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If Catholics took on Pax Christi’s mission, we could transform the entire nation


In 1972 a small group of Catholics gathered in Washington to form Pax Christi USA. The name links the group to Pax Christi International, which was organized in 1945 in Europe. The American second founders embraced the peace-loving objectives of the premier pacifist Catholic organization in the world.

Pax Christi (Peace of Christ) came into being when a group of Catholics in France and Germany prayed for forgiveness for the slaughter in World War II and vowed to work for reconciliation and peace. The first head of Pax Christi International was French bishop Pierre Théas, who was imprisoned by the Germans in 1944 after protesting the deportation of Jews.

The founders of Pax Christi International could never have dreamed that, 55 years after its founding, it would be active in 30 countries with a growing presence in Latin America and Africa. Pax Christi International was greeted in May 1995 by Pope John Paul II in Rome with these words: “Movements like yours are precious. … They help to develop conscience so that justice … can prevail.”

Almost 30 years after the founding of Pax Christi USA, the U.S. organization has among its members 14,000 individuals, 550 religious communities, 140 bishops, 450 parish sponsors and 230 local groups.

The cascade of literature that emanates from Pax Christi USA makes clear that the organization calls for a reduction in arms trade and military spending. Pax Christi is the longest-standing Catholic unit calling for the abolition of nuclear deterrence. Before and after the promulgation of the Catholic bishops’ 1983 pastoral on peace, Pax Christi called for setting aside the idea of nuclear deterrence by issuing a statement similar to the declaration of the Methodist bishops that advocated the total abolition of nuclear weapons.

Pax Christi has been an urgent voice, sometimes with the pacifist organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation, for the cessation of the use of violence or the threat of violence. Pax Christi opposed the Persian Gulf War, worked to end military aid to El Salvador and calls for ending the sale of arms to nations in the Middle East.

In 1998, 54 Pax Christi bishops signed a letter to the president opposing the economic sanctions imposed on the Iraqi people.

One of the most recent initiatives of Pax Christi was a cross-country bus tour that stopped in 35 cities to do public education about the issue of military spending. The project, titled “Bread Not Stones,” dramatized the call of Pax Christi for a 50 percent reduction in America’s military budget. Bread Not Stones was co-sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men’s Institutes, NETWORK and the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

The average age of Pax Christi members is 58. Some 28 percent of the members are sisters, priests or brothers. About 63 percent of the members are college graduates, compared to the 22 percent of the U.S. population.

Pax Christi has the difficult task of trying to change America’s priorities at a time when the nation stubbornly resists any attempts to revisit the annual military budget of some $300 billion. Pax Christi reminds Catholics and the world of the historic and venerable truth of Christianity that war and violence are fundamentally forbidden by the teachings of Christ. It is a task to which Pax Christi relentlessly devotes its energies.

The pacifist orientation of Pax Christi is one of the most ancient and respected approaches to peace in the Catholic tradition. It has been overshadowed through the centuries by the rhetoric and the rationalizations of the just war theory. But Pax Christi has more credibility now than ever before because, as Pope John XXIII put it in Pacem In Terris, it is difficult to imagine that any modern war with its massive violence can come within the definition of a just war.

If the mission and mandate of Pax Christi were to take hold among America’s 62 million Catholics, the entire nation could be transformed.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. His e-mail address is drinan@law.georgetown.edu

National Catholic Reporter, January 5, 2001