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On the eve of the weekend preceding Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Jan. 17, members of 3 local chapters of Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace movement, gathered at St. James Cathedral to take a one-year Vow of Nonviolence at that evening’s Mass with Archbishop Peter Sartain presiding.  Father Michael G. Ryan, Pastor of St. James Cathedral, concelebrated the Mass.

In the presence of parishioners, friends, and other visitors, these 12 men and women from the greater Seattle area promised before God and the congregation to foster and promote peace within their own lives and through their relationships and engagement with others. Standing in a gently curving row while holding white tapers, each person’s public commitment to peace was received by Archbishop Sartain, who then concluded their words with his own blessing and a gesture of good will. It was the first time that the Vow of Nonviolence had been made in the presence of the archbishop or professed at St. James Cathedral.

The vow they recited, published by Pax Christi in 1985, expresses the belief that it is possible for people to be transformed through the love and example of Jesus “by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life; by accepting suffering in the struggle for justice rather than inflicting it; by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence; by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart; by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not harm creation or deprive others of the means to live; [and] by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.”

In recognition of the great challenges that such a commitment entails, the vow ends with a direct appeal to God: “I trust your sustaining love and believe that just as you gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so you will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.”

Their words hold special meaning for Sartain, who mentioned during his homily that Bishop Carroll Dozier—who ordained him to the priesthood in 1978 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Memphis and was a significant person in his life as a young priest—served as a founding member of Pax Christi USA (which was founded in 1972 by lay Catholics and was operated for a time out of two spare rooms in a Chicago convent). Bishop Dozier would remain active in the organization for the rest of his life.

Pointing out that Pax Christi, a Latin phrase, is translated into English as “Peace of Christ,” Sartain recalled the Gospel story of the paralytic who was lowered from the ceiling by his friends so that he could draw nearer to Jesus who was speaking to a crowd of people in the room below. “Whenever we make such a vow [as this one]” he said, “it is an expression of our commitment and our trust, that He in whom we make the vow will be faithful in helping us fulfill the mission.”

Mary Sontgerath, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Parish who was one of the twelve to take the Vow of Nonviolence, later said that her decision to join in this public commitment ceremony at the cathedral “formalized what I had been praying for a couple of years” and represented a natural next step in her own faith journey. She explained that “this vow also impacts other facets of my life by continually reminding me to be peaceful myself and to treat all others in a peaceful manner. I have found myself being much more deliberate about doing this…[and] when it is more of a challenge at times, I just ask God to give me the grace and strength to react in a peaceful way.”

Deacon Denny Duffel of St. Bridget Parish, who is a member of the Pax Christi Central group and has helped start a recently organized North Seattle chapter, expressed hope that more people would feel drawn to take the vow in coming years and said that “it was an honor to have our Archbishop receive our vows, and to profess the vow with the rest of our group, and with good friends witnessing with us.”

Now an organization with members residing in over 50 countries worldwide, Pax Christi comes from humble beginnings; it was founded in France just after World War II by two Catholics (Marie-Marthe Dortel Claudot, a French schoolteacher, and Bishop Pierre-Marie Theas) as an effort to foster healing between French and German communities. Both felt called to obey Christ’s challenge to love and serve others, even their persecutors. Bishop Theas, who was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to a detention camp in 1944 after speaking out against the persecution of Jews and the deportation of forced laborers, became an ardent supporter of reconcilement efforts following his eventual release.

In the United States, Pax Christi membership has grown to include more than 130 U.S. bishops, 800 parishes, 650 religious communities, and 300 community groups. The five priorities that the founders of Pax Christi USA first adopted four decades ago still remain central to members’ efforts to bring lasting peace to all people and all nations: Disarmament, Alternatives to Violence, Peace Education, Primacy of Conscience, and a Just World Order. As witnessed during Friday’s Mass, the memory and teachings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (in addition to Catholic Worker and activist Dorothy Day) have also inspired the organization’s ongoing work for peace.

For, as the civil rights leader proclaimed in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, “Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

More information about Pax Christi USA or its local Seattle-area chapter can be found at www.paxchristiusa.org and pc.centralseattle@gmail.com

Julie Gunter


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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303