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Theme:
Nonviolence

Nonviolence

Summary: Sunday, August 18—Friday, August 23, 2019

The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from being one with oneself and everything else, and from Being Itself. (Sunday)

Mohandas Gandhi said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation. —John Dear (Monday)

Love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God. —Walter Wink (Tuesday)

I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. —Pope Francis (Wednesday)

Nonviolent campaigns have greater participation, loyalty, resilience, innovation, and civic impact than violent ones. (Thursday)

Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (Friday)

 

Practice: Write Your Own Psalm

On the whole we are not conscious of evolution, and we do not act as if our choices can influence the direction of evolution. . . . What will it take for us to realize that we are unfinished creatures who are in the process of being created? That our world is being created? That our church is being created? That Christ is being formed in us? . . . The good news of Jesus Christ is not so much what happens to us but what must be done by us. The choices we make for the future will create the future. We must reinvent ourselves in love. —Ilia Delio [1]

The psalms—like all great art—lead us to a truer image of ourselves, reality, and God. St. John Cassian (c. 360–c. 435) taught that the psalms carry in them “all the feelings of which human nature is capable.” [2] Poet Kathleen Norris writes of her experience singing the psalms three times a day as a guest in a Benedictine monastery:

To the modern reader the psalms can seem impenetrable: how in the world can we read, let alone pray, these angry and often violent poems from an ancient warrior culture? At a glance they seem overwhelmingly patriarchal, ill-tempered, moralistic, vengeful, and often seem to reflect precisely what is wrong with our world. And that’s the point, or part of it. As one reads the psalms, it becomes clear that the world they depict is not really so different from our own; the fourth-century monk Athanasius wrote that the psalms “become like a mirror to the person singing them.” [3] . . .

The psalms remind us that the way we judge each other, with harsh words and acts of vengeance, constitutes injustice, and they remind us that it is the powerless in society who are overwhelmed when injustice becomes institutionalized. . . .

In expressing all the complexities and contradictions of human experience, the psalms act as good psychologists. They defeat our tendency to try to be holy without being human first. [4]

As a contemplative practice, I invite you to write your own psalm. Begin by thinking about the longing in your own heart to create a future reinvented in love. You don’t need to be a writer, just willing to write your heartfelt thoughts as you would in a journal, knowing that the psalmist’s role is simply to express themselves to God.

You might read several psalms before you get started or choose a common theme from the biblical psalms to focus on: Joy (11, 18, 23, 27), Love (33, 62, 99, 103), Thanksgiving (30, 32, 65, 75), Justice (26, 52, 114), Healing (22, 38, 41).

The practice is simple. Write a free-form psalm based on the deep feeling or longing of your heart. Read it aloud when it is complete. Offer your psalm to God.

References:
[1] Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013), 202-203.

[2] John Cassian, Conference, 10.10. See John Cassian: Conferences, trans. Colm Luibheid (Paulist Press: 1985), 133.

[3] Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus, 12. See Athanasius: The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus, trans. Robert C. Gregg (Paulist Press: 1980), 111.

[4] Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (Riverhead Books: 1996), 92-94, 96.

This practice was inspired by Teresa A. Blythe, 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times (Abingdon Press: 2006).

For Further Study:
Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press: 2011),  ericachenoweth.com/research/wcrw

John Dear, The Nonviolent Life (Pace e Bene Press: 2013)

Choosing Peace: The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence, ed. Marie Dennis (Orbis Books: 2018)

Pace e Bene’s Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions, September 14-22, 2019, paceebene.org

Pax Christi International’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative entitled “Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World: Biblical, Theological, Ethical, Pastoral and Strategic Dimensions of Nonviolence,” nonviolencejustpeace.net

Pope Francis, “Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace,” Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Celebration of the Fiftieth World Day of Peace (January 1, 2017), w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20161208_messaggio-l-giornata-mondiale-pace-2017.html

Richard Rohr, Healing Our Violence Through the Journey of Centering Prayer (Franciscan Media: 2002)CD

Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Augsburg Fortress: 2003)

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
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Nonviolence

A Universal Ethic of Nonviolence
Friday, August 23, 2019

To create peaceful change, we must begin by remembering who we are in God. The following came out of a recent meeting of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative:

Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation.

The nonviolent life to which we are called is rooted in the life of God and in God’s longing for humanity. God is unconditional love that grounds, creates and maintains all life, rooted in the infinite goodness that the three Persons of the one God endlessly and inseparably share with one another and with all creation. This eternal communion is the ceaseless mutuality of ontological nonviolence in action, grounded in the foundational relationality of God. Our God of unconditional, self-giving love calls all humanity to this way of primordial nonviolence.

Jesus made visible the nonviolence of God, who created the universe not out of violence but out of love. Creation is good, as the Book of Genesis tells us, and human beings are made in the image of the God who declares this goodness. Nonviolence is the nature of creation and points us toward the “new creation”, where all will be reconciled.

Jesus lived and proclaimed this universal ethic of nonviolence: a paradigm of the fullness of life putting love into action, returning good for evil, rejecting violence and killing, and nurturing a just, peaceful, sustainable, and reconciled world. It springs from his foundational understanding of God and of the nonviolent life that God calls us to live: to make peace with one another; to resist the violence and injustice that threaten or destroy this peace; and to foster a world where the fullness of peace is the birthright of all. Jesus showed us how to live this way of faithful nonviolence, even in the midst of violence and oppression, by calling us to love our enemies, to not kill, to put down the sword, and to respond actively to the cry of the poor.

Nonviolence is the foundational, universal ethic for building a culture of peace, disarmament and development. A spiritual orientation, a way of life, and a practical tool, nonviolence confronts violence without using violence, creates constructive alternatives and calls us to share the fullness of life with one another on this fragile planet, what Pope Francis has called “our common home.”

Reference:
Adapted from a forthcoming document by Pax Christi International’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative entitled “Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World: Biblical, Theological, Ethical, Pastoral and Strategic Dimensions of Nonviolence.” Learn more about the Nonviolence Initiative at nonviolencejustpeace.net.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
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Nonviolence

Nonviolence Works
Thursday, August 22, 2019

How is it that many Christians have managed to avoid what Jesus actually taught? We’ve evaded major parts of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): the Beatitudes, Jesus’ warning about idolizing “mammon,” his clear directive and example of nonviolence, and his command to love our enemies. I never see the Beatitudes on courthouse lawns. Perhaps we think his teaching is nice in theory but impractical in real life. Perhaps we do not believe nonviolence can actually effect real change.

A few years ago, people from around the world came together in Rome to discuss the Catholic commitment to peace. Marie Dennis writes: “One person after another shared how violence in his or her own experience, failed, and how nonviolence overcame violence.” [1] As we saw yesterday, Pope Francis is helping reclaim Jesus’ teachings on peace. Dennis continues:

He is saying that nonviolence is effective in the real world of politics—in fact superior to and more effective than violence. The world never gets to peace through violence and war but only begets more violence and war. . . .

[One] active peacemaker the pope points to is Leymah Gbowee, the [2011] Nobel prize winner from Liberia. . . . She organized pray-ins and nonviolent protests that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia. . . . The contributions of such women as Gbowee in Liberia and Marguerite Barankitse in Burundi are showing the way to the eventual cessation of violence and the dawning of peace. . . . [2]

In their book Why Civil Resistance Works, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan write about the effectiveness of nonviolence, drawing from examples in Iran, Palestine, the Philippines, and Burma. Based on in-depth research, they observe that nonviolent resistance is “nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts.” [3] Nonviolent campaigns have greater participation, loyalty, resilience, innovation, and civic impact than violent ones. [4] While surprising, there’s plenty of evidence that the very thing we consider foolish confounds the wise and that the powerless confound the powerful (see 1 Corinthians 1:27).

One reason for our failure to understand Jesus’ clear teaching on nonviolence lies in the fact that the Gospel has primarily been expounded by a small elite group of educated European and North American men. The bias of white males is typically power and control. From this perspective nonviolence and love of enemies makes no sense whatsoever.

Because we Christians haven’t taken Jesus’ teaching and example seriously, much of the world refuses to take us seriously. “Christians love to talk of a new life,” critics say, “but the record shows that you are afraid to live in a new way—a way that is responsible, caring, and nonviolent. Even the common ‘pro-life movement’ is much more pro-birth than about caring for all life—black and brown lives, refugees, the poor, the sick, immigrants, LGBTQIA people, the environment.” In fact, many “pro-lifers” I know are the first in line to oppose any gun regulation.

I’m grateful that Christianity is finally becoming much more universal in its teaching, more effective in its action, and just more honest about Jesus.

References:
[1] Choosing Peace: The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence, ed. Marie Dennis (Orbis Books: 2018), 230-231. This book includes many of the papers prepared for the conference “Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence” in Rome (April 2016). All the papers are available at nonviolencejustpeace.net.

[2] Ibid., 231-232, 237.

[3] Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press: 2011), 7. Learn more at ericachenoweth.com/research/wcrw.

[4] See ibid., 10.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
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Nonviolence

Politics for Peace
Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of the most hopeful signs of growth and evolution in Christianity today is the effort to reclaim nonviolence as fundamental to Jesus’ life and teaching. Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Peace in 2017 focused on this:

I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. . . .

May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms. . . .

Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all.

An ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence . . . cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect and sincere dialogue. Hence, I plead for disarmament and for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons: nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual assured destruction are incapable of grounding such an ethics. [1] I plead with equal urgency for an end to domestic violence and to the abuse of women and children. . . .

Jesus taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mark 7:21). . . . Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence. He walked that path to the very end, to the cross . . . (Ephesians 2:14-16). Whoever accepts the Good News of Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God’s mercy, becoming in turn an instrument of reconciliation. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: “As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts.” [2] . . .

As my predecessor Benedict XVI observed . . . : “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that [they are] not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.” [3] The Gospel command to love your enemies (Luke 6:27) “is rightly considered the magna carta of Christian nonviolence.” [4] . . .

Jesus himself offers a “manual” for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount [see Matthew 5:3-10]. . . . Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.

References:
[1] Message for the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (December 7, 2014).

[2] “The Legend of the Three Companions,” chapter 14. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (New City Press: 2000), 102.

[3] Benedict XVI, Angelus (February 18, 2007). Full text at http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20070218.html.

[4] Ibid.

Pope Francis, “Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace,” Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Celebration of the Fiftieth World Day of Peace (January 1, 2017), http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20161208_messaggio-l-giornata-mondiale-pace-2017.html.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
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Nonviolence

The Third Way
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Walter Wink (1935–2012), with whom I taught at several conferences some years ago, wrote a brilliant book, Jesus and Nonviolence, on a third way between fight and flight. I can see why Jesus calls it “a narrow path,” as it’s not the ego’s default or preferred method. Read on. . . .

There are three general responses to evil: (1) passivity, (2) violent opposition, and (3) the third way of . . . nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human evolution has conditioned us for only the first two of these responses. . . .

Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil. His is a third alternative not even touched by these options. . . .

Jesus’ Third Way bears at its very heart the love of enemies. This is the hardest word to utter in a context of conflict because it can so easily be misunderstood as spinelessness. But it is precisely the message [Martin Luther King, Jr.] made central to his efforts in the polarized circumstances of the American South.

To our most bitter opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory. [1]

Walter Wink continues:

Love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith. Commitment to justice, liberation, or the overthrow of oppression is not enough, for all too often the means used have brought in their wake new injustices and oppressions. Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God. The enemy too believes [they are] in the right, and fears us because we represent a threat against [their] values, lifestyle, or affluence. When we demonize our enemies, calling them names and identifying them with absolute evil, we deny that they have that of God within them that makes transformation possible. Instead, we play God. We write them out of the Book of Life. We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God. . . .

It is our very inability to love our enemies that throws us into the arms of grace.

Or as I, Richard, like to say, it’s when we come to the end of our own resources that we must draw upon the Infinite Life and Love within us to do what we alone cannot do.

References:
[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (Christmas, 1957), written in the Montgomery jail during the bus boycott. Reprinted in the A. J. Muste Essay Series, number 1 (A. J. Muste Memorial Institute, 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012).

Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Augsburg Fortress: 2003), 12, 13-14, 58-59, 60-61.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
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Nonviolence

Remembering Who We Already Are
Monday, August 19, 2019

My longtime friend, Catholic priest and peace activist John Dear, teaches that nonviolence requires three simultaneous attributes: being nonviolent toward ourselves; being nonviolent to others, including creation; and joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence. John and the Franciscan organization Pace e Bene lead an annual Campaign Nonviolence (September 14-22, 2019), working toward a culture “free from war, racism, poverty, and environmental destruction.” [1] In John’s words:

What does it mean to be nonviolent? Coming from the Hindu/Sanskrit word ahimsa, nonviolence was defined long ago as “causing no harm, no injury, no violence to any living creature.” But Mohandas Gandhi insisted that it means much more than that. He said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation. . . .

Another way to understand nonviolence is to set it within the context of our identity. Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved [children] of the God of peace. . . . This is what Jesus taught: “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called the sons and daughters of God [Matthew 5:9]. . . . Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, then you shall be sons and daughters of the God who makes [the] sun rise on the good and the bad, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” [Matthew 5:44-45]. In the context of his visionary nonviolence—radical peacemaking and love for enemies—Jesus speaks of being who we already are. He talks about our true identities as if they propel us to be people of loving nonviolence. . . .

Living nonviolence requires daily meditation, contemplation, study, concentration, and mindfulness. Just as mindlessness leads to violence, steady mindfulness and conscious awareness of our true identities lead to nonviolence and peace. . . . The social, economic, and political implications of this practice are astounding: if we are [children] of a loving Creator, then every human being is our [sibling], and we can never hurt anyone on earth ever again, much less be silent in the face of war, starvation, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons, systemic injustice and environmental destruction. . . .

Gandhi said Jesus practiced perfect nonviolence. If that’s true, then how . . . did he embody creative nonviolence so well? The answer can be found at the beginning of his story, at his baptism. . . . Jesus hears a voice say, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” Unlike most of us, Jesus accepts this announcement of God’s love for him. He claims his true identity as the beloved son of the God of peace. From then on, he knows who he is. He’s faithful to this identity until the moment he dies. From the desert to the cross, he is faithful to who he is. He becomes who he is, and lives up to who he is, and so he acts publicly like God’s beloved.

References:
[1] Learn more about Pace e Bene’s Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions at paceebene.org.

John Dear, The Nonviolent Life (Pace e Bene Press: 2013), 15-16, 17, 19, 20.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
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Nonviolence

Creating Peaceful Change
Sunday, August 18, 2019

The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from being one with oneself and everything else, and from Being Itself. When we don’t know how to consciously live out of union (which is called love), we resort to violence, fighting anything that is not like us and that we cannot control. Contemplative practice teaches us to honor differences and also realize that we are all much more than our nationality, skin color, gender, or other labels which are all aspects of the passing and thus false self. Contemplation brings us back to our True Self, who we are in God.

When we can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then we will, ironically, find that we are more than enough. This is the wisdom of the Gospel that is especially emphasized in Franciscan spirituality. At this place of both poverty and freedom we have nothing to prove or protect. Here we can connect with everything and everyone. Everything belongs. This cuts violence at its very roots before there is any basis for fear, anger, vengeance, or self-promotion—the things that often cause violence.

One of the reasons I founded the Center for Action and Contemplation thirty-two years ago was to give activists some grounding in spirituality (their True Self) so they could continue working for social change, but from a stance much different than anger, ideology, or oppositional willpower. Many activists I knew in the 1960s loved the nonviolent teachings of Jesus, Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968). But it became clear to me that theirs was often a mere intellectual appreciation rather than a participation in the much deeper mystery.

To create peaceful change, we first have to get the “Who” right. Who are you? Most of us, particularly pragmatic Americans, lead with strategic questions—what, how, when. These are secondary questions. Before we act or react, we need to wait—wait for communion, wait until we’re reconnected to the Ground of Being and even in our “enemies,” wait until we’re conscious, wait until a “yes” appears within us.

When we begin by connecting with our inner experience of communion, our actions can be pure, clear, and firm. This kind of action, rooted in one’s True Self, comes from a deeper knowing of what is real, good, true, and beautiful—beyond labels and dualistic judgments of right or wrong. From this place, our energy is positive and has the most potential to create change for the good. This stance is precisely what we mean by “being in prayer” and why we must pray always to maintain this state of constant prayer.

I’m not telling you not to act. The Gospel offers a way to make our action sustainable and lasting over the long haul. People on the Right tend to be perpetually angry, fearful, and overly defensive, and people on the Left tend to be perpetually cynical, morally righteous, and outraged. The Gospel calls forth a refined instrument beyond these two falsehoods that can really make a difference because it is a new level of consciousness altogether. Such activists are themselves “a new creation” (Galatians 6:15) and the lightning rods of God’s transformative energy into the world.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Healing Our Violence Through the Journey of Centering Prayer, discs 1 and 2 (Franciscan Media: 2002)CD.

Image credit: The Sleeping Gypsy (detail), by Henri Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Nonviolence is the universal ethic at the heart of creation. —Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
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