By Pat Gaffney, Vice President of Pax Christi in England and Wales

This article first appeared in Peace News in November 2020

I am a cup-half-full sort of person, not I hope naïve, but encouraged by the hope-filled actions around me. In the last year this includes the strengthening of the Black Lives Matter movement, the persistence of the Campaign Against Arms Trade in continuing their legal challenge to UK weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, the long-awaited coming into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Now, in the past month, Pope Francis, declaring that it is no longer possible to speak of a ‘just war’. In these sad days of Covid 19, people are seeking out opportunities to make a difference, to create nonviolent responses to all that the pandemic has exposed.

Two years ago, I wrote about the on-going project of Pax Christi International, the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI), a process of conversations and research, with the Vatican and a global peace community, to deepen understanding and commitment to active nonviolence. While we have not achieved our initial objective, for the Catholic Church to write a teaching document on nonviolence, I think we have perhaps done more to grow and root an understanding of active nonviolence in communities around the world. It is a little like running a relay race. Teams of people, theologians, peace activists, community workers, academics, dotted around a track, each carry a baton of experience and knowledge of the power of nonviolence, passing these on until they merge to create a whole picture. The work has expanded since 2018 and includes the launch of our second book, Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World; the first annual Catholic Nonviolence Days of Action, the development of study guides on Making Nonviolence a Way of Life and regular contributions to the Vatican’s Covid Commission on how security might be reframed post Covid.

The fruits of working groups, conferences and commissioned essays, involving more than a hundred contributors, were honed by a skilful team of editors into Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace, published in October. Acknowledging some of the tragic failures of the Church it moves to offer examples of faith communities making connections between poverty, violence, the destruction of the environment and developing on-the-ground nonviolent responses.
cover of bookCommenting on the work Tiffany Easthom, Director of Nonviolent Peace force says,
“Along with providing philosophical and theological foundations… the book provides
practical examples of transition, like unarmed civilian protection. Active, compassionate and cooperative nonviolence is essential for our future survival. This book helps chart that path.”
I particularly value the very practical sections on integrating nonviolence into the life of the Catholic community, what could be seen as a checklist of outcomes. Here are just a few.
• Expand Catholic involvement in unarmed civilian protection programmes.
• Strengthen the Vatican’s links with the diplomatic corps and its own diplomats to deepen a commitment to nonviolent prevention of conflict.
• Create information hubs at local, national and international levels to share best practice in civic organising and nonviolent resistance.
• Amplify the lives and approaches of nonviolent peacemakers from all traditions as models and a focus for learning.
Some years ago Pope Francis urged that the Church be a ‘field hospital’ in an unjust and violent world. This needs people well trained in trauma healing, nonviolent resistance, diplomacy, education and more, who see that nonviolence can inform and sustain every aspect of this work.

Between 2018-2020 a group called the People of God (as the name implies, this was a ‘bottom-up’ rather than institutional process) with participants from Germany, Kenya, Korea, Palestine, Central African Republic, USA and Mexico met to plan projects for grass-roots communities that would, among other things, lead to a celebration of nonviolence. A course and survey entitled Making Active Nonviolence a Way of Life in the Church and the World, was created, drawing on the texts of the 2017 World Peace Message, “Nonviolence a Style of Politics for Peace”. Its five units included the themes Cultivating Nonviolence, Seeing Violence in our World Today, Discerning and Judging based on the Good News of Jesus, Acting with a force more powerful than violence.
To support the first Catholic Nonviolence Days of Action the group built a toolkit around the themes of Prayer resources, Acts of public witness, Nonviolence as a way of life, Creating a nonviolent parish and Celebrating nonviolent heroes. The rich experiences of our group elicited films, videos, stories, prayers, discussion ideas, models of actions that were woven into the framework. Aware that no person or group could do everything, we hoped that our ‘pick and mix’ approach would allow everyone to do something!
Pax Christi in England & Wales has offered the Making Active Nonviolence course twice so far. Using ZOOM, we had a core of around 45 people over five one-hour sessions. Feedback was illuminating “I had assumed nonviolence was a very minority interest in the Church – and it is – but it was good tohear the enthusiasm and activism of so many Catholics and “I have always viewed nonviolence through political and philosophical stance, this opened up the spiritual connection and how rooted in the gospel the message is”.
In summer 2020 we wrote an appeal to Pope Francis suggesting that response to the
pandemic requires a fundamental shift from the ‘unjust normal’ of systemic and structural violence to a culture of solidarity that seeks the fullness of life for all. We believe that ctive nonviolence – a spirituality, a way of life and a program of action – is key to this global shift. So, we keep on rolling!



Advancing Nonviolence can be ordered here price £20.50 + p&p

More on Nonviolence Days of Action and Framework