until 1979, and then the entire office was set up in two spare rooms of a Chicago convent. The national office moved to Erie, Pennsylvania in 1985. In 2002, the Washington, D.C. office was opened, and the national office was permanently moved to D.C in 2011.
Pax Christi is active in more than 50 countries, with a growing presence in Latin America and Africa. The international office and staff are located in Brussels, Belgium. Pax Christi has consultative status as a non-governmental organization at the United Nations.
Wherever they live throughout the world, members of Pax Christi are united by their purpose, which is expressed in the international statutes: “to work for peace for all humankind, always witnessing to the peace of Christ.” They do this through prayer, study and action.
In 1982, speaking at Coventry Cathedral in England, Pope John Paul II said, “Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.” Membership in Pax Christi enables many Catholics and other Christians of all walks of life to help build the cathedral of peace.