Coverage Areas:  National |  South Carolina |  Aiken |  Beaufort |  Charleston |  Columbia |  Greenville |  Myrtle Beach |  Rock Hill
Menu

Is an ethic of non-violence Catholic?

For years Catholics have been beset by conflict when it comes to matters of war and peace. On one hand, we have a long-standing just war tradition — dating from St. Augustine in the late 4th and early 5th centuries A.D., developed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, and further refined by the experiences of the 20th century. On the other hand, we have a tradition of non-violent resistance or paci­fism, often regarded as the oldest Christian position on the matter of warfare and still deemed a prophet­ic stance for a massively complex world.

It may be one of those coinci­dences engineered by the Holy Spirit that saw the film “Hacksaw Ridge” and Pope Francis’ “Message for the Fiftieth World Day of Peace” emerge within two months of each other. Both focus our attention on the great good which can be done by those who refuse to bear arms.

Desmond Doss, U.S. Army

The film recounts the story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who served as a medic in World War II. He has been credited with saving 75 lives in a ferocious battle in Okinawa — all without benefit of weapons. For his valor and commitment to his fellow sol­diers, he was awarded the Congres­sional Medal of Honor. It was the first time in history that a pacifist had received such official recogni­tion. Doss agreed that the causes propelling the U.S. into war were indeed just, but he did not believe that conflicts should or could be solved by killing or maiming one’s enemy.

Pope Francis, in his message for Jan. 1, proposes a similar posi­tion. He invites us to “make active nonviolence our way of life.” Such a proposal is always countered with the argument that it is actually impossible to defend oneself, one’s loved ones, or one’s country without resorting to violence, or at least threatening — and being equipped — to do so. The Holy Father points to some examples where nonviolent protest or resistance has worked: in India, in the civil rights move­ment in the U.S., in Liberia, and in the fall of Soviet Communism. We might add a few other examples from 20th century history, such as the Danish resistance to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews where citi­zens from a Chris­tian prince on down sewed yellow Stars of David on their sleeves, plus Corazon Aquino and the shift of power in the Phil­ippines.

Pope Francis incites us to a kind of holy foolish­ness. He insists that we can pro­tect lives and change the world by pushing humanity to live on higher ground. He invokes Franciscan small steps and Theresian little ways. He calls us to heal families, engage in works of charity, legislate for peace in accord with the Sermon on the Mount, and press for policies which refuse “to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost.”

The challenge for us is to figure out how to protect and defend people and principles of justice while also being true to the costly call of our Savior.

Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, is the Secretary for Education and Faith Formation at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at psmith@catholic-doc.org.






  • Diocesan Events Calendar
    View All Events
    Oct 13 Diocesan Evangelization Conference
    From the Calendar of Ethnic Ministries
    Oct 278:00 am Day of Continuing Education for Deacons
    From the Calendar of Diaconate
    Nov 1 Black Catholic History Month
    From the Calendar of African American Ministry
    Nov 1010:00 am Junta de Equipo Diocesano de Emmaus
    From the Calendar of Pastoral Juvenil
    Nov 1210:00 am Junta Diocesana
    From the Calendar of Pastoral Juvenil
    Nov 17 Diocese of Charleston Native American Catholic Heritage Celebration
    From the Calendar of Native American Ministry
    Nov 18 Vietnamese Martyrs Celebration
    From the Calendar of Vietnamese Ministry
    Dec 1 Black Catholics Heritage Celebration
    From the Calendar of African American Ministry
    Dec 15 Simbang Gabi for Filipino Catholics
    From the Calendar of Filipino Ministry
    Dec 25 Diocesan Television Christmas Special Fox 21
    From the Calendar of Ethnic Ministries
    Jan 412:00 am Class 2019 Ordination Retreat
    From the Calendar of Diaconate
    Jan 812:00 am Retiro Espiritual de Emmaus
    From the Calendar of Pastoral Juvenil
    Jan 1210:00 am Junta de Equipo Diocesano de Emmaus
    From the Calendar of Pastoral Juvenil
    Feb 911:00 am Ordination of Permanent Deacons
    From the Calendar of Diaconate