“Yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame,” said Pope Benedict XVI in October during the gathering of world religious leaders in Assisi for a day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world.
But the Pope was not only acknowledging shameful violent episodes in the Catholic Church’s distant past, he was also calling upon today’s Church members to cleanse themselves from any acceptance of violence and war.
During the interfaith peace summit, Pope Benedict said that Christian leaders, like all religious leaders, must work constantly to help their followers purify their faith and become “an instrument of God’s peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans.”
Violence, and the massive violence we call war, are grave indications of the “fallibility of humans.” And unless we work to purify our faith from oftentimes accepting these deadly evils, we will lack the credibility and divine power to be instruments of God’s peace in the world.
Many cultures are steeped in violence, and American culture is among the world’s most violent.
America’s obsession with violent movies, television shows, video games and guns, together with its $1 trillion military budget, over 700 foreign military bases, nuclear arsenal, powerful military industrial complex and its three wars makes the Gospel’s call to nonviolence an extremely difficult countercultural endeavor.
Simply put: American culture is calling us to embrace violence, while the Gospel is calling us to embrace nonviolence.
Which option will you embrace?
Blessed Pope John Paul II, the initiator of Assisi’s first interfaith peace summit 25 years ago, embraced nonviolence.
He said the Church proclaims “that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man. Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”
Assisi remains the perfect setting for an interfaith peace summit. After all, it was the home of the patron saint of peace: St. Francis.
Oh, if only we Christians would be as committed to peace and nonviolence as the great saint of Assisi was committed. We could literally change the world.
In his essay “St. Francis and the Way of Nonviolence,” Jesuit Father John Dear writes that Francis joined the Crusades, not as a warrior, but as “a practitioner of Gospel nonviolence”:
“In 1219,” wrote Father Dear about St. Francis, “he began a yearlong, unarmed walk right through a war zone from Italy to northern Africa, where he managed to meet the Sultan Malik al-Kamil, the leading Muslim of the time.
“Before the meeting, Francis begged the Christian warrior commander, Cardinal Pelagius, to stop the killings and the wars,” but to no avail.
However, Father Dear continued, “the sultan was so impressed by Francis’ kindness and gentleness, that he announced, ‘If all Christians are like this, I would not hesitate to become one.'”
And that’s the challenge before us: To radically follow the Gospel. To be as Christ-like as St. Francis.
With a radical witness of his own, Pope Benedict closed the peace summit with these prophetic words: “Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life, love.”
Amen to that!