Nonviolent by Faith

Young People and the Catholic Peace Movement Today

As images of war fill a greater share of the nation’s TV news, many Catholics are tuning in to organizations like Pax Christi USA to uphold the doctrine of nonviolence. A peace movement of over 14,000 members and 140 U.S. Catholic bishops, Pax Christi USA is considered a crucial component of the global peace movement.

So how is Pax Christi USA organizing its efforts in response to current events?

Following is the first of a two-part interview with Johnny Zokovitch, program associate and youth outreach coordinator for the national organization.

Edward Ortiz: How do the rising numbers of young people currently signing up for the military affect your nonviolence outreach programs?

Johnny Zokovitch: While news media reported a rise in those signing up for the military in the immediate wake of September 11th, the numbers were really skewed. What the press didn’t report was that large numbers of folks attempting to sign up were well past the age of typical recruits. A significant number of those who did sign up would not even qualify for service because of physical disabilities, psychological questions, and other reasons. And even with the supposed bounce, from what I’ve read and heard, the numbers quickly dropped back to “normal.” The other side of the coin is the huge numbers of young people who have become active politically because of their opposition to the current war on terrorism in all of its manifestations–including the erosion of civil liberties, the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Afghanistan, the Bush administration’s consideration of torturing other human beings, and much more.

Pax Christi USA has been inundated with requests from college and high school students and young adults for information on conscientious objection, as well as for information on organizing against the Bush administration’s policies and educational materials on nonviolence. We had 15 new campus or young adult groups start up in the first three months after the attacks on September 11th. We’ve also had a surge in our membership among college students and young adults.

EO: What sort of programs and philosophies does Pax Christi espouse concerning ecology and conscientious objection in particular, and how are they being received by young adults?

JZ: Global restoration is one of the priorities of Pax Christi USA. We approach issues of ecology and environmentalism from the best paths of our Catholic faith tradition–reverence for creation in scripture, the witness of holy men and women like St. Francis, and Catholic social teaching on caring for God’s creation. Right now we’re in the process of putting together a packet of materials on globalization, which will include the damaging effects of corporate globalization on the ecosystems of our planet. Many of our local groups, especially campus groups, are active on both local and global environmental issues.

In responding to requests for information on conscientious objection we’ve worked very closely with the Center for Conscience and War and the American Friends Service Committee’s Youth and Militarism Project. We refer people to their websites ( and
) for good up-to-date information on conscientious objection. Additionally, Pax Christi USA publishes a short pamphlet on conscientious objection and Catholic teaching which we make available to folks who are interested.

At this time, matters of ecology and conscientious objections are central for many young people. This generation of students and young adults have always been out front on issues affecting the environment. Early on they made the connection between environmental issues and traditional concerns of the peace movement, like nuclear war. With the current war on terrorism and Bush and Cheney’s talk about it being a long-term affair, we’ve received an increase in requests for conscientious objection materials from parents, teachers and students.