The Formation of Pax Christi Northern California
In the United States, the Catholic peace movement has been intimately shaped by the historical reality of war. Ben Salmon, an American conscientious objector to the First World War, cited his Catholic faith to question the justice and morality of war. George Zabelka, a U.S. Army Air Force chaplain who had blessed the atomic bomb, experienced a conversion to Gospel nonviolence. Catholic opposition to the Vietnam War – reflected in the diverse protest traditions of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Daniel Berrigan – gave rise to the formation of Pax Christi USA in 1972.
As a region of Pax Christi USA, Pax Christi Northern California (formerly known as Bay Area Pax Christi) traces its historical context to the U.S.-Soviet arms race in the 1980s. Beneath the Nike missile sites perched in the Berkeley hills, Catholics at the Jesuit School of Theology (JST) were consulted for the 1983 bishops’ pastoral letter on war and peace, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response. A Pax Christi Berkeley chapter founded at JST counted nearly 60 members, including then-students John Dear and John Stowe (who is currently the Bishop-President of Pax Christi USA). Stanford University also hosted a large student chapter.
Rooted in a spirituality of nonviolence, Catholic peacemakers sought to usher in the peace of Christ through their prayer, study, and action. Pax Christi Northern California challenged all forms of structural violence, especially the local production, transfer, and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Within the Diocese of Oakland, civil disobedience regularly occurred at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Concord Naval Weapons Stations. Oakland Bishop John Cummins sponsored a ten-year long dialogue between engineers at LLNL and the Catholic faculty at GTU.
Our Work Today
As Pax Christi USA marks its fiftieth anniversary in 2022, it seems fair to say that the Catholic peace movement must be “updated” for our times. We now understand that the challenge of peace involves overcoming virus of racism, the scourge of endless war, and existential threats from the ecological crisis and deficit of human fraternity. Our response should draw from the depth and richness of Catholic Social Teaching, including Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti.
Building a culture of peace and nonviolence requires meaningful collaboration between clergy and laity, the leadership of young people, and nonviolence as a way of life. Whether it be annual assemblies, liturgies, nonviolent actions, essay contests, peacemaker awards, youth action, study circles, peace gardens, research/writing, we hope you will join our work for peace and justice. We are all in this together.
May the Peace of Christ be with you!