The Pax Christi Agenda

04/26/2012 02:27 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2012

In the April 14 issue of The Tablet, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, there was a letter in the "Readers' Forum" that was titled "The Pax Christi Agenda." Having been a member of Pax Christi for nearly 25 years and having been Director of Pax Christi Metro New York for nearly 12 of those 25 years, I thought I was pretty familiar with Pax Christi's agenda, but I could not recognize it in that letter. It made me realize that there's an awful lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Pax Christi out there that begs to be informed. Consequently, I offer this description of the Pax Christi "agenda" for all who might be curious.

Pax Christi was founded by Bishop Pierre Marie Theas and Marie-Marthe Dortel Claudot in France at the end of WWII for reconciliation between France and Germany; hence, its first and foremost agenda item to this day is reconciliation. The primary means by which reconciliation was to be achieved was prayer with a focus on Germany. The future Pope John XXIII encouraged that this "agenda" be expanded to a "Prayer Crusade for the Nations." Pope Pius XII gave Pax Christi his blessing in a letter drafted by the future Pope Paul VI. He further dubbed Pax Christi "the Catholic Peace Movement," our ultimate agenda.

Fifty years after its founding, Pope John Paul II graced hundreds of members of Pax Christi from around the world with a papal audience at which he described our agenda most eloquently. In part he stated:

Faced with hatred, and lack of respect for human beings and their fundamental rights, your movement has never stopped campaigning for peace and reconciliation. It came into being to promote the armaments of prayer, dialogue and of reflection. Only these can radically oppose violence, and all the inhuman effects of totalitarian ideologies...

At the end of the murderous conflict in 1945, hope for a future of peace and solidarity could once more arise in the peoples of Europe. People longed for communication and for the building of society in friendship. Pax Christi came into being in this spirit, as a movement for reconciliation between individuals and peoples. Its name reminds us strongly of the origin of true peace: the Lord, who inspires in our hearts the grace of conversion and reconciliation, and shows the path to being truly human.

During the last few years, your movement has also worked patiently and disinterestedly for unity and dialogue between Christians and other religions. Wherever possible, you have worked to build peace, building mutual understanding between communities. You have worked for respect of the rights of specific cultures, individuals and peoples...

I should also like to bring before you the appeals sent out by my predecessors and by me ... about the need to move down the path to disarmament. ... In this area, we hail the recent decision, adopted by consensus at the United Nations, for an indefinite extension of the nonproliferation treaty on nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, all countries will hopefully work towards a better, complete enactment of the treaty, aiming at the creation of an international order which could ensure the security of all people, and achieve disarmament. Fortunately, thanks to movements like yours, public opinion is aware of these issues...

But the reduction of arms, disarmament and absence of war do not lead to immediate peace. We have to create a culture of life and of peace. ... Movements like yours are precious. They help draw people's attention to the violence which shatters the harmony between human beings which is at the heart of creation. They help to develop conscience, so that justice and the search for the common good can prevail in the relations between individuals and peoples. These are the foundations for lasting peace...

Sharing these thoughts, I bless you with all my heart. I bless you, and all members of Pax Christi whom you represent. Through your words and your life, the world may recognize that peace is a gift of God; that peace is possible for the world in Christ, our Passover and our lasting peace.

I cannot improve on the words of Pope John Paul II. Pax Christi's agenda, grounded in the Gospel, especially the Beatitudes, and in the rich body of Catholic Social Teaching, promotes peace and social justice for all. As such, it is one of the most "conservative" Catholic organizations I know, not modeled after Constantine's church of the third to fourth century or a medieval monarchy, but on Jesus. It is one of the most pro-life movements I know, not solely focused on abortion, but on all life issues. Through prayer, study and action, Pax Christi members around the world defend life from conception to natural death. In concrete terms that means opposing abortion, war, torture, nuclear weapons, racism, sexism, capital punishment, global climate change and environmental destruction. It means supporting worker rights, immigration reform, universal health care and cross-cultural understanding. It means witnessing to the Peace of Christ to the best of our ability and humbly sharing in His experience when our message is misunderstood, misrepresented and even falsely condemned.