Pastor of a parish in Soweto in South Africa from 1983 to 1994 at the end of apartheid, now Bishop of Cayenne and Chairman of the Antilles Episcopal Conference Biblical Animation of all Pastoral Life (ABP) Committee, Bishop Emmanuel Lafont believes that the Gospel is basically non-violent.
La Croix (The Cross): Is the Gospel message fundamentally non-violent?
Bishop Emmanuel Lafont: I have long been convinced that the gospel and non-violence are two sides of the same coin. Nothing in the Gospel authorizes violence, it finds no basis in it, from the birth of Christ, “Prince of Peace,” until his death on the cross, which he accepted.
The last word of Christ to Peter, before his crucifixion, “put your sword back in the scabbard” (John 18:11), is a word of non-violence. In the fundamental logic of the Gospel, hatred and violence can only be overcome by love and benevolence.
And when Jesus says that he has “not come to bring peace to earth,” he states that the peace he brings is rejected by the world. But he remains the prince of peace, as we proclaimed at Christmas. He invites us to be instigators of peace.
Yet Jesus can get angry …
Mgr E. L.: To say that Jesus is non-violent does not mean that he passively endured injustice. Indeed, the episode of the merchants of the Temple shows that he shows an evident anger: he is not a man without emotion, but he is master of himself and does not allow himself to be at the mercy of his anger.
The strength of Christ implies a capacity for self-control, while violence is an expression of weakness. Nelson Mandela, a man of non-violence, was also a man of great strength. Non-violence does not require resignation but that one defends oneself with other weapons. This can go as far as martyrdom.
What do the Beatitudes say about violence and its refusal?
Mgr E. L.: All the keys to a refusal of violence are in the Sermon on the Mount, which is the Royal Charter of the Kingdom of God. Jesus overthrows the values of this world, advocating service, forgiveness, reconciliation, the sharing of goods … One cannot find anything more radical in the ideal of peace! Gandhi himself said that if Christians really lived the Beatitudes, the world would be different.
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But one must be aware that violence is often the language of those who are not listened to. I hate violence because I have seen that it destroys internally those who use it as much as those against whom it is used. But the violence of the poor, as I saw in Soweto, is something I do not want to judge.
What are the first steps to live non-violence?
Mgr E. L.: Everything begins in the home. When God prepared the coming of Jesus, he did not bother about the material conditions of his birth, which were not ideal, but he shaped his family, choosing Mary and Joseph to look after his upbringing.
The family is the crucible in which a society of justice and peace. 85% of the people in prison did not have a family life worthy of the name. Restoring parental responsibility, with the help of the extended family, is a way of working to non-violence.
It is also an ecological issue. “Everything is connected” as the Pope says in Laudato si! How do you invite people to respect nature if you do not respect your wife, your children, if you do not will their happiness? There is no ecology without respect for life, otherwise it is a total hypocrisy! Peace begins with respect.
Translated by Sr. Phyllis Wharfe