With his new Beatitudes Center for the Nonviolent Jesus, a California priest is aiming to educate for an end to racism, poverty, war and environmental destruction.

– COVID forces move online

Father John Dear, 61 – once described as the “embodiment of a peacemaker” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize – opened his new Center November 1 “to help teach and promote the nonviolence of Jesus, so that we can deepen our Gospel nonviolence”.

For the moment and until 2022, the coronavirus pandemic is preventing the Center from offering in-person conferences on California’s Central Coast, where Dear – after having spent 32 years as a Jesuit – is now incardinated in the Diocese of Monterey.

But the COVID-19 crisis isn’t stopping the priest and the Center from organizing activities online, including an Advent series on “Preparing for the Nonviolent Jesus” and A New Year’s Day resolution retreat session on “The Year of Living Nonviolently”.

– Jesus of Nazareth, CEO and President

The Beatitudes Center has for a mission statement “to teach and promote the Gospel message that Jesus was totally nonviolent, and that all his followers are called to be totally nonviolent”.

Given that noble goal, it is only appropriate that the Center lists Jesus as its CEO and President.

Alongside its programs, the Center also has on its website sections with podcasts and reading suggestions – all with the vision of striving “to help Christians study and live Jesus’ Gospel teachings of nonviolence, especially in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), so that more and more people will practice creative Gospel nonviolence, like Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Dr. King”.

The Center also has a blog with some of Dear’s reflections, prayer services and homilies on nonviolence.

– “The System sustains itself by all manner of injustice… But Jesus offers a contrary word”

In one of his blog posts, Dear sets out his idea – drawing on Gandhi and King – of the Beatitudes as a “manifesto of nonviolence”.

“The System sustains itself by all manner of injustice and lawlessness and greed. But Jesus offers a contrary word”, the priest writes in that blog.

“Desire for unjust gain shall forever thwart fulfillment. The unjust will never be satisfied. But those who are passionate for justice, they’ll find satisfaction, true meaning. They’ll take part in God’s very purpose—the transformation of disarmament and global peace”.

In another text on his blog – on Jesus’ teaching on non-retaliation in the Sermon on the Mount – Dear explains exactly what Christian nonviolence consists of:

“Jesus doesn’t advocate passive resignation or indifference to evil. Quite the contrary. He teaches and practices active, steadfast resistance to every form of violence and injustice. He just does not use the same means as the oppressor”.

Elsewhere on the website, Dear offers even more practical advice for living out the Gospel call to steadfast resistance to evil through his “Three Steps of Nonviolence”.

Explaining the need for a threefold “contemplative, active and prophetic” approach to nonviolence, the priest writes:

“We need to be out in the streets, demanding change, organizing for change, advocating for change, and agitating for change”, not only for an end to war, racism, poverty and environmental degradation but also to “corporate greed”.

But Dear offered perhaps the best explanation of the rationale behind his new Center in an interview November 18 with the Catholic News Service, in which he said “right now, the greatest need in the Church is to return to Jesus and his nonviolence”.

“Divisions in the Church and the anger and the hatred in the [presidential] election, and then of course, the racism and nuclear weapons and climate change and the pandemic, we Catholics seem to be meaner than ever, and it seems in some ways we’re more like the religious authorities in the Gospel than the nonviolent Jesus”, Dear lamented in that conversation.

The priest added that with regard to that meanness in the Church “it seems in my lifetime we’re getting worse, not better” – and that’s a trend the Beatitudes Center is aiming to reverse.

On Novena, more stories on Catholic nonviolence:

Dorothy Day’s granddaughter sentenced to 10 months prison for anti-nuclear weapons protest

Pax Christi releases new book on just peace to help Church “return to its Gospel nonviolence roots”

“Prisoner of conscience for Christ”: priest sentenced to time served for break-in at US nuclear naval base

Analysis: The Pope’s ‘no’ to just war in ‘Fratelli tutti’ has exposed the bias of the military-industrial-media complex

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.