Nonviolent by Faith

Young People and the Catholic Peace Movement Today

Activism for the Savvy

A peace movement of over 14,000 members across the country (including 140 Catholic bishops), Pax Christi USA continues to organize its efforts in response to current events.

Following is the second part of my interview with Johnny Zokovitch, program associate and youth outreach coordinator for the national organization Pax Christi USA. We focused here on the death penalty and the activism of young people.

EO: I understand you have a particular stance on the death penalty. Can you describe it and how you see young people approaching this subject?

JZ: Pax Christi USA advocates for life across the board, including being for the abolition of the death penalty. We believe that the church has been prophetic in its unswerving condemnation of the death penalty and its call for abolition. We support this view wholeheartedly.

I think that students and young adults mirror the general population when it comes to the death penalty. Like much of the country, many support the death penalty but are becoming more and more skeptical of its value, especially in light of the high number of people on death row who are later proven innocent. We believe that the more people find out about the flaws in the death penalty the more people will agree that it is not only morally and religiously offensive, but just bad public policy.

EO: What do you find is the single most pressing issue for youth today, and how do you think Pax Christi USA addresses it?

JZ: Actually I don’t believe there is a single most pressing issue. I see students and young adults organizing around a variety of issues, following their passion and using their gifts where they think it might make a difference. Students and young adult activists are very savvy—they make connections between the degradation of the environment, the growing economic disparity between the rich and the poor. They know the connections between labor issues, prison issues, and race issues. Their experience tells them to appreciate that the battle must be engaged on many fronts, and in many different ways. Ched Meyers, an author and activist and mentor to many young people in our movement, once used the image of Gulliver and the Lilliputians recalling a scene where all of the Lilliputians were throwing their bit of rope over varied spots of Gulliver’s body in order to hold him down—everyone doing their part, throwing rope over the giant. It’s a great image. That’s what we’re doing—everyone trying to do their part wherever that might be, whatever the issue.

EO: You know, this is not exactly a time when church organizations are drawing in huge numbers of young people. Why do you think young people flock to Pax Christi?

JZ: I think that young people come to us because they believe we’re a community of people trying to live out our discipleship to Jesus in an authentic way, and that’s what they want to do too. Pax Christi USA engages many issues, but we’re really about personal and social transformation, as well as spiritual and political transformation. We’re active nationally, but the heart of Pax Christi is with the hundreds of local groups and local faith communities which are doing the work of peace and justice. And our model of prayer, study, and action all together makes us unique. It’s not just an interior faith, not just some inward exercise–it’s about lifestyle, about concrete action. In the end I really feel it’s all about discipleship.

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