Caesar D’Mello.

Revitalising the tools of Non-Violence

Report on a Pax Christi consultation in the Philippines

Projections on Sustainable Development Goals & 70th Anniversary of the United Nations. United Nations Photo. flickr cc.

“I call on people of goodwill to recognise what Christians profess as a consequence of faith: that it is only by considering our peers as brothers and sisters that humanity can overcome wars and conflicts… Your thoughts on revitalising the tools of non-violence, and of active non-violence in particular, will be a needed and positive contribution …” Pope Francis’s welcoming remarks to a conference on peace & violence Rome April 2016.

Manila was the location of a recent Pax Christi International Consultation in response to the call above. Towards a Sustainable Peace through Active Non-Violence in Asia and the Pacific brought church representatives and peace practitioners together from around a region inhabited by more than half the world’s population. The Consultation addressed different dimensions under ‘active non-violence’, including the Sustainable Development Goals.

A stocktake of the peace situation

The Consultation began with a peace ‘stocktake’, as nationals from various countries shared their experiences, their fears and hopes, the signs of the times amidst the yearning for peace.

North-East Asia is anguished over nuclearisation and the threat of war, given the tension among the two Koreas, the USA, and Japan, which has hastened to amend its constitution from a pacifist to a proactive posture.

An overview of South Asia was depressing. As the longstanding India-Pakistan conflict on Kashmir smoulders, resources are diverted from desperately needed social expenditures while millions go to bed hungry. Inequality has worsened, as has the violence of fundamentalism, caste and class, discrimination, gender-based inequality, and climate change. Some of these features are evident in other South Asian countries, with Pakistan’s blasphemy law, and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka seen as notable threats to peace.

South-East Asia faces many challenges , including violence and destruction, child soldiers, hunger and poverty, racism, antipathy towards indigenous communities, gender-based exclusiveness, militarisation, and the unrestrained exploitation of natural resources. Religion, too, divides. The plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar and the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea dispute with China are causing heightened concern.

In the region of Oceania/Pacific, divided as it is between affluent Australia and New Zealand on the one hand, and the rest of the economically poor and politically powerless Pacific nations on the other, acknowledging the history and place of indigenous peoples causes much conflict.

The Asia Pacific is hardly in a state of shalom, the biblical concept of ‘wholeness’, or wellbeing, signifying right relationships all around, with the environment, and with God.

Sustainable Development Goals as a pathway to peace?

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are an invaluable contribution offering a way forward, as Marie Dennis, Co-President of Pax Christi International writes, “promoting the things that make for integral peace – economic justice, human dignity, a flourishing planet, and a world free from every form of violence”.

The SDGs encapsulate a belated, and perhaps reluctant, admission by  governments that many people are unable even to reach the first level in Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’, encompassing food, water, shelter, clothing, and safety. What an indictment of the prevailing political and economic system.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, unanimously adopted by the 193 member countries of the UN in 2015, stated: “We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path… We can be the first generation to succeed in ending poverty, just as we may be the last to have a chance of saving the planet.”

The SDGs call for a fundamental transformation in the economic, social, and political life of the world blighted by conflict, discord, and inequality. While some voices propose violence as an answer to intractable issues, Pope Francis has urged us to foster “non-violence as a style of politics for peace”. To succeed in this, we need to “revitalise the tools of non-violence” which can help establish a climate for sustainable solutions”.

Active non-violence

Sustainable Development Goal #6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Asian Development Bank. flickr cc.

Active non-violence as a means to sustainable peace goes beyond profound vision statements. It calls for maximising the constructive possibilities within the realpolitik of our society. Consistently collaborating with people of goodwill – whether via ecumenical and interfaith interaction, or with those of no formal faith – is vital, as we strive creatively, patiently and non-violently with imperfect solutions to make our times liveable, especially for the marginalised.

Undoubtedly, the SDGs have limitations, such as the adopting of the shockingly low World Bank definition of the poverty line as the equivalent of $ 1.90 a day, though even by this yardstick, the number of ‘poor’ exceeds 1 billion globally. There is also the prospect of some governments ‘backsliding’ on their commitment, which the monitoring protocols are designed to check.

The SDGs are 17 main goals implemented through 169 targets, designed by the best minds in the field of human wellbeing after extensive consultations in light of the experience with the Millennium Development Goals. They are organically interlinked, so that an advance under any one Goal impacts positively on indicators under others.

At the Consultation, it became clear that much of the engagement by participants in their countries focused on Goal 16, namely in the area of ‘promoting peaceful and inclusive societies’. This not only reflected a priority focus of Pax Christi, but points to the cross-fertilisation with other Goals on inequality and poverty, quality education, gender equality, climate action, justice, and strong institutions.

The SDGs provide the Pax Christi network and their partners with a platform for justice advocacy. They mirror much in the social teachings of our churches: people and nature are not mere instruments of production; economic growth alone will not ensure inclusive and sustainable societies; social equity must govern the economy; decision-making should consciously consider the excluded and vulnerable, and work to end all forms of poverty, including in Australia. The SDGs aim to shape a world to meet the needs of all in food, shelter, health, education and in a sustainable environment.

This is an edited version of an article in Pax Christi’s Disarming Times in March 2018. Caesar D’Mello, a member of Pax Christi Australia, is a consultant on ‘development’, peace, climate change, and tourism concerns impacting on vulnerable communities in the Third World. He led the Ecumenical Coalition On Tourism (ECOT) in Thailand, has been  national director at Christian World Service (CWS), National Council of Churches in Australia, and director of programs at the Columban Mission Centre. He is contactable at


Protecting the rights & wellbeing of indigenous peoples

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

  1. End poverty in all its forms
  2. End hunger, achieve food security
  3. Ensure healthy lives, and promote wellbeing for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education
  5. Achieve gender equality, and empower all women and girls
  6. Ensure availability of clean water and sanitation for all
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and clean energy for all
  8. Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable
  12. Responsible consumption and production
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources
  15. Protect and restore ecosystems, combat desertification and biodiversity loss
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies, provide access to justice for all
  17.  Strengthen the tools of implementation, recitalist the global partnership.



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