The Japanese Church and war in Mindanao
The Catholic bishops and Catholic people of Japan are taking a very courageous moral position. They are telling their government in a pastoral letter that they renounce war as a sovereign right of a nation and even the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. These principles are already part of the Japanese constitution (Article 9), but the Japanese Catholics believe that their present government is slowly moving away from these principles and into renewed militarism.
We must take notice of this letter of the Japanese Catholics because tensions between nations are increasing in Asia over tiny islands and other matters, and other nations have internal conflicts that can easily lead to war. The problems that the Philippine government faces now in finding a good solution between itself and its Muslim constituents is a good example; violence in Mindanao is never more than a thoughtless gunshot away.
Maybe other churches should follow the Catholic Church in Japan and declare: We will not use force, we will not use violence, to solve our problems. We will instead find peace based on justice through understanding and dialogue. Can the Catholic Church in the Philippines do so?
In their letter published recently, titled “70 Years After War,” the Catholic bishops of Japan claim that their principles on war are not based solely on the fact that these are part of the Japanese constitution. More importantly, these “are demanded by the Gospel of Christ,” they said, adding: “It is a respect for life that cannot be abandoned by religious people and an ideal that is held firmly by the whole human race.”
Is the Catholic Church in Japan right? Is nonviolence a demand of the Gospel in our times, to the extent that Christians would not believe or even imagine that war in Mindanao is a way to solve the problems there?
Nonviolence is strong talk. It is easy enough to accept if the violence is in someone else’s world. It is much more difficult to believe when war is just a single irresponsible act away, whether at sea or on land.
Are nonviolence and total opposition to war truly demands of the Gospel? The Japanese bishops’ letter recalls that in his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” Pope John XXIII said: “In this age which boasts of its atomic power, it no longer makes sense to maintain that war is a fit instrument with which to repair the violation of justice.” Vatican II in “Gaudium et Spes” opposed the arms race, and urged peace that does not rely on military force. In his appeal for peace in Hiroshima in 1981, Pope John Paul II demonstrated this clear renunciation of war when he said, “War is the work of man. War is destruction of human life. War is death.”
And yet when Pope Francis was asked about the war of the US-led coalition against Isis, he said: “People have a right to defend themselves.” He went on to indicate that some methods of defense may not be acceptable. The popes may not be saying, it seems, that war is everywhere and at every time evil. And yet we cannot imagine Jesus taking up a gun or hitting someone with the butt of a rifle. Is nonviolence a special heroic vocation for certain people, like the American Dorothy Day? Is it the road to take in Mindanao? If St. Francis of Assisi walked today through the Muslim provinces of Mindanao with this message of nonviolence, would he touch some deep longings in the hearts of both Muslims and Christians?
Maybe nonviolence is the vocation of the people of Mindanao. Right now a plurality of Filipinos, 45 percent, want peaceful negotiations there, between government and Muslims; those who favor military operations are 35 percent (Social Weather Stations, March 2015).
It might turn out that the poor people in Mindanao, Christians and Muslims, who suffer most from the violence there, would be the first to align with St. Francis and with the modern apostles of nonviolence. All of us, however, need deep reflection and prayer. The Church as a whole, the politicians and the opposing armies, must step back and allow the apostles of peace to walk among them. Give peace a chance. The Church has long respected the sensus fidei of the laity. This matter of peace might be a good opportunity for it to listen to the people.
The Church must help all people to pray and consider the possibility of nonviolent solutions. War at this time can be fatal to the future of Mindanao. It is important that the insights of the poor be made part of the final debates.
We thank the Japanese Catholics for their message. They will have trouble in Japan because of the letter. They know that well and yet they have gone ahead. We wish them well. Blessed are the peacemakers.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates [[email protected]].