Thomas Merton on Christian nonviolence

On 8 December of last year, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Pope Francis released his message for the celebration of the Fiftieth World Day of Peace. It was titled, “Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace.”

In addition to this message, Pope Francis used Twitter in the days following its release to focus more attention on nonviolence.

On 3 January he tweeted: “May nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions.”

The next day he tweeted: “To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence,” and he reiterated this message on 5 January, tweeting: “May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat one another.”

His message and his tweets came after a conference on nonviolence took place at the Vatican in April, organized jointly by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International, at which the participants called on the pope to write an encyclical or “other teaching document” on nonviolence and to reject the just war tradition. It is likely that Pope Francis’s World Day of Peace message was, in part, a response to this conference’s appeal.

Pope Francis’s message was not the first time a pope exhorted Catholics to nonviolence. Pope St. John Paul II forcefully opposed violence and praised those who opposed injustice nonviolently. And at the Angelus on 18 February 2007, Pope Benedict XVI referred to Jesus’s exhortation to “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27) as “the magna carta of Christian non-violence” and spoke about nonviolence as:

“not merely tactical behaviour but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.”

That said, Pope Francis’s World Day of Peace message is the first papal document focused specifically on nonviolence, and draws attention to it in a more sustained manner than previous papal documents. Continue reading


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