Category Archives: nonviolence

Martin Luther King’s prophetic words

Today the US celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. He was born on January 15, 1929.

Most of us think of King as the leader of the civil rights movement for African-Americans. Yet he was a strong advocate for non-violence, having been influenced by the Christian scriptures as well as the example of Gandhi.

Many forget that King was also a major critic of US foreign policy – in particular, the Viet Nam war.  Though advised by many to keep quiet he spoke out boldly against the war, especially in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech (transcript here) which he gave exactly a year before he was killed.

Here is an extract that still challenges the nations of the world, especially the US:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.



The Servant of Peace

Lanza del Vasto was a disciple of Gandhi, founder of the Community of the Ark, in France. Gandhi gave him the name “Shantidas,” servant of peace. He died on January 5, 1981.

In the 1980s I ran across his tale of his spiritual journey,  Return to the Source, where he relates his trip to India. In his search he encountered Gandhi and eastern sources of thought. He returned to Europe a Christian, but with a nonviolence that opened him to all peoples and religions of the world.

He and his wife, Chanterelle, founded a Gandhian style community in France that embraced nonviolence, simplicity, use of simple means to live (avowing much technology and using almost no electricity.)

I visited L’Arche in France in 1973 at the end of a summer bicycle tour/pilgrimage throughout Europe. I was impressed by the community but it is so much of an alternative to the world – almost an interfaith activist Amish community – that it has never been large. But its influence has been great, particularly in some parts of Latin America. The Mexican who has mobilized the anti-violence campaign was influenced by L’Arche and Lanza del Vasto.

Lanza del Vasto’s writing are often quite esoteric, especially some of his scripture commentaries but I appreciate much of what I’d call his basic wisdom of the ages. A number of them can be found in his book of short sayings, Principles and Precepts of a Return to the Obvious. Here are a few examples.

“Learn that virile charity that has severe words for those who flatter, serene words for those who fight you, warm [words] for the weary, strong for the suffering, clear for the blind, measured for the proud, and a bucketful of water and a stick for the sleepers.”

“Science can lend itself to any use; the conscience cannot. Intelligence can lower itself to any scheme; wisdom cannot. Power can stoop to anything; self control cannot. Money can be put to all kinds of uses; honesty cannot. Courage can defend any cause; charity cannot. Power can be used to any purpose, but nonviolence or the Power of Justice can serve only Justice.”

“Whoever fasts becomes transparent.
Others become transparent to him.
Their suffering enters him and he is defenseless against it.
So take care to stop up your sense by eating well
if you don’t want to be devoured by charity.”

Dorothy Day and the peaceable kingdom

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb
and the leopard with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
Isaiah 11: 6

Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, died on November 29, 1980. I don’t know of any US Catholic who tried so well to live the vision of Isaiah. It was not easy as she dealt with the poor and the outcast in New York, facing the violence of those who suffered from alcoholism and drug-addiction, as well as from the violence of poverty. But she continued and called for nonviolence in the face of poverty and war.

She was one of those “little ones” who grasped the Good News of the Reign of God (Luke 10: 21).  In the September 1938 editorial of The Catholic Worker,  she wrote:

“Today the whole world is in the midst of a revolution. We are living through it now – all of us. History will record this time as a time of world revolution. And frankly, we are calling for Saints. The Holy Father in his call for Catholic Action, for the lay apostolate, is calling for Saints. We must prepare now for martyrdom — otherwise we will not be ready. Who of us if … attacked now would not react quickly and humanly against such attack? Would we love our brother [or sister] who strikes us? Of all at The Catholic Worker how many would not instinctively defend [themselves] with any forceful means in [their] power? We must prepare. We must prepare now. There must be a disarmament of the heart.”

In a world beset with poverty, violence, and insecurity, may God disarm our hearts and open them with love to those most in need.

That’s what Advent is about and Dorothy Day shows us a way to live that.

An African bishop martyr

“There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried.”
Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa, S.J.

Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa, S.J., (1926-1996) archbishop of Bukavu, Zaire, protector of Hutu and Tutsi refugees, proponent of democracy and reconciliation, was assassinated by Rwanda soldiers in Bukava, on October 29, 1996.

Here are a few quotes that reflect his deep spirituality:

“God’s mercy, which breaks the chain of vengeance, is hurtful to militants on every side. But in reality, that is the only thing that can definitively shatter the infernal circle of vengeance.”

“Despite anguish and suffering, the Christian who is persecuted for the cause of justice finds spiritual peace in total and profound assent to God, in accord with a vocation that can lead even to death.”



Fight hatred with love

Benigno Aquino, Filipino leader, was assassinated at the Manila, Phillippines, airport on his return from exile, on August 21, 1983.  A few months before he was killed he made this statement before a US House of Representatives subcommittee hearing:

“One can fight hatred with greater hatred, but [former Filipino president Ramón] Magsaysay proved that it is more effective to fight hatred with greater Christian love. . . .

“I have decided to pursue my freedom struggle through the path of nonviolence, fully cognizant that this may be the longer and the more arduous road. If I have made the wrong decision, only I, and maybe my family , will suffer. . . .But by taking the road of revolution, how many lives, other than mine, will have to be sacrificed? . . .

“I refuse to believe that it is necessary for a nation to build its foundations on the bones of its young. . . Filipinos are still killing each other in ever increasing numbers. This blood-letting must cease. This madness must cease.

“I think it can be stopped if all Filipinos can get together as true brothers and sisters and search for a healing solution in a genuine spirit of give and take. We must transcend our petty selves, forget our hurts and bitterness, cast aside thoughts of revenge, and let sanity, reason, and, above all, love of country prevail during our gravest hour.”