Pax Christi Netherlands

During the Middle Ages some eminent scholastic theologians came up with a beautiful definition of the word ‘sacrament’. First they pointed out the Greek equivalent: mysterion. There is no need of translation to understand that a sacrament was seen as incomprehensible and indescribable. Then the theologians added their own description. A sacramentum, a sacrament, is a signum gratiae efficax. A sign that contains the grace of God and makes this grace effective in a world which, contrary to God’s beautiful creation, has to suffer from negative human forces. This may sound quite abstract. But things may become clear if we explain the different meanings in the symbol of the international peace movement Pax Christi: the rose. At the same time this symbol could give added value and expression to the old definition. It can grow to be a sign which profoundly expresses how our peace movement wants to function, or better, wants to be.

The cartoon on the right is made by the well-known Dutch artist Len Munnik. It shows a happy, dynamic person. While running, he throws away a piece of barbed wire and carries a rose to show it to the world. But he keeps his eyes on the flower. The rose seems to be a symbol of the message that Pax Christi wants to bring to the world. The person runs between two text lines, two words: ‘violence’ and ‘ends’. That is the way he wants to be read. These are the two first words of the slogan of Pax Christi Netherlands, which was used on an earlier postcard and became so famous that the second phrase (‘where love begins’) could be omitted.

But what is a rose? Surely not a sacrament. But as a symbol a rose can evoke a broad range of feelings. When parents give their child a piece of candy, the child experiences the love of his parents and that makes him happy. First of all, the rose should be a sign of recognition for Pax Christi members, a sign by which they feel united. Like many other symbols, the rose of Pax Christi gives true significance to the meaning of the word from which ‘symbol’ is derived: the Greek symbolon. Originally the word referred to an object that was broken into pieces which were distributed among the people present. When they met again, they could identify each other by the pieces of the broken object, which through this reunion became again an entity. But a rose can actualise other meanings, more directed to the heart than to the mind. Just as the candy becomes a symbol of love and happiness for the child.

In a further step, the rose of Pax Christi invites action. The ideal of peace and justice must be spread: one has to contribute to the establishment of a society of people, in which economic, political, cultural and spiritual rights are guaranteed for each group and each individual. This could bring some danger: one takes risks, prophets blame injustice and therefore are dangerous.

But it is exactly the symbol of the rose that heightens the belief in our beautiful goal. At the same time the rose refers to the vulnerability of the Pax Christi ideal. Roses fade if the soil and the humus do not feed them. Humankind must create this humus (from which the word humility is derived). The rose grows and becomes strong if people abandon the tendency for riches, honour and power, as Jesaja to Descartes tried to point out the negative forces in humankind. To let the rose grow, one should strive towards an altruistic and humble service; towards the ideal of peace, personified in Jesus Christ.

But the little man in the cartoon does more than carry the rose into the world. He keeps looking at the flower, continuously and delighted. As if he wants to keep in mind the different meanings of the rose, grateful for the ideal that was entrusted to him. Action and contemplation, labouring and meditating go hand in hand. They are in a permanent interaction and are inseparable from his optimism in life.

We can conclude that in a special way each member of the movement is invited to join those two components in one dynamic inspiration: the moment of action and the moment of meditation, reflection and prayer. It is a dynamic process, which ideally each person fulfils each hour of the day. We are not activists solely. We are not to excel by what we do, but what we are: people who work and pray, who handle and meditate. People of action and contemplation, both in the same moment.

Paul van Geest

The mountain and the island

In a noisy, busy world, each person is looking for their own space. First of all, physically: a place surrounded by silence. The door closes with a bang, in consequence the door to your ‘inner room’ opens in silence. The physical space brings us automatically into a psychic space: quietness which leads towards meditation, reflection and prayer. This space has also a religious dimension. One looks for quietness and space to free oneself, being aware that one is no more, but also no less than a part of the totality. This is for God the image of humankind. Coram deo.

These moments often coincide. Pax Christi Netherlands made a conscious decision when a few years ago they moved to a new office in the ‘Silence Centre Hoog Catharijne’, where those different dimensions of space can be experienced. A centre like ‘an island’ or ‘a mountain’, where each person, even for a moment, can be above any form of hurrying, business and seduction; where integrity overcomes division.

I like to travel to the island of Schiermonnikoog where the monks of the Friesian cloister ‘Claerkamp’ had their outpost. It is an island with Dutch ‘mountains’: the dunes. And each time I climb the highest dune with a bunker on top. You have a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. The Germans who built the bunker named it ‘Wassermann’ (Aquarius). This name doesn’t bother me, but it is quite strange that occult Nazis ‘depicted’ the 1,000 year age of Aquarius in this manner. A few years ago, the ‘Wassermann’ was transformed into an attractive artistic educational centre: a steel construction was added and some information posters. In this way a symbol can change: in the 1950s it was a sort of cafeteria equipped with banners advertising soft drinks.

The concrete bunker will stay for many years. There are plans to nominate the construction as a culturally protected heritage. “Then you will have to keep it in good repair!” was the joyful reaction of my German friend Wofgang, a long-time colleague in the peace movement. People who, in the 1950s, drank their soft drinks here, would be surprised by this evolution.

The ‘Wassermann’, once a symbol of violence, of a mixed-up world, is now simply a broad vision. Also a sign of the ambition to keep in touch with nature, to preserve the past and to keep learning from each other… eventually from a smiling friend.

Each country has its own signs and symbols; common symbols or individual ones. When people look for a location and give it a meaningful transformation, symbols are created. Locations of massive disorder are transformed into places of silence. Locations with a past of war and violence ultimately acquire a self-assured meaning.

Gied ten Berge