Catholic Church leaders and local change makers from nearly 30 countries gathered in Rome, Italy December 5-7, 2022, to reflect on Pope Francis’ relentless work for nonviolent change throughout his ten-year papacy; to share their own experience of nonviolent change in the face of acute violence and injustice; and to explore next steps in advancing the spirituality, way of life, strategies, and universal ethic of nonviolence in the Church and the world.
The conference, entitled “Pope Francis, Nonviolence and the Fullness of Pacem in Terris,” was sponsored by Pax Christi International’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Commission of the Union of Superiors General-Union of International Superiors General (USG-UISG), the international unions of superiors of women’s and men’s religious orders.
“The consistent practice of nonviolence,” Pope Francis writes, “has broken barriers, bound wounds, healed nations.” Since his installation in 2013, Pope Francis has called the Church and the world to “make active nonviolence our way of life.” The pope has implored us to nonviolently challenge and transform systems that oppress, marginalize, and destroy, while also creating new options for justice, peace, and a sustainable world. Nonviolence is the path of Jesus and a powerful practice for building social peace.
Participants from 28 nations – Mexico, Kenya, Guatemala, Romania, the Philippines, Italy, Nigeria, Peru, the UK, El Salvador, Japan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Indonesia, Germany, Belgium, Sri Lanka, Austria, South Sudan, Brazil, Netherlands, France, Cameroon, Lebanon, Palestine, Colombia, Rwanda and the US – shared rich experiences of nonviolence practiced at a grassroots level in contexts of egregious violence in its many different forms.
Together, participants reflected on Pope Francis’ own experience of nonviolence; his vision that so clearly points toward a global ethic of nonviolence in the context of a “world war fought piecemeal;” and the urgent need for a paradigm shift from violence to nonviolence. Woven into the conference were times of reflection and prayer that drew on the beauty of the Advent season to move through the reality of God incarnate in different ways in the world: in silence, darkness, light, humanity, and all of creation.
Speakers from around the world
Participants heard from many presenters, including:
- Emilce Cuda, Secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Latin America and Sr. Wamuyu Wachira, co-president of Pax Christi International, who reflected on Pope Francis’ reference to the “prophecy of nonviolence” and his attention to those on the peripheries, popular movements, youth and Indigenous peoples as the agents by which our societies will change.
- Kai Brand-Jacobsen, senior researcher for the Peace Action, Training and Research Institute of Romania (PATRIR), who is working extensively with practitioners of nonviolence in Ukraine and Russia, where nonviolent strategies have effectively protected some sectors of society and interrupted the Russian invasion.
- Maudilia Lopez, an Indigenous woman from Ixtahuacán, Guatemala, the leader of Pastoral Defensoras de la Madre Tierra, who spoke about resisting the destructive practices of the Canadian mining company, Goldcorp, and about the violence of the Church in forbidding traditional practices and dress central to the life of her Indigenous community.
- Fr. Rodrigo Peret, OFM, a member of Franciscans International and of the Churches and Mining Latin America Network board, who also spoke about the violence of mining in many communities and about the struggle for agrarian reform in Brazil.
- Fr. Nandana Manatunga, Director of the Human Rights Office Kandy in Sri Lanka, who described persistent and creative civil society demonstrations that successfully ousted former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nonviolently and have continued to protest the economic crisis and police brutality.
- Sr. Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, who contributed to a rich conversation about synodality as an expression of nonviolence, a theme to which Pax Christi’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative synod submission contributed.
- Harun Njoroge and Sr. Sia Temu, MM, members of the Maryknoll Sisters Peace Team, who shared their successful experiences of “Conversations for Social Change” in Kenya.
- Ogarit Younan, a pioneer advocate of nonviolence education in the Arab world, who spoke about the Academic University College for Nonviolence & Human Rights (AUNOHR) that she and her partner, Walid Slaybi, founded in Lebanon.
A different logic
Conference participants explored Pope Francis’ many messages, including in Fratelli Tutti, about the impossibility of a “just war.” They heard Fr. Francisco DeRoux, by video describe the consequences in Colombia of 50 years of what some called a “just war” and the urgent need for a different logic. They discussed the application of a just peace framework that would address the root causes of violent conflict, develop crucial nonviolent skills, break cycles of violence and build sustainable peace.
The closing Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development with conference participants, Bishop Marc Stenger, co-president of Pax Christi International, Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego CA, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe NM, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of the Philippines, and Bishop John Stowe, President of Pax Christi USA. The celebration concluded with a recitation of the “Vow of Nonviolence” in many languages.
In 2016, Pax Christi International co-sponsored with the Vatican the historic “Nonviolence and Just Peace” conference, which concluded by issuing the Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence, a document that was presented again at the end of this conference. Since 2016, Pope Francis has shared with the Church many groundbreaking resources for the nonviolent journey, including the 2017 World Day of Peace message entitled “Nonviolence: A Style of Politics of Peace” and Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti.
We are grateful for these signposts toward a nonviolent future and look forward to all the ways that the Church will strengthen its teaching and support for the practice of Gospel nonviolence in this time of crisis and opportunity, encouraged by Pope Francis’ message in 2017: “I pledge the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.”
The General JPIC Office was represented by Friar Antonio Lembo, JPIC Animator of the Province of Puglia-Molise, Italy.