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Nonviolence workshop

A man lights a candle during a prayer for peace in late October at a church in Warsaw, Poland. Calling for a new style of politics built on peace and nonviolence, Pope Francis also called for disarmament, the eradication of nuclear weapons and an end to domestic violence and abuse against women and children. (CNS photo/Tomasz Gzell, EPA) A man lights a candle during a prayer for peace in late October at a church in Warsaw, Poland. Calling for a new style of politics built on peace and nonviolence, Pope Francis also called for disarmament, the eradication of nuclear weapons and an end to domestic violence and abuse against women and children.
Laurie Gagne would say that nonviolence is what the love of God looks like in action.
 
“Jesus calls us to stand in His place, to enter the relationship of love which He shares with the Father. The more deeply we enter this relationship, the more we experience the love of God as a passion, which propels us, as Pope Francis says, toward those who need our help,” she said. “Violence contradicts the love of God in us; therefore our actions on behalf of others must always be nonviolent. In individuals like Dorothy Day and Gandhi, we see how nonviolence can be a way of life as well as a real power for social change.”
 
Nonviolence is the “use of power in such a way that promotes the life and dignity of every human being and of all creation,” defined John F. Reuwer, an adjunct professor of nonviolent conflict resolution at St. Michael's College in Colchester. “This is contrasted with violence, which is the use of power as if someone and parts of creation are not worthy of life and dignity.”
 
The Catholic perspective on nonviolence has developed during the more than 2,000- year history of the Church.
 
“The early Church was completely pacifist,” said Gagne, former director of the Edmundite Center for Peace and Justice at St. Michael's College in Colchester and current adjunct professor of peace and justice there. “From gravestone inscriptions we know that until 170 A.D. there were no Christians who were soldiers because the early Church fathers believed that military service contradicted Jesus's command that we love our enemies.”
 
She and Reuwer are scheduled to co-facilitate a workshop, "Nonviolence: Power for Peace and Justice," on Oct. 21 at Holy Family Church in Essex Junction from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with registration, coffee and bagels at 8:30. 
 
St. Augustine introduced the Just War Theory in the fifth century, and for the next 1,500 years, the Church taught that fighting for a just cause, using limited means, in a war declared by a legitimate authority, was the duty of Christians.
 
“Since the papacy of John XXIII, however, we find one pope after another speaking against war,” Gagne continued. Pope “Paul VI famously went before the United Nations and declared, ‘No more war! War never again!’ At the same time, there has been a turn to nonviolence as a way of resolving conflicts.”
 
The 20th century was witness to a robust Catholic peace tradition lead by Dorothy Day, Gordon Zahn and Daniel and Philip Berrigan, among others. “But what was remarkable was the advocacy of nonviolence by the Magisterium,” Gagne said, pointing to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Centesimus Annus” and the American bishops’ two peace pastorals. “The World Day of Peace Statement issued by Pope Francis this past January is the strongest endorsement of nonviolence by the Church thus far and indicates that it has become mainstream in Church teaching.”
 
Yet as much as the Church is promoting nonviolence today, it hasn't completely rejected the Just War Theory, and it remains a good standard for evaluating wars that are occurring, Gagne noted. “Catholics should know that according to Just War criteria, there have been almost no just wars in the modern period; modern weapons, for one thing, make the Just War principles of discrimination and proportionality hard to meet.”
 
Thus Catholics, she said, should call for nonviolent means of solving the conflicts which lead to war and support nonviolent movements for social change. They can also support groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams and the Nonviolent Peace Force who stand alongside those trapped in conflict situations.
 
“The phenomenally destructive nature of modern war has caused many people to seek alternatives to this age-old method of conflict resolution,” Gagne said. “I find it exciting that the Catholic Church is taking part in this search. By adopting the principles of nonviolence, we can be true to our pacifist origins while remaining fully engaged with the world and its problems.”
 
According to Reuwer, nonviolence is “poorly understood in our culture” because it is depicted as weak in the face of powerful evil, while violence is depicted as the strong defender of the helpless and innocent.
 
“Belief in this contrast is a major reason why war and violence are so persistent and so few resources allotted to nonviolent means of dealing with evil,” he said.
 
The workshop he and Gagne will lead presents evidence that nonviolence is the stronger force for good. “If this is true, then we can easily embrace Pope Francis's call to embrace nonviolence. Think for a moment if we put the money, creativity, and human sacrifice that we put into war and its preparations into nonviolent conflict engagement. The results, I believe, would be astounding.”
 
The public is invited to attend the workshop, "Nonviolence, Power for Peace and Justice," on Oct. 21.
 
Topics to be covered include history of Church teaching on peace and war and current teaching on nonviolence; relating the concept of nonviolence to participants personal and communal spiritual growth; how the power of nonviolent action can forge a realistic path from the Sermon on the Mount, through the harsh realities of a violent world, to the reign of God among us; how to begin, on a personal and community level, to use nonviolent power to create the relationships and the world participants seek.
 
It was presented at St. Thomas Parish in Underhill Center in May, and parts of it have been presented dozens of times in the last 20 years at various churches, colleges and public forums.
 
“Nonviolence is based on love and has no inherent contradictions, while violence is almost always based on fear and always has contradictions and unintended consequences,” Reuwer said.
 
For more information on the workshop, which will cost $10, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 
 
Last modified onTuesday, 18 July 2017 09:59
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