On “Pacem in Terris” Anniversary, Riding the Wave of Peacemaking and Human Rights

Eli McCarthy, Director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men

This April marks the 55th Anniversary of Pacem in Terris (1963), which was a remarkable encyclical and breakthrough in Catholic Social Teaching. Like Pope Francis today, Pope John XXIII was drawing the Catholic Church to a more pastoral approach. He was also expressing a key development: a deeper sense of our sacred, human dignity that legitimates a broader set of human rights. This shift to human rights corresponded with more appeals to Christian virtue, which set the stage for Vatican II’s call of all people to holiness. These important shifts were in part enabled by the Pope’s focus on peace. We are still living in the transformative wake of these shifts.

What insight does this encyclical offer us today? One significant element is the call to better ensure social and economic rights, such as a just wage, the right to form unions, racial justice, and pay equity between women and men. Pope John XXIII called “these rights and duties universal, inviolable, and inalienable” (no. 9). Thus, we should ensure that workers in our dioceses and our communities are getting a just/living wage in accord with the local cost of living. We can calculate the living wage for any county in the U.S. here. As we work to ensure these wages in policy, we can also encourage higher paid workers to express solidarity by sharing some of their income with lower paid workers to help them get closer to and achieve a living wage.

A second significant and interconnected element is the call to peace and away from armed force or violence. Pope John was very clear about this issue as he read the signs of the times. Disagreements, he wrote, “must be settled in a truly human way, not by armed force nor deceit or trickery” (no. 93). Further, he noted that “violence has always achieved only destruction, not construction; the kindling of passions, not their pacification; the accumulation of hate and ruin, not the reconciliation of the contending parties. And it has reduced us to the difficult task of rebuilding, after sad experience, on the ruins of discord” (no. 162). Thus, “justice, reason, and consideration for human dignity and life urgently demands that the arms race cease” (no. 112) because “peace depends not in equality of arms but in mutual trust alone” (no. 113). Therefore, he proclaims that “it is contrary to reason to hold that war is now a suitable way to restore rights” (no. 127). Today, Pope Francis has picked up these insights with his World Day of Peace Message in 2017, “Nonviolence: A Style of Politics” which called us to “embrace Jesus’ teaching of nonviolence,” and “become nonviolent people,” along with his more recent call to integral disarmament.

Some practical ways we can live out these insights include the following. We can equip our diocese, schools, families, and broader community in the habits and skills of active nonviolence so that we are better prepared for engaging conflict constructively. These might include training in nonviolent communication, active bystander intervention, unarmed civilian protection, restorative justice circles, nonviolent direct action, community organizing, etc. We can also educate these groups better in Gospel nonviolence, as St. Camillus parish in Silver Spring, MD is doing.

Another practical way to live out these insights is in the sphere of advocacy to change social structures. This can include direct advocacy and voting for candidates that will increase funding for peacebuilding (ex. Complex Crisis Fund) and restorative justice processes, as well as decrease our enormous Pentagon spending and end war. We can also advocate for police departments to require substantial, ongoing de-escalation training and to pilot some unarmed police units as they already have as the vast majority of police in Britain, Norway, Scotland, New Zealand, Ireland, Iceland, and 12 of 16 Pacific Island nations.

I hope we will sense Jesus’ heart calling us to participate in some of these and other creative ways. Peace be with you!

Eli McCarthy is the Director of Justice and Peace for CMSM and a professor at Georgetown University in Justice and Peace Studies.

Opening Wide the Door of Gospel Nonviolence

Eli McCarthy, Director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Eli McCarthy, Director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Pope Francis continues to amaze. As far as I know, he has just issued the first high-level official Catholic statement focused on Gospel nonviolence in this year’s World Day of Peace message. The door has been opened for the Catholic Church to enter a deeper understanding and broader commitment to Jesus’ way of active nonviolence and just peace.

Francis said “to be true followers of Jesus today includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.” Thus, we are to “cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values,” i.e. develop the habit or virtue of nonviolent peacemaking. He pledges “the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.”

Like Jesus, we encounter stories of nonviolent peacemakers in this message, such as Gandhi, Khan, MLK, and Gbowee. These icons of nonviolent force realized that both constructive peacebuilding and nonviolent resistance were necessary compliments to sustainable conflict transformation.

Khan was a Muslim nonviolent leader in India who both developed schools for women and the first nonviolent peace army (80,000 members) to resist the ruthless British occupation. In a similar vein, today the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) offers unarmed civilian protection in many violent conflict zones. For example, in South Sudan NP has reduced sexual assaults and rape by all armed actors from regularity to zero in the areas they patrol. They also directly saved 14 women and children from armed militia when they refused three times to obey orders from the militia to leave during an armed attack.

These models, which combine constructive peacebuilding and nonviolent resistance, represent a just peace approach. This approach offers a vision of human flourishing which includes a commitment to the social conditions that illuminate human dignity and cultivate thriving relationships. Drawing on specific criteria, virtues, and practices to guide our actions, it focuses on transforming conflict, breaking cycles of violence, and cultivating sustainable peace.

Key nonviolent practices that reflect this approach include, for example, addressing the root causes of violence, transforming the different dimensions of conflict, nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, unarmed civilian protection, interfaith collaboration, trauma-healing, and nonviolent civilian-based defense. Core virtues would include nonviolent peacemaking, mercy, solidarity, and humility.

Several just peace criteria within the broader approach would guide our action choices and apply at all stages of conflict. There are examples of a just peace approach to nuclear weapons, lethal drones, Syria, and ISIS.  

What if the Catholic Church were to make a shift to an explicit just peace approach consistent with Gospel nonviolence? Would it not be more consistent with Jesus’ way and help us recognize that all killing or lethal force is a form of violence? Would it not also liberate us more for nonviolent practices that would better build just peace, prevent war, limit ongoing war, heal after war, and even draw society away from war sooner as we more effectively live up to our “duty to strain every muscle to outlaw war” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes par. 81).

As Catholic leaders in our communities, we have a very unique opportunity to build on this movement of the Spirit.

Here are some suggestions:

1) share the World Day of Peace with your communities;

2) provide substantial education about active nonviolence in all levels of faith formation;

3) provide a regular Gospel-based training program in various nonviolent skills, as they have in the Archdiocese of Chicago;

4) join or develop a local peace team to deploy unarmed peacekeepers, provide nonviolent skill training, and scale-up restorative justice.

May God’s love and courage be with each of us as we walk further through the door of Gospel nonviolence.

Eli McCarthy is the director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.


Going Deeper!

For more resources, visit USCCB’s World Day of Peace webpage, where you’ll find a two-page handout in English and Spanish, past World Day of Peace messages, and other tools to promote peace.