Coralville conference will highlight Catholic Nonviolence Initiative

Barb Arland-Fye
Pax Christi International Secretary General Margaretha (Greet) Vanaerschot, center, speaks with Ruth Burke (far left), Sister Marilyn Huegerich, OSF, and Sister Paschal Hocum (right) after her Sept. 20 talk on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative at the Canticle in Clinton.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Thirty-two young adults in the Great Lakes Region in Africa, newly trained in the principles of active nonviolence, took that training to students at schools in their hometowns. As part of the training provided by Pax Christi International, the young adults learned about entrepreneurship to help disadvantaged youths create small businesses.

That’s nonviolence in action, says Pax Christi International Secretary General Margaretha (Greet) Vanaerschot, who shared the Great Lakes story during her visit with the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton last month. She also stopped in Davenport to visit the Congregation of the Humility of Mary during her U.S. tour to promote the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI).

Developed by Pax Christi International, the CNI affirms the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church and commits to the healing and reconciling of both people and the planet. A Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference held in Rome in 2016 launched the CNI.


The Clinton Franciscans and Sisters of Humility are among women religious communities in the region that have met to discuss how to move the CNI forward, said Sister Jan Cebula, president of the Clinton Franciscans. She will give a presentation on the CNI during the Diocese of Davenport’s “Social Action Saturday” Oct. 27 in Coralville. The daylong event on social action topics is open to the public.

Sisters from the Clinton and Davenport communities asked their diocesan Social Action office what was being done to educate people about the CNI. That was the impetus for its featured spot in Social Action Saturday, said Kent Ferris, director of the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action Office. Ferris, who attended Vanaerschot’s Clinton presentation, is convinced of the need to inform and to provide ideas and opportunities to “incorporate (CNI) into the life of the faithful.”

A global commitment

“Pax Christi Inter­national and the others shepherding the CNI are working hard, involving people around the globe, on material that will have an influence on shaping Catholic Social Teaching on nonviolence, war and just peace,” Sr. Cebula said. For her, that was one of the takeaways from Vanaerschot’s talk at the Canticle in Clinton. Another one: “It’s important to use the term ‘nonviolence,’ understanding that it encompasses a wide range of methods.”

Clinton Franciscans have been educating the public about active nonviolence for years, especially through the Franciscan Peace Center. “Our efforts are often focused at the local, regional or national level. We try to use nonviolent methods and explore with others the meaning of nonviolence,” Sr. Cebula said. “We are grateful that this effort (CNI) to recommit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence is emerging at this time and are blessed to be able to be a part of and support this significant global effort.”

The pope is interested

During the past 18 months, Pax Christi International organized five roundtable discussions online with an international group of theologians, clergy, religious, peace protestors and others on nonviolence. They hope Pope Francis will be inspired by the material disseminated from those discussions to write an encyclical on nonviolence. “We know the pope is interested in this subject,” Vanaerschot said. “There is an open door with the pope. He needs a lot of support. Not everybody believes in it.”

She was especially encouraged by the pope’s 2017 World Day of Peace message, with its theme of “Nonviolence: a style of politics for peace.” In that message, he said:

“… I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promoters of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms.”
Papers developed from the roundtable discussions are being synthesized and will be presented to Pope Francis by the end of November or early December. Another conference on nonviolence will be held in February in Rome.

Meanwhile, efforts are underway to encourage Catholic high schools and colleges to embrace the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. If every Catholic school student “were taught nonviolence from a young age, it would make a difference,” she told the Clinton audience. “We want to make nonviolence … part of the curricula in high school or college.”

A new project of Pax Christi International working toward that goal involved the training of 17 young people from around the world to become peace journalists reporting about the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. “We feel this is something that appeals to youth because it is very concrete action,” Vanaerschot said. “It’s very visual.”

Pax Christi International also seeks to correct the disparity between the world’s “toolboxes” that are employed to deal with conflict. One contains military tools and the other, nonviolence tools. The nonviolence toolbox is small and underdeveloped, Vanaerschot said. “There are many methods of active nonviolence that work. It’s time for the Catholic Church to again recommit to Catholic nonviolence.”

Social Action Saturday
When: Saturday, Oct. 27, 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Where: St. Thomas More Parish, Coralville
Registration: $10. Due by Oct. 19 (online or call Esmeralda Guerrero at (563) 888-4210.
Morning sessions will focus on: The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, Laudato Si’ ongoing resources and program opportunities. A simple lunch will be provided. Afternoon sessions will focus on Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty, Respect Life campaign and updates from parish Social Action commissions.

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