The staff of SC Ministry Foundation, along with Sisters of Charity and their affiliates active in peace and justice ministry were blessed to meet with two members of Pax Christi International and hear about the revolutionary work they are doing to promote nonviolence and just peace.

Secretary General Greet Vanaershot, from Belgium, and Senior Communications Officer Johnny Zokovitch, who splits his time between Belgium and Washington, D.C., were hosted at the Motherhouse where they thanked the Foundation and the Sisters of Charity for supporting their groundbreaking work.

Bringing Great Minds Together

The Foundation first supported Pax Christi International in 2016 with a grant for the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference they co-sponsored with several other organizations interested in promoting nonviolence. The conference, held in April, 2016, in Rome, Italy, brought together 80 theologians and peace leaders/practitioners from around the world – including places of extreme violence such as Iraq, South Sudan, Colombia, and the Philippines – to discuss and articulate a new understanding of nonviolence within the Catholic Church. Out of this meeting came the document, An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Recommit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence, which has been endorsed by more than 2,000 individuals and organizations.

This unprecedented gathering also gave birth to the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative – a project of Pax Christi International – which is focused on affirming the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church. The Initiative strives to help the Catholic Church deter the world from perpetual violence and war through an expanded investment of its intellectual, pastoral, academic, diplomatic, and financial resources to promote active nonviolence as a practical and effective tool for building peace within families, communities, and countries across the globe. They have created a platform for the best minds to articulate their experience of using nonviolent strategies in different contexts and to share that experience with peers, Church leaders, and government officials.

Preparing for the Next Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference

Catholic Nonviolence Initiative works closely with the Vatican in hopes that Pope Francis will write his next encyclical on the subject of nonviolence and just peace. This hope was fueled when their proposed theme and the substantial background materials they provided were used by the Pope in his 2017 World Day of Peace message, Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace.

The Initiative has spent the last two years building on the success of the conference and working to replace simplistic ideas about nonviolent action with more accurate, expanded, and evidence-based information about effective nonviolent tools that could help humanity actually build a more peaceful world. Academics, moral theologians, activists, and the most creative, experienced peace-workers in the world have been reflecting in (virtual) round table conversations on multiple nonviolence-related themes. The outcome of these conversations will form the basis for a second conference on nonviolence and just peace in Rome in early 2019, which will again be supported, in part, by SC Ministry Foundation.

The conference will bring 80 – 100 participants together, many from war zones and violent situations. Other participants will be invited for their ability to influence the Vatican and international Catholic organizations to integrate Gospel nonviolence explicitly into the life and work of the Church through dioceses, parishes, agencies, schools, universities, seminaries, religious orders, voluntary associations, and others.

Professor Jeanette Rodriguez, PhD, is a member of one of the five international roundtables that have been meeting monthly via Skype for the past year. A celebrated faculty-scholar, Dr. Rodriguez has taught at Seattle University for 27 years. And for many years she’s been involved with Catholic peace reform movements. “Nonviolence is not just a concept or a methodology – it’s a tool, a way of being,” she says. “You can’t wake up from one day to the next and say, ‘I want to be nonviolent.’ You need to have a spiritual practice; habits that help form your character in a way that will help stop you from reacting violently, not just physical violence but the way we talk to one another. It involves the choices we make, the way we treat people.”