Pax Christi USA

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Pax Christi USA (1972–), an association of Roman Catholics committed to nonviolence. Gordon Zahn, a sociologist and a Catholic conscientious objector during World War II, and Eileen Egan, an official in Catholic Relief Services, founded Pax Christi USA in 1972. They secured support from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit and Bishop Carroll Dozier of Memphis, and then obtained affiliation with Pax Christi International. Pax Christi USA is organized in seven regions, with a national board, national assemblies, and a wide range of peace activities. By its twentieth anniversary in 1992, Pax Christi USA had over 12,000 members in 300 local chapters.

A turning point for the organization occurred from 1979 to 1982 under the leadership of Mary Evelyn Jegen, SND. She established a national executive council to establish policy, a newsletter, a press service, reflection/action groups, annual liturgies, vigils, and demonstrations. All of these activities kept the organization's aim of education for peace in the forefront. She also maintained close contact with other Catholic groups as well as with broader peace and antiwar movements, especially religious pacifist groups. While enabling all concerned Catholics to come together, she gradually moved the organization away from the “just war” tradition and toward pacifism as the most viable Catholic attitude toward peacemaking.

Pax Christi USA's criticisms of U.S. government policies, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, were more far‐reaching than those of mainline Catholics and the hierarchy. They focused on three main areas: the draft (until its end in 1973); Central America; and nuclear warfare, arms control and disarmament. Pax Christi USA also focused attention on the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter on war and peace issues. When The Challenge of Peace; God's Promise and Our Response was issued (1983), Pax Christi USA affirmed it as the strongest moral renunciation of nuclear war and weaponry by any Catholic hierarchy, and vowed to assume responsibility for making the letter and its teachings known and accepted by the broader Catholic community.
[See also Conscientious Objection; Just War Theory; Nuclear Protest Movements; Vietnam Antiwar Movement.]


Pax Christi USA, 17 (Spring–Summer 1992): Gerard Vanderhaar , The Early Years: 1972–78, pp. 4–10; Patricia McNeal , The Chicago Years 1979–1984, pp. 11–17, and Erie Years 1985–Present, pp. 17–25.
Patricia McNeal , Harder Than War: Catholic Peace Making in Twentieth Century America, 1992.

Patricia McNeal