Every once in a while, something comes along that reminds me that the Catholic Church is the people and perhaps only the people can save the church.
That was the case this weekend when I attended an online conference of Pax Christi USA, a Catholic group that has been promoting peace and non-violence for the past 49 years. These are the folks seeking a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons. They hold conflict resolution trainings in communities plagued by violence. They have engaged in dialogue on the continuing sin of racism when many parishes have shied away from that difficult conversation.
It also is one of the few organizations connecting the dots between how spending on weaponry deprives the most vulnerable people in our society of basic needs, how economic inequality leads to wars across the world, and how those wars are are destroying the health of the planet.
Rarely in modern history has our nation faced such a convergence of crises. We can throw our hands up in despair. Or, as people of faith, we can look at this as a moment of grace. As Pax Christi Peace Ambassador Megan McKenna reminded the gathering in a beautiful talk on death and resurrection, “We have to get out of our tombs … and our old ways of doing things.”
A good start would be for people of faith to demand that the obscene amount of money our government spends on its nuclear arsenal be redirected to humanitarian needs, such as health care, jobs, infrastructure and protecting the planet.
There are currently 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Unleashing just one would destroy the earth as we know it. Raising the federal minimum wage to a measly $15 an hour sparked an intense debate earlier this year. Did we hear the same outcry when the Biden administration earmarked $43 billion for nuclear weaponry? Something is wrong with this picture. Longtime peace activist Art Laffin calls it “the normalization of evil.”
To be sure, Pax Christi and other groups like it are often lightning rods for criticism. One reason is because they challenge us with hard questions: is capitalism a system that depends on the oppression of others? Does our economy place profit over people? Why are discussions of white supremacy, white privilege and white nationalism upsetting to so many Americans?
The changes Pax Christi, the Catholic NonViolence Initiative and similar groups advocate are complex. They won’t happen quickly. It will take individual actions, such as committing to practice non-violence in our daily lives. That is, learning more constructive ways to deal with anger and conflict.
As Mark Twain once observed, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it’s stored than to anything on which it’s poured.”
It will also take collective actions, such as voting for candidates that support a worldwide treaty to ban nuclear weapons, already ratified by 55 nations. There is also a bill in Congress (HR 2850) that calls for redirecting federal funds now used for nuclear weaponry to humanitarian needs.
As author and activist Vincent Intondi reminded the gathering, “We have to look beyond our generation to the next seven generations.”
Pax Christi offers a three-pronged practice for beginning this important process: Pray, Study, Act. Our churches can play a crucial part in this by encouraging prayer, study, conversation and action over the critical issues of our time — racial injustice, inequality in health care, income inequality, political division and the continuing scourge of war.
Too often our churches have seemed missing in action on these issues. Too often American bishops seem more interested in deciding whom to keep out of the church than in welcoming people in.
By contrast, Pope Francis, speaking last year at Eastertime, expressed a post-pandemic vision of the world in which we develop “antibodies justice, charity and solidarity.”
This coming week, how can we pray, study and act on the critical issues facing us? Can we make building up antibodies of justice, charity and solidarity our conscious goal?
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