How to involve the Church in the peace movement?

How to involve the Church in the peace movement?

By: Rev R.W Timm, CSC

How to involve the Church in the peace movement?

The relationship of justice and peace is shown in the first sentence of the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: (Whereas) “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” The Human Rights Commission made no attempt to formulate a rational theory of human rights. They were so eager for peace in the world after so many years of horrible devastating warfare with enormous loss of human lives that they accepted that all people form one human family: Based on their only good model of human rights, the Bogota Declaration of Human Rights, they also accepted human dignity as the basis of human rights, thanks to the persuasive oratory of Dr. Charles Malek of Lebanon. Cardinal Walter Kasper later wrote that the social contract theory is inadequate to explain human dignity “in its fullness” without the help of Judeo-Christian revelation.

To understand violations against peace we have to understand violence. It is “an extreme form of aggression, such as an assault, rape, murder and it has many causes, including frustration, exposure to violent media, tending to see others actions as hostile, even when they are not.” There is an increased risk of violence by “drinking, insults and other provocations, environmental factors like heat, overcrowding.” WHO has in its definition of violence “the intentional use of force,” but the worst violence in many parts of Asia is usually spontaneous and often has something to do with religion.

Religious basis for conflict

A growing number of conflicts in Asia are based on differing religious interpretations. There conflicts are all analyzed deeply from a religious background in Just (the International Movement for a Just World), the monthly foldout magazine published by Dr. Chandra Muzzafar, a Malaysian. Many intellectual solutions are offered, which, if heeded, may reverse harmful policies of the past. “Violence against sacred spaces oftentimes engender (sic) conflicts deadlier and intractable. As a result, this kind of conflict becomes increasingly difficult to resolve.”2) Dr. Chandra makes a reasonable argument against Israeli expansionism and often opposes the “hegemonic” worldview of the USA. Such alarming words should be avoided, since they arouse opposition rather than win over an opponent.

Catholic peace organizations

Most peace organizations are founded and run by dedicated laity. The Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in May 1933, is radically pacifist, committed to the poor and to basic change in society. Pax Christi International is a non profit, non-governmental, pacifist organization working on a world-level. Large numbers of U.S. bishops

are members. It has prepared a handbook on non-violence and its techniques. It works for “peace with justice.” The International Fellowship for Reconciliation (IFOR), though not a Catholic body, is open to people of all religions and has six Nobel laureates as members. It was founded in 1919 to overcome the spirit of revenge against Germany in the harsh treaty after World War I. It has six areas of concern: Decade for a culture of non-violence, non-violence education and training, youth empowerment, interfaith cooperation, disarmament and gender justice. IFOR has a vision of the human community based on the conviction that love has the power to change unjust structures. It seeks justice as the basis for peace.

Secular Asian Organizations

The Institute of Pace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi is the leading South Asian think tank. It studies nuclear issues, disarmament, nonproliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism, armed conflict and peace processes in the region. It also has a China Research Program. A high-level Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council was formed on September 5, 2012. The body is intended to help regional peace efforts in a fastmoving and more complex world. Long-standing conflicts between governments and Muslim majority areas in Thailand and the Philippines, quarrels over islands in the South China Sea, religious attacks in Aceh are all issues the proposed Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council could help resolve. The Asian Human Rights Centre in Hong Kong is the leading agency for justice and peace activities and for legal action in Asia. They carry out thorough case studies on major issues in many countries of Asia.

Promoting and practicing peace

There are many ways of practicing peace. They can be found abundantly on the Internet. There are 50 ideas on doing peace and 100 ideas for creating a more peaceful world. Commenting on Nick Mele, a Pax Christi USA National Council member, in his recently published Becoming Nonviolent Peacemakers. Eli S. McCarthy proposes that we think about nonviolent peacemaking in the context of virtues rather than in either of the two prevailing frameworks, just war rules or strategic choices.

McCarthy’s ideas tie nonviolent peacemaking and nonviolence in general more closely into Catholic social teaching and moral theology, something that has been entering Catholic discourse on war of late through a kind of backdoor admission that violent action is no longer a viable choice in the twenty- first century. A little more than halfway through his book, McCarthy poses two key questions about moral training and practice: “Who are we becoming?” and “Who ought we to become?” Some of the common methods of working for peace are: fasting, human chain, boycott, pen strike, slow-down, sitdown, gherao (surrounding), procession, demonstration, strike, poster, leaflet, banner, badge, signature campaign, giving news to media, pressure movement, analyze successful movements.

All theological seminaries of Asia should have courses to increase the social awareness of seminarians, their ability to recognize and analyze violations of justice and peace, especially those of a social nature. Educating the trainers of diocesan CJP groups is also essential for keeping them abreast of the ever-changing nature of the social condition. They must be imbued with the Catholic social teachings that are essential for the pursuit of peace. These may be found in the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church but are much more concisely stated in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. The right to pacifism is defended: “those who renounce violence bear witness to the serious physical and moral risks involved in the use of violence. In order to defend human rights they make use of non-violent means that are available to the weakest.

It is a legitimate option for Catholics to be pacifists. Pacifism can be a way of bearing witness to love, as long as the rights and duties of other people or communities aren’t harmed.” (n 2306)

The criteria for a just war are important for all to know, and all the conditions must be met:

  • The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain;
  • All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • There must be serious prospects of success;
  • The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver that the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. (n2309)

[Note that the declaration of war by a legitimate authority is missing from the conditions.]

World Peace Day on January 1st is an occasion for the Pope to teach the whole world about different approaches to peace. In his State of the World address to representatives of 177 countries having diplomatic relations with the Vatican Pope Benedict told them that he was “personally struck by the feeling of fear which often dwells in the hearts of our contemporaries in the face of terrorism, the threat of war, famine, disease and environmental degradation.” He urged them to say “NO TO WAR”! He stated that “war is always a defeat for humanity.” The solution of differences “will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution.”

In the United States there have been education programs and courses since the 70s. Five areas of Justice and Peace Studies are recognized: “war, peace and arms races; social, political and economic justice; conflict regulation; the philosophy and practice of non-violence; a just world order.”3) In addition, Justice and Peace elements are incorporated in about 25 per cent of other subjects.

Besides the formal courses, many opportunities are arranged for the students to carry out community service for the benefit of the poor. For degree programs the students may spend a semester or two in developing countries in order to see up close their many problems in striving to break out of poverty. Social service may lead them to challenge the society in which they live.

On the other hand, their service may be predominantly for the rich. Fr. Henry Volken, SJ, founder and director of the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, told us how, as seminarians, they were sent out to dig a pond or tank for the whole community of a village to use. They finished the task and went home feeling good. Only later did they learn that the tank was on a rich man’s property and by force he kept others from using it. So our social endeavors should always begin with social analysis to look below the surface for the true causes at work, often in a hidden way.


1) www.apaorg » Psychology Topics. Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Psychology.

2) Satha-Anand, Chaivat, “Understanding the Global Threats of Violence against Sacred Spaces, Just, 2012, 12 (9): P. 11.

3) Fahey, Joseph J. “The Nature and Challenges of Justice Education” in Justice and Peace Education: Models for College and University Faculty,” 1975, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, p.3.



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