NEW YORK – About 50 years after Dorothy Day spoke at Pax Christi USA’s first conference in 1973, the organization has been awarded the inaugural Dorothy Day Peacemaker Award for its work promoting nonviolence and reconciliation.

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, the Bishop President of Pax Christi USA, will receive the award on behalf of the organization on June 11.

Johnny Zokovitch, the executive director of Pax Christi USA, highlighted Day’s connection to Pax Christi, and the involvement of many of its members in Day’s Catholic Worker Movement, as a large part of the reason for the award’s significance.

“It’s really 50 years after she spoke at that first conference, and to be validated for the work that we have done over 50 years by being associated with the life and witness of Dorothy Day couldn’t mean more to us,” Zokovitch told Crux on June 10.

The award was created by the Dorothy Day Guild. Located within Manhattan College’s Dorothy Day Center for the Study and Promotion of Social Catholicism, the guild is an association of Catholics working to advance Day’s cause of canonization. Day is currently a Servant of God.

Kevin Ahern, the director of the Dorothy Day Center and chair of the Dorothy Day Guild said that in a world that needs models of peace builders, Pax Christi USA is just that.

“Through its work, Pax Christi USA has been an important voice for peace, justice, and nonviolence in the Catholic community, including its Catholic Nonviolence Initiative,” Ahern, who is a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, said in a statement. “This newly-created Dorothy Day Peacemaker Award is an important honor and recognition to come from the Dorothy Day Guild.”

Pax Christi USA was founded in 1972 and has advocated for peace ever since.

Early on, the organization focused its efforts on the nuclear arms race and the Vietnam War. In the 1980s the organization focused its efforts on the Sanctuary Movement, which advocated for foreign policy changes to allow Central American refugees into the United States. In the 1990s, the organization focused on solidarity with Haiti, the Cold War, among other topics.

In 1999, Pax Christi USA launched its Brothers and Sisters All initiative, a 20-year initiative to turn Pax Christi USA into an “anti-racist,” multicultural Catholic peace and justice movement. And in the first portion of the 2000s the organization’s advocacy efforts were largely defined by the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent war on terror.

As for the 2010s, the organization largely focused on its racial justice efforts, while also continuing its efforts advocating for nuclear disarmament, which have been a focus of the organization since its inception. Most recently, the organization’s advocacy has centered on the need for an end to the war in Gaza.

The organization also relaunched its “Bread Not Stones” campaign this year with the intent to get buy-in from the nation’s Catholic leaders, of which about 20 American bishops have since signed on. For decades, the campaign has advocated for Congress to allocate more of the government’s budget to areas that will help the poor and marginalized, opposed to the military.

“In many ways when we go after military spending we’re going after a whole lot of issues because military spending and the influx of spending into the military really sets up so many other issues to be short changed in terms of financial support,” Zokovitch said.

With the American federal government’s track record of military spending and involvement in international conflict, Zokovitch said the organization’s hope that things will change is rooted in their Catholic faith, “not necessarily optimism.”

“We don’t necessarily see the change at the end of the day or at the end of the month or at the year of the year or at the end of the decade even, but what we see is that we’re rooted in a movement that is 2,000 years strong,” Zokovitch explained. “It’s rooted in those aspects of our faith that have been tried and true over centuries.”

“It’s the preferential option for the poor, it’s the love of enemies that is at the heart of the gospel,” Zokovitch said. “It’s that history that I think gives people hope, even when the evidence doesn’t necessarily change day in and day out on the issues that are most important to us.”

Zokovitch is in Louisville for the breakfast where Stowe will receive the Dorothy Day Peacemaker Award on behalf of the organization. The breakfast is just days before the U.S. Bishops Conference Spring general assembly takes place at the same location.

The presentation of the award being at the days before the USCCB general assembly at the same location, and the recent by in from a number of American bishops to the “Bread Not Stones” campaign in a sense signals the support the organization has from leaders of the American Church, which Zokovitch said gives the organization a sense of validation.

“There’s a certain validation in that the Church is saying that the mission of Pax Christi USA is at the center of who we are,” Zokovitch said. “The second part of it for us is that part of our work is to evangelize the Church, so hearing bishops take the message of Pax Christi, which we think really resonates with Pope Francis’s own message, and to be able to see that sign on and be on board with this, it means a lot.”

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