What Is Pax Christi?
In 1945, a small group of people in France met regularly to pray for peace. Their concern was not a vague one. What bothered them, what kept them coming together was their experience of an agonizing and dreadful fact: French Catholics and German Catholics, who professed the same faith and celebrated the same Eucharist, had killed one another by the millions in the 20th century. That situation could hardly be the will of God, as they understood it. So they prayed for forgiveness, for reconciliation, for the peace of Christ.
A French woman, Mrs. Dortet-Claudot, is known as the leader and founder of the movement. The first members went to one Bishop Theas for help in organizing what was to become Pax Christi, because they recognized in him a kindred spirit. While in a German war prison camp in Compiegne, Bishop Theas had already begun to pray and work for reconciliation. He became the first President of Pax Christi.
Soon after the war, Pax Christi centers were established in France and Germany; by the early 1950s the movement had spread to Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium.
Pax Christi came to the United States in the early 1970's, thanks to the initiative of a tiny handful of U.S. Catholics, mostly lay. In many ways they paralleled the French group of the 1940's. It was not until 1975 that Pax Christi USA as we know it today got off to a solid start. The beginnings were extremely modest. There was no national office or full time staff person until 1979, and then the entire office was set up in two spare rooms of a Chicago convent, where the office remained while the movement grew to some 8,000. The national office moved to Erie, Pennsylvania in 1985.
Pax Christi has become truly an international movement, organized as a federation of national sections, served by a secretariat in Antwerp, Belgium. Though the majority of the national sections are in Europe, besides the large section in the United States there are others in Canada, Puerto Rico, Australia and the Philippines. There are also individual associate members of Pax Christi International (www.paxchristi.net) in many other countries. There are promising signs of possible new sections in several places in Asia and Africa.
Pax Christi USA, like all national sections, has its own set of priorities within the general purpose of the international movement. A popularly elected national council establishes policy according to these four priorities:
1) Spirituality of Nonviolence and Peacemaking
2) Disarmament, Demilitarization and Reconciliation with Justice
3) Interracial and Economic Justice in the U.S. and
4) Human Rights and Global Restoration.
The national staff then develops programs. Program emphasis shifts according to conditions within society and within the movement itself.
Pax Christi serves its members through the Catholic Peace Voice, its newspaper published six times a year, and other periodic mailings on specific issues. It also helps its members organize themselves in local and regional groups (totaling over 300 nationwide) where this is desired. Many Pax Christi members find their experience of the movement strongest on the local or state level, while others are satisfied to belong simply as members of the national movement. In either case, there is a genuine Pax Christi spirit that prevails throughout the movement. This is visibly expressed in the annual national assembly. Though the assembly is open to all, participation is in no way a condition of membership. Only a relatively small number of members can actually attend, given the size of our country and membership. The assembly is moved to a different part of the country each year. For those who can attend, the experience brings home to them as nothing else can the strength that comes from being part of Pax Christi USA and Pax Christ International.
At present, one of the greatest strengths of our national section is the quality of educational materials that come from the national office in a steady stream. These include materials for private study, and also for parish and classroom use. Readers are encouraged to write to Pax Christi USA for a catalog. Those who are not members of the movement may want to ask for a membership brochure as well.
Wherever they live throughout the world, members of Pax Christi are united by their purpose, which is expressed in the international statutes: "to work for peace for all humankind, always witnessing to the peace of Christ." They do this through prayer, study and action.
In 1982, speaking at Coventry Cathedral in England, Pope John Paul II said, "Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith." Membership in Pax Christi enables many Catholics and other Christians of all walks of life to help build the cathedral of peace.
Pax Christi USA, 532 W. 8th St., Erie, PA 16502-1343; 814-453-4955,814-452-4784 (fax);