Moderator Rev. Colin Clay, and panelists Dr. Walter Klaassen, Ruth Klaassen, and Archbishop Donald Bolen (from left) participated in a discussion about why Christians should talk about war and peace, held Jan. 20 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon. (Photo by Kiply Yaworski)
SASKATOON — The teachings of Jesus Christ require Christians to pursue peace and non-violence, said Dr. Walter Klaassen, one of the speakers at an ecumenical event about peace held Jan. 20 in Saskatoon.
“The aim of this conversation is to urge and encourage Christian people to take the time and the effort to think about violence and turning the other cheek, about war and peace in the human family,” said Walter Klaassen, who as a Mennonite registered as a conscientious objector during the Second World War.
Born in the Rosthern area, the retired scholar has taught history and theology at colleges and universities in the United States, Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Several years ago, he and his wife Ruth, a longtime peace advocate, were received into the Catholic Church.
The Klaassens participated in the panel discussion along with Archbishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Regina. It was the first of two evening sessions in which the three speakers will address the topic of why Christians should care about peace. Beginning and ending in prayer, the event was organized through the Academy of Discipleship (a Mennonite inter-church ministry in Saskatoon), and moderated by local Anglican priest Rev. Colin Clay.
“We need to help each other. We need to dialogue,” said panelist Ruth Klaassen, who will be a featured speaker at the second session on peace Jan. 27 at the cathedral.
“War is one of the most pressing of Christian ethical issues — and yet when in recent years have you attended a church gathering called especially to reflect on war and violence?” challenged Walter Klaassen in his opening talk.
International tensions are again rising, and all governments accept conventional warfare as an instrument to solve international quarrels. “The nuclear armed nations continue to express their readiness to use these atomic flame throwers to annihilate this planet,” said Walter Klaassen. “Canadian governments are prepared to spend as much as $80 billion of the taxes that we pay to acquire weapons whose only purpose is to destroy and kill. People are threatened today, worldwide, by killers who in the name of God destroy themselves and many others with them. Even as we sit here, thousands of our human sisters and brothers young and old are being sacrificed to achieve political goals.”
In the face of all of these issues, Christians must not simply “shrug their shoulders” and say there is nothing to be done about war and violence, asserted Walter Klaassen.
“Christians should listen to their Lord when he said blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, do not resist those who wrong you, love your enemies,” he said. “Christians must listen to their Lord Jesus and translate his words into action.”
There are no easy answers to the problems of war, violence and aggression, he admitted. “But that does not mean that we do nothing and give up on our Christian obligation to the world, which is our home. We believe that Christ's church is, in the first place, a community of peace created by God in order to bring his peace to all of humanity.”
Christians are called to be God's peacemakers, he said, citing Ephesians 2. “Jesus is our peace. He has made us all one in his own body in flesh and blood, he broke down the barriers which separated us, thus making a single new humanity.”
Walter Klaassen offered three examples to illustrate the different ways that Christians have responded to war and violence, including Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter, who was executed when he refused to serve in the military for the Nazi forces. Now recognized as a martyr by the Catholic Church and beatified in October 2007, at the time Jägerstätter was urged by his family, friends, priest and bishop to comply with the Nazi demands that he serve as a soldier. “He replied simply that he dare not disobey Jesus.”
In another example, Walter Klaassen recalled the events of Aug. 9, 1945, when a Catholic and a Lutheran chaplain offered prayer and blessings on a plane that set off to drop a plutonium bomb on a Japanese city. Nagasaki was the home of a Catholic community founded by Jesuit missionaries — a Christian community that had persevered through centuries of persecution. The spire of the Catholic cathedral was the crew's landmark for dropping the bomb that extinguished the city and the Catholic community of Nagasaki, he described. “Christian chaplains had blessed the weapons that cremated the community with whom they were united by faith in Jesus, by baptism and eucharist.”
He also related the sacrifice of Dirk Willems in 1569, persecuted for his Anabaptist religion, in which he was re-baptized as an adult after making a personal confession of faith in Jesus. Pursued by police, Willems safely crossed the ice of a canal, before looking back to see that one of his pursuers had broken through the ice and was floundering in the water. “Willems turned around, recrossed the ice and rescued his pursuer.” In spite of this act of mercy, Willems was arrested, went to trial and was condemned to death by fire.
Different individuals in each of the three examples acted from their Christian convictions, noted Walter Klaassen, asking: “How can Christian conviction result in such contrasting action?”
Former bishop of Saskatoon and now archbishop of Regina, Bolen also spoke, providing a reflection on the teachings of Pope Francis related to war, peace and violence.
“The church's mandate to seek peace and be peacemakers is grounded in the first instance on the life and teaching of Jesus,” said Bolen. He cited a prayer service for an end to violence in Syrian which Pope Francis exclaimed: “How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God's reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue and peace is spoken.”
Pope Francis describes war as a scandal to be mourned every day, continued Bolen. “War always marks the failure of peace; it is always a defeat for humanity.”
In Christian understanding, peace is not simply the absence of war or violence, it is a gift from God, and it is to be actively worked for, said Bolen. Peace is costly, it asks and requires something of us, he stressed.
Pope Francis critiques those using empty political rhetoric about peace while continuing to support the arms industry, which he describes as one of the great curses of the human race, added Bolen. The pope says it is an “absurd contradiction to speak about peace, to negotiate peace, and at the same time to promote and permit the arms trade.”
The pope has also reflected on the relationship between poverty, inequality and violence, saying: “Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor, and the poorest populations, are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode.”
Bolen pointed to encounter and dialogue as key tools in peacemaking. “When leaders in various fields ask Pope Francis for advice, his response is always the same: 'Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!' ”
Bolen also reflected on the messages and examples provided by Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton — three American peacemakers who have been among the formative influences of Bolen's own life and spirituality. “They held a largely common vision of peace and how we obtain peace,” said Bolen.
The archbishop also traced the history of non-violent resistance as a Christian response to war, explored the concept of a “just war” (noting that some have questioned whether any war has ever met the criteria), and introduced the developing idea of “just peace.”
Bolen quoted Pope Francis' message for the World Day of Peace Jan. 1, 2017, which focused on non-violence as a response to war and aggression. “When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promoters of non-violent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may non-violence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms,” writes Pope Francis.
Bolen concluded by noting how in recent years Pope Francis, Pope Benedict and Saint Pope John Paul II have conveyed a sense that there is no moral justification for violent acts of warfare in this day and age, with contemporary weapons. “There is a growing sense that we need to translate that language of the 'just war theory' into 'just peace' - which is a peace that is looking actively and strongly to promote justice and which is ready to confront injustice, and willing to take on suffering in order to do so,” he said.
Those in attendance then spent time on table discussion, before a question and answer session with the panel.