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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Spiral of Violence
The Spiral of Violence

A Climate of Violence

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

In 1977, Catholic bishops in Latin America gathered to name their situation of shared violence and to commit themselves anew to the gospel of peace:

We live in a whole climate of violence. There is violence in the area of economics by reason of acute fiscal crises, the repeated devaluation of our currencies, unemployment, and soaring taxes—the burden of which ultimately falls on the poor and helpless. There is violence at the political level, as our people in varying degrees are deprived of their right of self-expression and self-determination and of the exercise of their civil rights. Still more grave in many countries are human-rights violations in the form of torture, kidnappings, and murder. Violence also makes its appearance in various forms of delinquency, in drug abuse as an escape from reality, in the mistreatment of women—all tragic expressions of frustration and of the spiritual and cultural decadence of a people losing their hope in tomorrow.

Here we may not scurry for cover to empty theories or hide behind condemnations of one group by another group. The violence is here; it is a fact. Injustice exists; this is reality. As Christians we may not abide this. We may not allow ourselves to grow accustomed to evil, least of all to an evil that is daily and constant. [1]

In a series of sermons, radio addresses, newspaper articles, and public speeches, Archbishop Óscar Romero (1917–1980) of El Salvador called the people of his church and his nation to return to gospel values, particularly those of justice and love as a way to end violence.

I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally. [2]

When the church decries revolutionary violence, it cannot forget that institutionalized violence also exists, and that the desperate violence of oppressed persons is not overcome with one-sided laws, with weapons, or with superior force. . . . As long as there is not greater justice among us, there will always be outbreaks of revolution. [3]

Reminding listeners of the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, Romero preached:

If there were love of neighbor, there would be no terrorism, no repression, no selfishness, none of such cruel inequalities in society, no abductions, no crimes. Love sums up the law. Not only that, it gives a Christian meaning to all human relations. . . . Love gives plentitude to all human duties, and without love justice is only the sword. With love, justice becomes a brother’s embrace. Without love, laws are arduous, repressive, cruel. . . But when there is love—security forces would be superfluous, there would be no jail or tortures, no will to beat anyone. [4]

[1] “Declaration of the International Meeting of Latin American Bishops on ‘Nonviolence: A Power for Liberation,’” in Adolpho Pérez Esquivel, Christ in a Poncho: Testimonials of the Nonviolent Struggles in Latin America (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1983), 119.

[2] Óscar Romero, The Violence of Love: The Pastoral Wisdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, compiled and translated by James R. Brockman (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 200.

[3] Romero, The Violence of Love, 42.

[4] Romero, 107.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Frank J. Aleksandrowicz, Clark Avenue and Clark Avenue Bridge (detail), 1973, photograph, Ohio, public domain, National Archives. Chaokun Wang, 轮胎 tyre (detail), 2021, photograph, Pingyao, creative commons. John Messina, Drainage of Marsh Leaves (detail), 1970, photograph, Louisiana, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: War, bitterness, consumed and discarded goods. Why are we sustaining the spiral of violence? Do we not see that we are part of the creation we are destroying?

Story from Our Community:

My 4-year-old grandson asked why I won’t allow him to play with toy guns. He says guns are needed to get rid of bad guys. My response is that we are all good, but sometimes we make bad choices. We need to love those who are hurting others and love them back to goodness. Violence only begets violence. Only with love can we bring peace. When will we finally accept all of humanity as God’s good creation?
—Mary K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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