Celebrating Pax Christi USA: 50 years building the peaceful kingdom

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Washington area resident Jean Stoken shows a peace sign as members of Pax Christi gather for an anti-war rally on the National Mall in Washington on January 27, 2009. Tens of thousands of people participated in the rally and a march urging the United States to leave Iraq. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

At the beginning of each liturgical year, the church listens attentively to the Hebrew prophets who describe the coming of the Anointed One. Isaiah is a frequent voice in the Advent liturgy, and his vision of the Lord’s Day brings great inspiration and hope to those longing for a time of peace. He dreams of nations beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning shears, lions and lambs lying together, and a little boy leading them. However, each Advent, Christians who celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace must recognize how far we are from realizing this great messianic vision.

As Pax Christi USA celebrates its 50th anniversary of foundation As the official Catholic peace movement in the United States in August, we celebrate this golden jubilee amid daily reports of tragic loss of life from unprovoked attacks on Ukraine by Russia. Bodies pile up in the streets and people are displaced in their homes and seek refuge in other nations. Closer to home, Independence Day celebrations were marred by mass shootings, which came as the nation was still mourning yet another massacre of innocent children in its classrooms in Uvalde, Texas.

Wars and violence continue in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Sudan, Yemen, and many other places around the globe, each contributing to increased displacement of people and ecological destruction, in addition to the loss of sacred human life. Nations like ours continue to spend disproportionate amounts of their budgets to acquire weapons, and the threat of nuclear destruction continues, even when no one is paying attention. Turning swords into plowshares is still a dream, but a dream whose time is long overdue.

Flore Berger prays during the 35th Annual Pax Christi Metro New York Way of the Cross/Way of Peace on April 14, 2017 in New York City. “Jesus calls us to active non-violence” was the theme of the year’s Good Friday commemoration. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

In the early 1970s, when the United States was polarized over its involvement in the Vietnam War, Catholic peacebuilders like eileen-egan, Gordon Zahn, Gerry VanderhaarEd Guinan, Our Lady of Namur Sr. Mary Evelyn Jegen, retired Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit Tom Gumbleton, Joe Fahey, and others were inspired by French Catholics seeking to use their Catholic faith to overcome World War II resentments against Germans who shared their faith. From its inception, Pax Christi has promoted a spirituality of non-violence that engages individuals, communities and nations in the search for long-term peaceful solutions to conflict.

The signs of the times that were in force in 1972 remain, although the circumstances and details have changed. The Gospel of Jesus, the Peacemaker who reconciles humanity to God, continues to call us all to conversion. Pax Christi members strive to answer that call, to eradicate tendencies to violence in their own hearts and minds, and join others in a community that wants to live the spirit of the Beatitudes.

Pax Christi’s methodology has also been consistent: prayer, study and action. Realizing that peace is ultimately a gift from God and the work of the Holy Spirit, Pax Christi members pray daily to be receptive to God’s gift of peace. The prayer is sometimes done in a public format, bearing faithful witness in places where the forces of violence and death are at work and provoking a response from other Christians who are complicit in the violence perpetrated in their name.

Turning swords into plowshares is still a dream, but a dream whose time is long overdue.

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Studying the issues that cause violence and injustice, as well as teaching alternatives to violence and spirituality and the practice of active nonviolent resistance, enables Pax Christi to adhere to Jesus’ instructions to be as smart as the others. serpents and meek as doves. The action undertaken by Pax Christi is related to prayer and study; sometimes it is symbolic and liturgical; sometimes it is practical as in communication with legislators and parties in dispute; it is always undertaken with respect for those who differ and avoids the demonization of the other.

Pax Christi USA has strengthened its commitment to building peace with justice in American society and promoting Catholic social teaching, both inside and outside church structures. For the past 20 years, Pax Christi has been especially attentive to systemic racism as an inherently violent source of injustice in the United States. Pax Christi recognized that, like much of the American church, the organization was predominantly one of white people of a certain generation.

A movement that calls itself “Catholic” without reflecting something of the diversity of the American church membership is already impoverished. In order to engage people of color who are passionate about the need for peace and who want to work to dismantle injustice in the movement, it has been important to amplify their voices and make sure those voices are heard and grow the number of people. of color within the organization.

Pax Christi Anti-Racism Team (PCART) has been providing workshops for faith communities, students, parishes, and other organizations that help them see how systemic racism works and equip them to do the hard work of social change. With all that has happened in recent years with the rise of white supremacist organizations in the light and the increased awareness of police violence against the African American community, PCART and all of Pax Christi USA is eager to build on the foundation of increased awareness. of racial injustice and do even more to see racial justice as a prerequisite for a peaceful society.

The great witness to nonviolent action, Martin Luther King Jr., yearned to form a beloved community, which was intended to be a multicultural community, because he realized that the forces of injustice could only succeed when they divided the dispossessed among themselves and They caused them to be suspicious of each other.

Pax Christi USA is also aware of the injustices within the church structure. For many Catholics who are disappointed that their Sunday homilies do not draw on the rich social teaching of our tradition and, in some cases, even alienate members of the community, Pax Christi has been their main experience of community within the church and provides the necessary sustenance for the path towards the Kingdom of God. Racism, sexism, militarism, and homophobia must be confronted within the church, as well as in society at large, if we are to build lasting peace with justice.

A member of a Pax Christi delegation listens to a presentation during a visit to Fasayel, West Bank, in this May 15, 2015 file photo. (CNS/Miriam Alster)

During the pontificate of Pope Francis, Pax Christi has rejoiced to see him embrace the spirituality of the nonviolent Christ and call for a re-evaluation of just war theory in our teaching. The Pope has repeatedly described the current world situation as a “third world war waged in pieces” and has confronted what he calls the “globalization of indifference” with his calls for a more peaceful and fraternal world. He has emphasized the need for a more fraternal world and has taught us much about the need to include the marginalized and those on the periphery.

As we observe this Golden Jubilee of Pax Christi USA, we continue to yearn for the realization of Isaiah’s vision of swords and spears becoming instruments for growing food. But we do not sit idly by, we contribute to the building of that kingdom of peace that Jesus inaugurated with his death and resurrection. We cultivate internally and externally demonstrate that peace that the Risen Christ breathed on the apostles.

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