Pax Christi goes to jail

Shirley, Mass. — On a pleasant afternoon in June, 20 or so inmates gather in the chapel at the medium-security prison of Massachusetts Correctional Institution-Shirley. After a bit of small talk, a man with long hair and tattoos swirling around his forearms, whom everyone calls Rev, convenes the group."Welcome to Our Lady of Guadalupe Pax Christi," he says, reading from a two-page handout. "We welcome you to join us in our mission to bring the spirit of nonviolence to our prison environment and beyond. Your input and participation is valued."

So begins the monthly meeting of what is reportedly the only Pax Christi prison chapter in the country. Perhaps the world. For nearly two years, the group, whose members include men convicted of grave crimes, have regularly met to consider the possibilities of nonviolence, their gathering a testament to the universality of peacemaking.

"We all have the potential to be peacemakers," said Chris, who co-facilitated the June meeting with Rev.

"Obviously, in this community, we cannot stop the strife that is happening in Syria or Africa, but we can change something that might happen for us in the shower, on the walkway, because this is our community."

On one level, the establishment of such a Pax Christi chapter should come as no surprise. The international Catholic peace organization traces its origin to the prison experience of co-founder Pierre-Marie Théas, a French bishop. Théas first seriously considered how to practice Jesus' call "to love enemies" while confined in a German detention camp during World War II.

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