AUSCP Assembly, June 2022
By John Heagle, Chair
Our Gospel Nonviolence Working Group (GNV-WG) expresses our sincere gratitude to the AUSCP community and the Leadership Team for their support and for choosing Gospel Nonviolence as one of three priorities for these three years. This is both a gift and a task, since the threat of personal, interpersonal, and global violence continues to grow exponentially. I also want to thank the other core members of our Working Group—Bernie Survil, Harry Bury, Bob and Donna Cushing, Mark Scibilia-Carver, Paulette Schroeder, Tim Taugher, and Bob Bonnot. They are a hardworking, joyful team who live the vision to which they are committed. It is a privilege to share this work with them.
The Dream of Pope Francis and Gospel Nonviolence
We have gathered these days around the dream of Pope Francis, who envisions ‘gospel possibilities’ with the same enthusiasm with which he calls us to Evangelii Gaudium. In response, the political and social ‘realists’ will ask: ‘Given the violence in our world, why bother to dream?’ Because without dreams, as Langston Hughes reminds us, ‘life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.’ Lewis Carroll wrote, ‘sometimes I dream as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’ Well, our Working Group is only working on one impossible dream—Gospel Nonviolence. In what follows, I want to share the direction of our conversations and the rationale for our efforts on behalf of this ‘impossible dream.’
The Reality of Conflict
We began by addressing the obvious reality of conflict. Conflict is a normal energy of all creative life in the universe, including our human lives as free, intentional subjects in relationships and community. The question is not how we can get rid of conflict but how we can respond creatively. Unfortunately, most of us in our culture and our family of origin have been conditioned to respond to conflict either by flight or fight. Either we avoid, deny, or withdraw from conflict out of fear or react aggressively with physical, emotional, verbal, or spiritual violence. The more challenging response to conflict is not flight or fight, but flow—the stance of attentive respect, listening, and dialogue that can transform our understanding and behavior—ideally, but certainly not always on the part of both parties involved. Flow is challenging on an interpersonal level but even more daunting in the relations between ethnic groups and nations. Put simply, conflict is inevitable, but violence is optional.
What is Nonviolence?
Nonviolence is what flow looks like as a way of life. However, there is so much misunderstanding around nonviolence that our Working Group spent considerable time trying to clarify its meaning for our work. Nonviolence is often misunderstood because it is easily confused with passivity—becoming doormats or a refusal to defend innocent victims. Some members of AUSCP have suggested that we stop using the term nonviolence. But, as the saying goes, ‘we persist.’ In fact, we want to invite others not to be put off by the apparent negative perception of nonviolence. The original Sanskrit word is ahimsa. Ahimsa is usually translated as ‘nonviolence’ in English, but it implies more than just the avoidance of physical or other forms of violence. Gandhi translates ahimsa as love. At its core, it is a positive way of life that reverences all relationships, a stance of unconditional love. It is only because we are so painfully familiar with violence that the term ‘nonviolence’ needs to be used. You might say it is employed to ease our transition from the destructive reality of violence toward the radical stance of love. Satyagraha—’truth-force’ is an equally forceful way to describe the active energy of nonviolence. Thus, in Gandhi’s words, ahimsa is: ‘I wish others well, I pray for their well-being, I will be instrumental in bringing joy to their lives and will offer flowers on their path.’
What is Gospel Nonviolence?
Martin Luther King describes nonviolence as ‘love that does justice.’ His apt phrase coincides with what we on the GNV-WG have arrived at as our working vision and praxis. The key is to understand justice and peacemaking in the biblical rather than civil perspective and to ground it in the life, teaching, and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Gospel nonviolence is far more than a social strategy, a political tool, or a psychological method (although it can include some of these dimensions); it is the prophetic stance with which Jesus confronted the violent political, cultural, and religious systems of his time, a stance of nonviolent love that led to the cross, the Romans’ brutal form of capital punishment. It is also the power of Christ’s servant leadership: love of enemies, the forgiveness of persecutors, compassion, reconciliation, inclusion, and radical respect for ‘the other.’ It is the same boundary-breaking vision of Pope Francis, who speaks of Gospel nonviolence as ‘a revolution in tenderness.’
Three-year Plan of the Gospel Nonviolence Working Group
Beginning in the spring of 2020, the Gospel Nonviolence Working Group developed the proposal, Artisans of Peace, following Pope Francis’ challenge at Sarajevo in 2015, that Christians are called to become ‘artisans of peace’ in their daily lives. Artisans of Peace sees Gospel nonviolence as the underlying response to all the major crises facing humanity today: interpersonal violence, war, the ecological crisis, racism, xenophobia, misogynism, patriarchy, homophobia, and other forms of mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical violence. Artisans of Peace was approved by the Leadership Team and the entire AUSCP in the summer of 2020. A copy of this proposal is attached to this report.
Our Approach and Method
In reading Pope Francis’ book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, we were pleased to learn that in Artisans of Peace, we had already adopted the same method as the Holy Father: See, Judge, and Act (the classic model of the Catholic Action Movement (The chapters of Let Us Dream are entitled, A Time to See, A Time to Choose, and A Time to Act).
SEEING with the Eyes of Gospel Nonviolence
‘To see’ is a biblical metaphor for coming to know with the eyes of faith through healing, prayer, study, and shared dialogue. Thus, as a Working Group, we committed ourselves:
- To return to the Hebrew and Christian scriptures on the themes of justice and peace, to review the conciliar, episcopal, and papal documents on Gospel Nonviolence, beginning with Pacem in Terrisand moving to current teaching, writing, and dialogue, including the 2016 Vatican Conference on Just Peace, and Pope Francis’ prophetic statements condemning the very possession of nuclear weapons and the universal call to peacemaking.
- Among other books, we studied and prayed The Risk of the Cross: Living Gospel Nonviolence in the Nuclear Age (Art Lafflin), Choosing Peace (Marie Dennis), Becoming Nonviolent Peacemakers (Eli McCarthy).
- We participated in a virtual Advent Retreat, Prepare the Way for a Nonviolent Revolution(led by Bob Cushing).
- We participated virtually in a prayer vigil and Eucharist (Simon Carian, presider) at White Sands Trinity Site of Atomic Testing, New Mexico.
- The GNV-WG Sponsored more than 25 webinars with presenters like Marie Dennis, Art Lafflin, Elin McCarthy, Network resource professionals, lay leaders (including Mark Scibilia-Carver of our WG), and several brother priests.
- The topics of the webinars ranged from models of Gospel nonviolence, such as the Women Martyrs of El Salvador, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and themes related to Laudato Si, ecojustice (Bernie Survil), domestic violence, gun violence, confronting corporations funding nuclear weapons, confronting militarism and its immoral budget, and the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
JUDGING Grounded in the Life and Ministry of the Nonviolent Christ
Since the challenge of Gospel Nonviolence is so broad, we spent time discerning and choosing priorities.
- We focused on the most urgent challenges facing our church and our world: Leaving the so-called Just War Theory to reclaim authentic Gospel nonviolence in Christ, confronting global forms of systemic violence, specifically militarism, false patriotism, nationalism, etc.
- Choosing ways to collaborate with other Catholic, ecumenical, and interfaith peace groups, including Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA, Pace e Bene, Franciscan Action Network, LCWR, Twin Cities Nonviolent, Maryknoll Global Ministries, university peace faculties, ICAN, and others.
ACTING as Disciples of the Nonviolent Gospel
William Sloane Coffin once quipped, ‘‘It is one thing to proclaim with Amos: ‘let justice roll down like a mighty river;’ and it is another to work out the irrigation system.’ We are committed to moving beyond prophetic pronouncements to ‘working out the irrigation system’ for Gospel nonviolence. In this practical area of action, we have been involved in the following events or actions in an ongoing way:
- The White Sands Trinity vigil and Eucharist in New Mexico.
- PNC: confronting corporate banking that is funding the arms industry and ongoing military buildup in the US.
- Advocating actively for Ben Salmon’s cause of canonization through ‘Friends of Franz and Ben’ and online petitions.
- Support and advocacy for Archbishop John Wester’s Pastoral: Living in the Light of Christ’s Peace, including an online petition to local bishops, asking for the support of AUSCP to become active in implementing the pastoral in parishes, dioceses, and the wider faith and civil community.
- Facilitated a colloquium on Gospel nonviolence at the June 2022 Assembly in Baltimore.
- Currently collaborating with Fr. John Forliti (Archdiocese of St Paul) on Ban & Buy Back, a proposal to ban assault weapons of any kind and to buy them back. This is a vital step forward that our faith community can make to confront the pandemic of gun violence.
Eucharist of Gospel Nonviolence
I speak of this as a separate ongoing action of our Working Group, because of the amount of time, effort, and advocacy we have put into this project. We believe it has the potential to become a transforming prayer for our Catholic community.
- The rationale and history of our writing, editing, and publishing of this document are developed more fully in the three-year history of our work, a copy of which is attached to this report. I am also attaching the biblical, theological rationale for the EGNV.
- The Eucharist of Gospel Nonviolence (EGNV) was completed and published on January 1, 2022, the International Day of Prayer for Peace. A hard copy was sent to all members of AUSCP at the beginning of Lent, 2022, and similar copies were mailed to all the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and auxiliary bishops of the US in the AUSCP spring letter.
- The EGNV has been submitted to the Vatican and the USCCB, asking for their consideration and eventual approval for use in the international Catholic community.
- An article on the EGNV is published in the NCR online version, June 8, 2022, entitled Could a New Eucharistic Prayer Help Reclaim the Nonviolent Christ?(by John Heagle).
Ongoing Priorities for the Next Three Years
The following are the priorities for action that the GNV-WG has chosen for the next three years (2022-2024):
- Archbishop Wester’s Pastoral Letter: To disseminate and advocate for the study and implementation of this document through the USCCB, AUSCP, other peace groups, especially in dioceses, parishes, youth groups, Newman parishes, religious communities, and other local communities, including ecumenical and interfaith groups.
- Eucharist of Gospel Nonviolence: to continue advocating for this Eucharistic prayer to become an integral form of Catholic worship through online petitions, education, and promotion through peace-oriented bishops, clergy, and lay leaders.
- UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). This is an urgent global movement that already has significant momentum. More than eighty-five nations are now state signatories, and more than sixty-five have already ratified it. The Vatican was the first state to sign it. ICAN is an international organization leading the way on this project. Our Working Group has signed up as an independent religious group, and we are petitioning AUSCP to do the same.
- Integrating Gospel nonviolence with the other AUSCP priorities: Vatican II, Anti-Racism, including the Laudato Siecojustice movement.
Finally, we invite the Leadership Team and all AUSCP members to continue to join us in this work and invite any interested members to become part of our core group or the wider group of 100+ on our regular mailing group. Let us continue to become ‘artisans of peace’ together!
The Working Group on Gospel Nonviolence:
Bernie Survil, Harry Bury, Bob and Donna Cushing, Mark Scibilia-Carver, Tim Taugher, Bob Bonnot, John Heagle