Pax Christi International (PCI) is a Catholic peace movement whose name means “Peace of Christ” in Latin. The organization traces its origins to a group of Catholics in France and Germany “who wanted to promote reconciliation” in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Pax Christi identifies in particular “two seeds of inspiration” that were central to its formation: (a) the French bishop Pierre-Marie Théas who in 1944 was arrested for speaking out against the deportation of Jews to forced labor camps, and who counseled his fellow prisoners to “love [their] enemies” and pray for their Nazi jailers; and (b) Marthe Dortel-Claudot, a teacher in southern France who in 1944 persuaded Bishop Théas to lead a “Crusade of Prayer” aimed at helping Germany “be healed of the spiritual and moral effects of twelve years of Nazism” — on grounds that “Jesus died for everyone. Nobody should be excluded from one’s prayer.” This project was given the name “Pax Christi.” Since 1945, the organization has grown to include some 60,000 members in more than thirty countries on five continents.
PCI today has representation status at the United Nations in New York and Vienna, UNESCO in Paris, UNICEF in New York, and the Council of Europe. It also enjoyed representation status at the now-defunct UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Claiming that its work “is based in spirituality,” Pax Christi does not limit its membership solely to Catholics “but welcomes all religious groups and strives for dialogue and co-operation with non-governmental organizations and movements working in the same field — Christian, Jewish, Muslim and non-religious.”
Viewing military action as immoral and unjustified in every circumstance, PCI’s work “is focused in the fields of demilitarization and security, justice, human rights, ecology, development, non-violence, economic justice and reconciliation.” Pax Christi considers capitalism to be a chief cause of the international inequity and discord that give rise to poverty, oppression, and war.
PCI’s activities fall broadly under five categories:
Solidarity: “visits and fact-finding missions to areas affected by violence in order to report, document and educate the wider world”
Dialogue: “offering opportunities for leaders of religious communities, especially in conflict areas, to listen and learn from one another so together they can help their different faith communities to find a way toward reconciliation”
Training: “exchanges and experiences where people can confront old prejudices and develop new skills as future peacemakers”
Advocacy: “speaking up for human rights, justice and disarmament in the UN and other international institutions where decisions are made”
Networking: “with those in every country who are working for peaceful alternatives to violence”
Pax Christi International is part of the Abolition 2000 anti-war coalition and the National Coalition for Peace and Justice. Its subsidiary Pax Christi USA is a member of the Win Without War coalition; and a few regional Pax Christi branches belong to the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition.
Alleging that America and Israel are responsible for a large share of international disharmony, PCI participates regularly in anti-war demonstrations, candlelight vigils, and teach-ins. At those events, the group works closely with such organizations as Al-Awda, the Black Radical Congress, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, JustPeaceUK, People Against Oppression and War, Stop The War Coalition, and UNISON.
Since 1999 the International President of PCI has been the Reverend Michel Sabbah, who also holds the title of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. At a pre-Christmas press conference in 2003, Sabbah offered his opinion vis a vis who was most culpable for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The one who occupies the land of the other,” said Sabbah, “is more responsible.”
Funding for PCI comes from foundation grants, sales of publications and newsletter subscriptions, and contributions from its national chapters.