A brief report from the open meeting organised by Pax Christi through the Peace Studies department at Leeds Beckett University on Tuesday October 3rd
After some formal introductions, Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi UK set the scene. The groundwork for the nonviolence conference at the Vatican in 2016 started in 2013. Having the conference itself was something of a breakthrough, in terms of the support from the Church establishment. However, the conference was only a starting point for a process which is continuing and growing, in terms of the numbers of people involved. Everyone was delighted when the pope chose the theme of ‘nonviolence: a style of politics for peace’ for Peace Sunday in 2017 and the hope is that Pope Francis will go on to write an encyclical about it.
Marie Dennis is an author of several books and Co-President of Pax Christi International. She has been a leading light in the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. She described how the Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference, and the conversations since then have included people from across the globe. They knew that it was essential to first of all listen to the people who are in the front line. The conference included participants from the Philippines, Northern Nigeria and other areas directly affected by violent conflict.
Since the conference meetings have been exploring a number of topics such as exploring the best biblical exegesis about Jesus’ approach to conflicts, how to explicitly integrate Gospel nonviolence into the life of the Church and a fundamental review of ‘Just War’ theory (in reality, is there any conflict situation today that could justify war as the solution?). This global dialogue, mediated through the use of modern technology, is growing and the global presence of the Church means that Catholics have a unique contribution to make – though in answer to a question, Marie
agreed that there was much that could and must be learned from working ecumenically.
Maria Stephan is senior policy fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), where she focuses on the dynamics of civil resistance and its relevance for violent conflict prevention and democratic development. Maria is the ‘go to’ person in terms of the quantitative academic research into the examination of the outcomes of violent vs nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution. Her collaborations with other researchers have examined over 400 major conflict situations since 1900. Cutting to the chase, in terms of outcomes, nonviolent approaches are seen to be around twice as successful as violent approaches, on a range of measures. The main problem is that ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer then all your problems start to look like nails.’ Countries spend billions on having plenty of violence-based ‘tools’ in their conflict resolution toolkit. Very few spend significant amounts, if any, on developing nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution. Isn’t it time we really started advocating for change in this area of Government policy?
To find out more click on the links above to the Pax Christi website and the website for the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.
You could also read the book:
“Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict” by Erica Chenoweth & Maria J Stephan