National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  August 29, 2003

Pax Christi head: Sept. 11 wounds made worse by war

New York

Speaking in the city that was devastated by a terrorist attack nearly two years ago, the head of Pax Christi USA, deplored the response of the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq, declaring, “the ethic of our government is not the ethic of our faith tradition.”

Dave Robinson, national coordinator of the leading Catholic peace organization, told about 300 people attending the group’s national assembly Aug. 1-3, “The wound that our country experienced on Sept.11 grows and festers and the infection worsens and deepens as the days go by and our country continues to sicken itself and the rest of the world with its reliance on violence, its worship of war.”

Robinson, delivering his address on the campus of St. John’s University, continued, “The ethic that finds all of its answers in violence is not the ethic of Jesus. The ethic that uses a moment of national insecurity to further the vision of global corporate and military domination is not the ethic we hear in Isaiah. It is not the ethic of the reign of God.

“It may be the ethic of George Bush’s Pax Americana, but I tell you today: It is not the ethic of Pax Christi.”

Prominent figures in the peace movement gathered the day before the assembly opened to assess the situation in the wake of the Iraq war and war on terrorism, and to exchange ideas on how to carry their cause forward.

Veterans of many peace and justice campaigns, they expressed general agreement that the Iraq war was not justified, and that the war on terrorism has made the whole world less secure, rather than increasing the security of the United States.

But a day of hearing diverse viewpoints, radical and pragmatic, and sharp critiques of American church and political life did not produce any consensus on tactics for the future.

The consultation, held in conjunction with Pax Christi International, drew some 200 Americans and representatives of several other countries.

The latter included Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem, president of Pax Christi International. Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond, Va., who was concluding 12 years as president of Pax Christi USA, opened proceedings with the comment, “This is the who’s who of the peace movement.”

Robinson read a letter from Archbishop Renato R. Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, declaring that hope remained “an imperative for all” despite the “shattered peace.”

“Just as I have spoken out so clearly against conflicts of any type, so have many of you,” Martino wrote. “I thank you for that and encourage you to continue.”

The format of the consultation, organized by Marie Dennis of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, provided for three large panels to discuss assigned questions, with other participants submitting questions and comments in writing, and for a final hour of summarizing.

Dennis said all the written submissions would be included in a consultation report Pax Christi would distribute.

One significant difference emerged between participants who hold to a strict pacifism and others who argue that force might be justified in some situations, particularly if it were exercised under international authority.

Fr. Bryan N. Massingale, who teaches moral theology at St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, said “just coercion” might be needed in situations such as the genocide in Rwanda.

But Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit insisted that followers of Jesus must “reject violence for any reason whatsoever.”

The peace activists similarly expressed divergent opinions on the church’s just-war teaching, many contending it should be discarded because it was commonly misused to justify war, but others advising that it could still be useful in peace education and in providing a natural law basis for dialogue with non-Catholics who would not respond to Catholic religious doctrine.

Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles took office as the new president of Pax Christi USA. Born in Mexico in 1951, he was ordained for the Los Angeles archdiocese in 1977 and named an auxiliary bishop there in 1994.

Sullivan concluded his term by serving as celebrant and homilist for the assembly’s closing Mass.

In an interview with The Tidings, Los Angeles’ archdiocesan newspaper, Zavala said he hoped his involvement with Pax Christi would serve to help promote the gospel message of nonviolence, peace and justice.

“We live in a world where there’s a lot of violence, not just internationally with war, but in our nation, our streets and in our homes,” said the bishop. “Peace and harmony are what God desires for us. Part of the message of Pax Christi is to promote peace with justice and to promote the peace of Christ, which is what Pax Christi literally means.”

National Catholic Reporter, August 29, 2003

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