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Nonviolence, Peace, and Catholic Higher Education

Catholic college and university students have a special role to play in helping share the peace of Christ by carrying a message of hope into their daily lives

 

By Marc Tumeinski

At the Last Supper, Jesus gives the disciples a message of hope: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn 14:27). This is a blessing as well as a daily challenge, both of which we are reminded of at every Mass when we hear those words. As a witness to this message, Peter reminds Christians to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt 3:15).

Since 2016, the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI) has sought ways to share this message of hope and peace by affirming the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church. Our goal is a just peace, consisting of political cooperation for the common good, respect for the dignity of all persons and the natural world, preventing violence before it begins, and the transformation of violent conflict by nonviolent strategies. To accomplish a dynamic and generative just peace has always been the defining goal of the Catholic social vision. While peace is the comprehensive and ultimate political goal, social, economic, and ecological justice is also essential to peacemaking. 

This Christian message of hope and peace is given to every generation. Consider the situation we are facing today and what this means for universities, students, faculty, and staff. “The coronavirus has upended communities around the world, threatening livelihoods and lives, forcing a previously unthinkable change in daily routines, helping everyone to recognize the fragility of life and the deep injustice that leaves too many people, communities, and countries vastly more vulnerable than others,” said CNI executive committee member Marie Dennis. “Perhaps this pandemic will help us to recognize the critical need for a transformative shift away from violence in our values and priorities… This time of crisis is urgently calling for a new understanding of security that is based on diplomacy, dialogue, reciprocity, and a multilateral, collaborative approach to solving very real and critical global problems.”

Students, particularly those at Catholic colleges and universities, have a special role to play in solving these problems, not least by carrying a message of hope into their daily encounters, thus helping share the peace of Christ.

 

Teaching Peace and Nonviolence

In 1990, St. John Paul II issued a clear message to Catholic academia, namely, that a “Catholic University … is called on to become an ever more effective instrument of cultural progress for individuals as well as for society. Included among its research activities, therefore, will be a study of serious contemporary problems in areas such as … the search for peace” (Ex corde Ecclesiae). CNI has taken up this challenge to Catholic universities, by promoting efforts to further develop Catholic social teaching on nonviolence and by introducing tools and resources that advance the shared understanding of active nonviolence and just peace.

The subject has enjoyed some recent momentum. Pope Francis has called the Church to increasingly study peace and in 2018 he created a Sciences of Peace degree at the Lateran University in Rome. Last year, Ken Butigan, a member of the CNI executive committee and faculty member at DePaul University, published "The University’s Responsibility for Peace and Nonviolence" in the Vatican’s Congregation of Catholic Education journal, Educatio Catholica (vol. 4, 2019). This attention led to CNI making presentations at multiple academic conferences and universities around the world, including in the UK, the Philippines, Kenya, Australia, Japan, Pakistan, and the United States. Committee members also have published numerous books and articles.

CNI also maintains a list of peace studies programs at Catholic universities around the world. In addition, we have developed a catalog of resources for use by educators and parents, organized by student age group. This material and many other resources are available on the CNI website. We would be happy to work with your institution to create an online or in-person event or conference on these topics, as well as training in a range of skills, such as nonviolent communication, bystander intervention, restorative circles, unarmed civilian protection, or nonviolent campaign strategy. The broader CNI action guide includes further resources for universities.

In the apostolic constitution Veritatis Gaudium (“On ecclesiastical universities and faculties”), Pope Francis encouraged a culture of encounter, the encounter with Jesus that promotes dialogue, communication, and communion. Catholic universities are a place for such encounter and communion to be nurtured. In the Winter 2016 issue of this newsletter, Michael Galligan-Stierle wrote: “Catholic colleges have their part to play in this ‘field hospital,’ helping mend the wounds of a divided society. Now is the time for Catholic higher education to recommit itself to maintaining learning environments in which all people of good will of any political, economic, or religious persuasion can engage in civil discourse in the pursuit of truth.”

We invite your help with the mission of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative. In our institutions of Catholic higher education, let us continue to work together — with faculty, staff, and students — to share the blessings of peace.

 

To receive updates about CNI activities and learn about ways to get involved, contact Judy Coode at j.coode@paxchristi.net. If your university has a peace studies program, please contact esm52@georgetown.edu to have it added to the CNI list.

 

Marc Tumeinski, Ph.D., is assistant professor of Theology and program director of Graduate Theology at Anna Maria College.