Dr. Terry Rynne has promoted and been interested in peace-related issues for most of his distinguished career.
This year, the Marquette alumnus, instructor of peace studies at Marquette and co-founder of the university’s Center for Peacemaking was able to use his knowledge to assist Pope Francis develop a message to be officially issued on New Year’s Day in celebration of the 50th World Day of Peace.
“It is a phenomenal statement,” Rynne said. “It makes nonviolence effective and courageous and a way to confront conflict. It does work.”
Rynne was one of only 14 Americans among 80 people who traveled to the Vatican in April to help Francis draft the statement, Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace. Rynne, who received his Ph.D. in theology at Marquette, wrote one of the five position papers distributed to the group as it made its recommendations. His topic was on the scriptural basis of Jesus’ nonviolence, a 10-page paper.
He hopes the statement by the pope will lead to an encyclical on peace that will have similar worldwide effects as the pope’s Laudato Si: On Care for the Common Home, which has helped bring environmental issues to the forefront.
“Most of the church doesn’t really know about the power of nonviolence,” Rynne said. “It helps to get a broader net of support and interest so the intention is that that we can change the conversation from churchwide to parish-deep.”
In the statement, the pope uses as examples Jesus and Mother Teresa, but also Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu; one of Gandhi’s followers, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Muslim; and Leymah Gbowee, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end of the Second Civil War in Liberia.
“Some people reading it, especially women, are saying ‘Oh, the pope is holding up women as being on the front lines of peacemaking,’ which, in fact, he does,” Rynne said.
There is some controversy in the United States on the recommendation sent to the pope because the letter recommends the church stop teaching the “Just War Theory.”
“The theory focuses on war, and nonviolence focuses on peace,” Rynne said. “The real challenge is to build peace. It’s a disservice in comparison to what people can be thinking and how they can acting.”
The pope doesn’t specifically mention the theory in the statement, but pledges the assistance of the Catholic Church to build peace through “active and creative nonviolence.” It calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and pleads for the end to domestic abuse and to the abuse of women and children.
Rynne was one of only a small number of people on the committee from a developed nation. The majority of the people at the conference were from developing nations.
“Every country that has had terrible violence has had Christians and Catholics who have been resisting nonviolently,” Rynne said. “People came from Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Kenya, the Philippines, Bosnia, etc., and they have amazing stories on successful nonviolent action.”
Rynne and his wife, Sally, founded Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking, the only such center on a Catholic university campus in the United States. They chose Marquette as the place to found the center for several reasons, including the number of students involved in service learning. In addition, they were impressed with the number of Marquette faculty studying peace, including Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court member and current Marquette trustee who founded the Law School’s Restorative Justice Initiative.
Rynne has served as a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago and was a faculty member of the Archdiocesan Seminary at Mundelein, Ill. He believes he was chosen for one of the few spots on the Vatican committee due to his books, Gandhi and Jesus: The Saving Power of Nonviolence and Jesus Christ, Peacemaker: A New Theology of Peace, and due to his involvement with Marquette’s center.
“The reputation of the Center for Peacemaking is growing beyond the limits of Milwaukee,” he said.