On Friday April 29 2016, the Italian news service, ANSA, reported that Pope Francis is “considering global peace as the next topic of the Synod of Bishops.” Earlier in the week, Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace, said in an interview with the Times of London that a new papal encyclical was entirely plausible. He went on to tell the Times, “Too often the ‘just war theory’ has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. It can undermine efforts to develop alternative capacities and tools for conflict to be overcome and transformed.”

Three weeks ago I was one of 85 experts on nonviolence from throughout the world called together by the Pontifical Council and Pax Christi to help the Roman Catholic Church re-examine their Just War Doctrine which has shaped not only the Catholic Church’s stance on wars but has also deeply influenced the way the West justifies war and violence since at least the 4th century.

(Published May 9, 2016)

In a very participatory conference, we consensed on an appeal for the Catholic Church to recommit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence. Cardinal Turkson, whose staff had participated in the writing team, took part in the final consensus process.

We clearly stated, “We believe that there is no “just war”. Instead we proposed that the church shift to a Just Peace approach based upon Gospel nonviolence and commitment to human dignity and thriving relationships. We called on the Pope to issue an encyclical on Just Peace and for the church to promote nonviolent practices including unarmed civilian protection.

We went on to cite the opportunity costs of just war, “Suggesting that a “just war” is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict." Instead, intellectual, spiritual and financial resources need to focus on creating and identifying the best tools of active nonviolence.

Nonviolent Peaceforce is totally nondenominational. Our unarmed civilian protectors come from all major faiths as well as those who do not profess any religious belief. We are the better for it. Yet, it is highly significant that a church with about a billion members and a pope who influences billions more is actively considering a full embrace of nonviolence including the work of Nonviolent Peaceforce. Amid the excruciating epidemic of violence that Pope Francis has labeled “A World War in installments,” a shift is underway. An encyclical on nonviolence will hasten this transformation.

Photo: Cardinal Turkson talks with Ken Butigan, founder of Pace Bene, John Dear, activist/theologian and Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Northern Ireland.

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