Walking the Walk

Taking Steps on the Path to Compassionate Living

Walking the Nonviolent Walk: Swimming in a Sea of Dedication

I didn’t intentionally stop writing several months ago, but I allowed it to happen. In 2015 I set aside an evening each week to write, with the goal of writing at least one blogpost per week. For the most part, I remained faithful to the practice. When 2016 began with a number of shifts in my life, I did not make the same intention and my writing has suffered as a result. Now, today, I recommit myself to this practice that feeds me and, I hope, you.

I chose to name my website Walking the Walk to hold myself accountable, to share my own experiences of attempting to live according to the values I profess: compassion, nonviolence, peace, justice, mercy, forgiveness, community, to name a few. I also want to highlight the stories of others whose words clearly manifest into actions that benefit our world.

Judy Coode and Marie Dennis share the banner for the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference (Gerry Lee)

Judy Coode and Marie Dennis share the banner for the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference (Gerry Lee)

Recently, I spent several days in Rome at a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International entitled “Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic understanding of and commitment to nonviolence.”  There I was surrounded by people who are walking the walk: people who have dedicated themselves in one way or another to nonviolence. Some are scholars/academics/educators; others have participated in campaigns of nonviolent civil resistance; others have acted as protective presence in violent contexts; and still others have worked to bring opposing violent forces together in dialogue. Participants came from across the globe and shared both devastating stories of brutality and inspiring stories about the best of humanity.

The conference began with an address by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.  He first shared a letter from Pope Francis and then his own reflections. His was the only formal address at the gathering. The rest of the conference was organized as large-group sessions with featured speakers that opened into broader group dialogue and then small-group dialogue sessions to delve deeper into the themes. 

I began writing today with the hope that doing so might help me integrate all that I heard, but as I write, I am aware that I have much to process still. So I will offer some of what I am chewing on:

·         Just war theory is a philosophy based on natural law; it is not a theology.

·         Our Christian theology must be Gospel-based; Jesus was not violent, nor did he in any way condone or encourage violence. Early Christians followed this example. When Empire adopted Christianity, Christianity abandoned nonviolence. We must return to the roots of the tradition.

·         Even if we take out the element of faith, nonviolence makes more sense than violence:  nonviolent civil resistance is more than twice as effective as violent resistance, according to a study completed by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan.

·         From Northern Ireland, South Sudan, and Colombia, we also heard the clear message: Dialogue is key. Relationships are key. We must be willing to talk to everyone in a conflict, giving primacy to the voices of those most affected by the violence.

·         ISIS and violent extremists came into discussion more than once. An Iraqi sister finally addressed the question: Is it possible to talk to ISIS? Her emphatic answer: “Yes!” she said. Given the above testimonies we’d already heard, her answer was not surprising. She told us that many people who join ISIS are hungry, uneducated, and disenfranchised people who are being manipulated because of their ignorance.

·         Creating a just peace means not only ending violence, but also cultivating societies that uphold the dignity of all people and focus on the common good.  

·         Another aspect of peace-building is tending to and helping people heal from their trauma.

·         We must also take into account geopolitical powers. When these actors in conflict refuse to  dialogue, using nonviolent resistance may be the key to getting their attention and bringing them to the table.  

·         Love must be the center from which we work. Peace must be both the means and the end.

·         We must pay attention to our spiritual life if we hope to have sustenance for the long journey of nonviolence.

Items brought by participants to create a conference altar

Items brought by participants to create a conference altar

·         Nonviolence is not passive. It is active, creative, and life-affirming; it is also risky and vulnerable. It requires great strength of character and an openness and commitment to self-transformation in the process of world transformation.

I am sure there is much I am missing. From the small- and large-group conversations, we drafted a statement asking Pope Francis to (among other things) write an encyclical embracing nonviolence and discarding the just war theory and focus rather on the idea of just peace.

I do not know what will happen next. I hope that this conference will result in such an encyclical that will influence the Catholic community and our whole world. Even if the encyclical is not written, I am certain the effects of the conference will ripple out in smaller ways. This was a beginning.

I believe that my participation has also changed me, though exactly how is still unclear. I know well that sometimes the clarity takes time. I look forward to whenever it comes.

In the meantime, I offer blessings to you, or rather the hope that you may recognize the blessings that already are and find ways to pass them along.

I hope that my writing is one way I can share all that has been given to me.


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