Maryknoll Sister Teresa Hougnon attended the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference, representing the Maryknoll Sisters’ peace-building team in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. The following is her reflection on the conference. The following article was published in the May-June 2016 issue of NewsNotes.
As a person who believes that nonviolence is the way of Jesus and struggles to follow the nonviolent way on a daily basis, I experienced the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference as a much needed encouragement and source of hope. Meeting other practitioners, advocates, theologians, and theorists committed to nonviolent just peace gave me a greater sense of the truth in the nonviolent way of Jesus and the necessity of speaking that truth as Christians to the greater Church and to the world today.
I was inspired by the experiences and convictions shared by Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate from Northern Ireland, and Bishop Paride Taban, peace mediator and founder of Kuron Peace Village in South Sudan.
I was also touched by the experience shared by Katarina Kruhonja from Croatia on becoming a person of nonviolence. She described how violence brought the swift disintegration of her neighborhood.
During a prayer group meeting, Katarina asked what is ‘love for enemy’? Would killing one’s enemy be an act of love? Maybe. When faced with this decision, she chose to love as Jesus would, and to not kill. She continues to choose to be nonviolent, although she cannot know what she would do when faced with defending her life or her child’s life. Can any of us know what we would do in that situation? Katarina chooses to be a person of nonviolence whether the situation is violent or not.
I believe the way of nonviolence is a personal choice.
To follow Jesus is to follow the way of nonviolence. Our faith begins at the level of personal experience; if not, then our participation in church or community becomes cult activity. When we work with communities seeking healing and reconciliation in Kenya, we begin by asking about the personal experience of each individual. What do I believe? What are my values? Do I live out my beliefs and values or do I follow the crowd? What is my contribution to a healthy society? A just peace?”
As a person who embraces nonviolence, I believe my daily actions impact the world. In a world rife with violence and war, the singular act of love or hate that I do today adds or subtracts from global violence and peace. I want to increase global peace. The Nonviolence and Just Peace conference brought together similar voices within the Catholic Church to call on our Church to amplify the way of Jesus, the way of nonviolence, in a world that desperately needs a way of peace.
Photo: Maryknoll Sisters Giang Nguyen, Sia Temu and Teresa Hougnon (left to right) serve on the Maryknoll Sisters peace-building team in Africa. Since 2006, they have worked to facilitate relationships among culturally diverse people. They themselves are from diverse cultures and ethnic backgrounds. They believe in the African proverb “Peace is costly but it is worth the expense.” Together, they explore peaceful means of co-existence. Photo courtesy of the Maryknoll Sisters.