Pope Francis and the Shift Toward Nonviolence

By Ken Butigan

It’s synchronistic that, the same week Pope Francis brought his message of peace, people and the planet to the United States, thousands of activists were dramatizing many of these same themes by taking to the streets in hundreds of cities for a culture of peace and nonviolence.

It was a coincidence that Campaign Nonviolence’s second annual week of nonviolent actions took place during the pope’s visit. But the fact that both happened at the same time underscores the importance of two critical elements of nonviolent change: vision and action. Tackling the monumental catastrophes facing our suffering world will take a clear-sighted prophetic stance — especially one delivered with the compassionate and down-to-earth exuberance of the current pontiff — but it will also require a growing movement to generate the people power sufficient to translate even the most pointed declarations into gritty change.

And that’s where Campaign Nonviolence — and many other initiatives for monumental transformation — comes in.

Campaign Nonviolence, or CNV, is a long-term movement taking action for a world free from war, poverty, racism, environmental destruction and, for good measure, the epidemic of violence. Launched a year ago with events coast to coast, CNV this week mobilized again in all 50 states and nine countries, from Pakistan to Portugal. Its strategic, multi-generational job description is to foster a culture that works for all of us by mainstreaming active nonviolence, by connecting the dots between issues and between movements, and by taking action for a nonviolent shift.

CNV Wilmington 2015

A CNV march to protect Idaho from nuclear waste. (CNV Boise)

Hence this week’s 363 — and counting — CNV marches, rallies, demonstrations, interfaith services and vigils held since last Sunday and running through this weekend.

A raft of cities organized multiple events, including Memphis, Tennessee, Raleigh, North Carolina, Boise, Idaho, San Francisco, and Little Rock, Arkansas. The latter hosted a peace vigil, an Equality Summit for LGBTQ rights, a panel on peace in the Middle East, a food drive for the poor of Arkansas, and a public dialogue on the pope’s encyclical on the environment. Elsewhere activists mobilized at drone bases north of Las Vegas and Horsham, Pennsylvania. Wilmington, Delaware saw a march against gun violence, while a rally was held at Calumet Refinery in Great Falls, Montana opposing tar sands extraction. With an eye on a long-term strategy for change, the city of Ashland, Oregon launched the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission. From Anchorage to Tampa Bay, from Kabul to Guam, and in hundreds of other places, Campaign Nonviolence went public for a better world.

The day before the pope’s meeting with President Obama on Wednesday, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance staged a CNV action at Rep. Paul Ryan’s Congressional office on Capitol Hill, followed by a rally and civil disobedience action at the White House, where 16 advocates for change were arrested.

“As Pope Francis visits the United States this week, and challenges us to end poverty, war, executions, racism, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, many of us are taking to the streets with the same message,” said Rev. John Dear, who spoke at the gates of the White House on Tuesday, emphasizing the importance of CNV’s wave of actions at the moment of the papal visit. “The message is simple: We want a new culture of nonviolence. We want to live in peace with justice for one another. We want to take care of the earth, stop killing others, and start rebuilding the world so that everyone has food, housing, healthcare, education, employment and dignity.”

CNV Boise, ID 2015 Walk to Protect Idaho from Nuclear Waste (3)

A CNV march against gun violence in Wilmington, Delaware. (CNV Wilmington)

As Rev. Dear stressed, this growing movement echoes the relentless preoccupation of Pope Francis: an end to poverty, the abolition of war, and a dramatic new and healing relationship with the earth. Nowhere is this more evident than in his ground-breaking encyclical “Laudato Si’ — On Care for Our Common Home,” which illuminates the interrelationship between climate change, our economic order, and the impact on people everywhere, especially the most marginalized.

“I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature,” he writes in the encyclical’s opening chapter.

As organizer Mary Ellen Quinn has clearly illuminated in a trenchant analysis of this ground-breaking papal document, Pope Francis, like CNV, is connecting the dots between war, poverty, the climate crisis and all violence — a point underscored by a new published report that the pope is planning to call for a ban on the possession of nuclear weapons. Also like CNV, Pope Francis not only is calling out the problem, he is pointing to the solution: the need for a new culture of peace.

For the pope, this means a clear stand against violence, rooted in a recovery of the nonviolence of his own religious tradition, as he indicated in a statement at St. Peter’s in August 2013: “The true strength of the Christian is the power of truth and love, which leads to the renunciation of all violence. Faith and violence are incompatible.” This is a remarkable statement, coming from the leader of an institution that, for 1,500 years, has often given a pass to violence in the world — codified in Just War theology — and in the church itself. He is spelling out that, for those standing in that tradition, faith cannot justify violence, legitimate violence, or give power to violence. This simple declaration has far-reaching implications, as the pope reclaims the originating vision and practice of his tradition, which is rooted in the power of an inclusive, transformative love, including the love of self, love of neighbor, and, most revolutionary of all, love of enemies.

If a culture of comprehensive peace is the goal, then nonviolence — active and creative love in action — is the method. What if, therefore, this already audacious pope were to even more audaciously mainstream nonviolence? What if he were to even more explicitly spread the centrality of active nonviolence throughout the church and the world? What if this papacy were to strenuously highlight the power of nonviolence as a force for good and as a key to the survival and flourishing of the planet?

What if Pope Francis were to write a new encyclical on nonviolence directed to the church — which would be invited to confess and transform its own violence — but also addressed to the world, in the way “Laudato Si’” was?

It would likely have a dramatic, tumultuous and potentially transformative impact.

CNV would welcome and applaud such a clarion call. And, until then, CNV — and many other movements, institutions, organizations and people around the world — will continue making such a call itself, and take small and large steps to foster an emerging culture of peace and nonviolence, piece by piece and action by action.Φ

Ken Butigan is director of Pace e Bene, a nonprofit organization fostering nonviolent change through education, community and action. He also teaches peace studies at DePaul University and Loyola University in Chicago.

Photo Credit of Pope Francis: By Jeffrey Bruno from New York City, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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