Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service: A History

Founded in 1989 by the Franciscan Friars of California, Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service is an independent, nondenominational 501(c)3 organization with offices in Oakland, Chicago, Montreal, and Las Vegas. Its mission is to foster a just and peaceful world through nonviolence education, community-building, and action.

Hence the name. St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi greeted the people of the thirteenth century with the expression “Pace e bene!” or “Peace and all good!” So much was expressed by this little phrase: May you have the fullness of well-being, may you be secure and happy; may you not want; may your dignity be respected; may the goodness in your inmost being flourish; may the world in which we live know this deep peace. It was a blessing, a hope, and a way of acknowledging the sacredness of those whom they encountered.

It is in this spirit that Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service works to mainstream peacemaking that will empower people from all walks of life to prayerfully and relentlessly engage in nonviolent efforts for the well-being of all.

The Roots of Pace e Bene’s Journey

Pace e Bene’s founders included Louis Vitale, OFM, Sr. Rosemary Lynch, OFM, Alain Richard, OFM, Peter Ediger, and Julia Occhiogrosso. Each had wide experience in nonviolent social movements.

Vitale, the former provincial of the St. Barbara province of the Franciscan Friars, participated heavily in the United Farm Workers movement in the 1960s and 1970s, was active in counseling draft resisters during the Vietnam War, and worked on a nationwide welfare rights campaign.

Sr. Rosemary Lynch had been active in social justice issues with the members of her community throughout the world, and had played an important role in the Sagebrush Alliance, a network that addressed environmental issues throughout the West. Both Vitale and Lynch had also long been involved with nonviolent witness at the nearby Nevada Test Site, activities that later contributed to the establishment the Nevada Desert Experience, a nationwide, faith-based organization whose goal was the achievement of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the end to nuclear testing at the test site 65 miles north of Las Vegas.

Alain Richard had emigrated to the United States from France in 1970; from 1981 to 1985, he coordinated the International Fast for Peacemakers. He served as an advisor for the 1983 International Fast for Life, and was a long-term volunteer with Peace Brigades International in Guatemala.

Peter Ediger was a former Mennonite minister who had been a conscientious objector during World War II and had, among other projects, participated in the nonviolent campaign to close Rocky Flats, the facility outside Denver, Colorado that produced plutonium pits for US nuclear warheads. After working at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker for several years, Julia Occhiogrosso had founded the Las Vegas Catholic Worker.

When they launched Pace e Bene, the founders hoped to create a center that would go beyond a single issue approach to justice and peace. While they would continue to support specific campaigns and movements (in fact, concrete advocacy would be a part of every staff-person’s job description), they were determined to uncover, and respond to, the deep structure of the United State’s dominant culture that created this series of national problems. They decided to focus on what they termed cultural transformation, with active nonviolence being one of the chief means to that end. Pace e Bene began offering a series of workshops and retreats on culture, nonviolence, and the integrity of creation.

In the past decade, Pace e Bene has taken up many projects. One of these has been From Violence To Wholeness, which is the basis for the new Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living program. Many people helped create these programs, including Ken Butigan, Patricia Bruno, Michelle Fischer, Joan Brown, Cynthia Stateman, Laura Slattery (who is now program coordinator), Ken Preston-Pile, Veronica Pelicaric, Brendan McKeague, Cindy Preston-Pile, Christina Leaño, Julia Occhiogrosso, Joi Morton-Wiley, Jonathan Relucio, Linda Jaramillo, Moira Finley, Gade Duerksen, Judith Kelly, and L.R. Berger, as well as collaborators in the larger community, including Janet Chisholm, Glen Gersmehl, and Cynthia Okayama Dopke. Pace e Bene has grown over these years. We now have offices in Oakland, CA, Chicago, IL, Montreal, Quebec, in addition to its central office in Las Vegas.

Putting the Power of Active Nonviolence into Practice

Pace e Bene and its program From Violence To Wholeness are rooted in the conviction that we stand at a crossroads in human history.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “The choice humanity faces is no longer nonviolence or violence – it is nonviolence or nonexistence.” Dr. King’s words have never been more apt. At a time of permanent war, of the threat to civil liberties, of growing poverty, of ecological devastation, and of the urgent need to mend many forms of bitter structural brokenness that spell despair and death for millions of women, children, and men, humanity faces the challenge and opportunity to choose powerful and creative nonviolent alternatives. We can continue to opt for the devastating spiral of war and injustice, or we can build civil societies where the dignity of all is respected and the needs of all are met. True peace and long-term human survival depend on this.

Fortunately we live in an era when, despite its enormous violence, a deep historical shift is taking place in favor of the cooperative power of active, transformative, and effective nonviolence. This shift, which has been gathering momentum for the past three hundred years, accelerated during the 20th century with the application of spiritually-grounded nonviolence by Mohandas Gandhi to win India’s independence from Britain; with the spirited use of disciplined nonviolence by the US Civil Rights movement to make epochal change in the United States; and with countless nonviolent struggles for human rights, political change and environmental protection. People in innumerable contexts have used nonviolence to work for the survival and dignity of all. Over the past two decades, this disciplined and grounded nonviolent people power has:

  • Brought down the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines (1986) and the Suharto regime in Indonesia (1998), and created the conditions for East Timor’s independence from Indonesia (2000);
  • Fueled the Solidarity movement’s social transformation of Poland (1980s);
  • Powered the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and throughout Eastern Europe (1989) that undermined Soviet control and contributed to the disintegration of the USSR, a collapse that occurred in the wake of the 1991 military coup which was thwarted by 40,000 people nonviolently defending the parliament building in Moscow;
  • Ended military governments in Spain and Portugal (1970s), the dictatorship of Milosevic in Serbia (2000), the corrupt government of the Republic of Georgia (2003), and is in the process of creating nonviolent change in Ukraine (2004);
  • Upended numerous military dictatorships in Latin America, including Pinochet’s regime in Chile (1980s) and the governments responsible for Argentina’s “Dirty War” against its own people (1970s and 1980s);
  • Ended the apartheid regime in South Africa and sparked that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1980s-1990s); and
  • Created the global conditions for the emergence of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ending almost all nuclear weapons testing on the earth (1992).

What these and many other movements underscore is that active nonviolence is neither passive nor ineffective. Rather, active nonviolence is a form of effective and deeply rooted power at the disposal of people and societies. Energetic and courageous, this power creates peace, justice and meaning without maintaining and escalating the spiral of retaliatory violence. Unlike violence that threatens and dominates, the power of nonviolence is rooted in the human capacity for connection, compassion, and cooperation. This power can: transform personal relationships, communities or whole societies by breaking cycles of violence; free ourselves and others from destructive fear; celebrate differences while affirming the interdependence of all beings; and discover new paths of constructive and courageous living.

Despite the growing success of active nonviolence, however, nonviolent people power remains largely ignored, misunderstood and under-utilized. Assumptions based on selective readings of history and a set of persistent stereotypes (which assert that nonviolence is passive, weak and ineffective, in spite of growing evidence to the contrary) block access to this power and hinder its deployment. Equipping a growing number of people from all walks of life with the vision and toolbox of nonviolence, on the other hand, has a multiplier effect in catalyzing and deepening the momentum of people-power movements for social change. We will therefore build a more peaceful world when millions of people throughout the US and around the world:

  • DISCOVER NONVIOLENT POWER,
  • MAKE THIS POWER THEIR OWN, and
  • FIND WAYS TO PUT THIS POWER INTO ACTION

Engage – and all of Pace e Bene’s programming — is designed to encourage the discovery, internalization and use of the power of nonviolence for personal and social change.

Twenty-three thousand people have taken over 500 one day and weekend Pace e Beneworkshops since 1997. Hundreds of nonviolence study circles have been organized, guided by the 178-page From Violence To Wholeness book that has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

These workshops and study groups have opened “safe space” for people to explore the experience and dynamic of violence, described in this program as “any physical, emotional, verbal, institutional, structural or spiritual behavior, attitude, policy or condition that diminishes, dominates, or destroys ourselves or others.” In Engagegroups, participants reflect on their personal experience of violence and the violence of systems, and the connection between the two.

But it does not stop there. It then invites people to explore nonviolent power as a force for justice and the well-being of all to challenge the pervasive violence belief system and to create an alternative to passivity on the one hand or retaliatory violence on the other.

Conclusion

A growing number of people in the US and around the world are hungry for plausible alternatives to bitterly destructive and dehumanizing cycles of violence. This longing was dramatized in the unprecedented antiwar movement that materialized in the run-up to the current war against Iraq when 15 million people marched for a peaceful alternative. This rapidly organized peace movement on every continent signaled a growing, determined rejection of violence as a way to solve complicated problems. At the same time, this desire has been underscored by innumerable efforts for economic justice, racial and cultural equality, an end to homophobia and sexism, and a wide range of other forms of violence and injustice.

Pace e Bene is dedicated to offering vision, tools and grounding for this journey of the unfolding nonviolent life.