Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J.


Berkley Center Hosts Conference to Carry Forward Drew Christiansen’s Legacy

By: Siobhan Cooney

December 14, 2022

When Berkley Center and Georgetown colleague Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J., passed away in April 2022, he left behind a significant legacy of scholarship, advocacy, and service. This two-day November conference gathered influential scholars and practitioners—many of whom worked for decades with Fr. Christiansen—to honor his contributions and explore current and future challenges in several of his fields of expertise.

Alongside the Berkley Center, seven additional partners co-sponsored this event. During his prefatory remarks, Berkley Center Executive Director Michael Kessler described how several of those partners simultaneously proposed a conference honoring Fr. Christiansen and the wide spectrum of his expertise. “We thought, what better way to honor Drew’s legacy than to work together,” he said.

Georgetown University President John DeGioia formally welcomed attendees and offered a testimony to Fr. Christiansen’s character.

“It was a privilege to share our life here on this Hilltop with him, to benefit from his faith, his service, his scholarship, and his compassion for our world. Drew was the best of us. Our world is more just, and our global community has a greater vision of peace because of him.”

President DeGioia’s words were echoed by Thomas Banchoff, director of the Berkley Center. He concluded the conference with a reflection on Fr. Christiansen’s intellectual contributions and gentle virtues.

“Let’s continue this work together on the issues Drew cared so passionately about, inspired by him, but also learning from one another as he would have wanted—carrying forward his legacy, a living legacy, into the future.”

Over the course of the conference, a series of five panels addressed topics of interreligious peacebuilding, with a focus on the Middle East; just war, peacebuilding, and nonviolence; current challenges in nuclear arms control and disarmament; and fostering environmental justice.

A Way Forward for Nuclear Disarmament

During his plenary address, Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J., Berkley Center senior fellow and a lifelong friend of Fr. Christiansen, mapped out the notion of integral disarmament promoted by both Pope John XXIII and Pope Francis. “The abolition of nuclear arms is closely linked with broader forms of social transformation that are needed for peacebuilding,” he said.

Georgetown Law professor David Koplow highlighted this multidisciplinary nature as he moderated the first panel, “Nuclear Weapons: Moving Beyond the Current Impasse.” He named several intellectual traditions that lead to the study of nuclear arms, including international politics, economics, injustice, law, and ethics. Koplow also connected these to Fr. Christiansen’s synergetic nature as a scholar:

“For Drew Christiansen, almost uniquely, he was able to draw on all of those traditions and more in recognition of the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, the care for the whole person.”

The rest of the panel framed the conversation in terms of national, international, and global security. In his video remarks, Martin Hellman of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation said that in order to move past the nuclear status quo, society must mutually recognize three “inextricably intertwined” goals: developing rational foreign policy, building a peaceful world, and eliminating the nuclear threat.

These themes extended into the second panel related to nuclear arms, “A New Start for Nuclear Arms Control,” moderated by Carole Sargent, founding director of Georgetown’s Office of Scholarly Publications.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, referenced Fr. Christiansen’s extensive writings on the ethical dimensions of nuclear weapons, including the moral imperative to act as well as practical steps to eliminate nuclear dangers.

According to Kimball, while the prospects for strategic stability are difficult in the near term, we can and must push ahead. “It’s going to require, as usual, presidential leadership,” he said, “but it’s also going to take the members of this community, the people who Fr. Drew brought together and beyond.”

Environmental Justice and Catholic Social Teaching

Fr. Christiansen’s community building and leadership also came into focus during the panel on “Environmental Justice,” moderated by John Carr, co-director of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. Carr described Fr. Christiansen’s impressive legacy in this field:

“The most groundbreaking and consequential leadership Drew provided was his critical role in demonstrating that care for God’s creation was an important, integral, and essential part of Catholic social teaching and Catholic faith.”

Erin Lothes, assistant professor of theology at the College of Saint Elizabeth, spoke of the “religious recovery of the sacramental beauty of creation, of God’s presence within creation,” and the need to expand discourse to environmental racism and integral development. She also called for more action from Church leadership so that clergy can feel empowered to preach on these topics.

Bill Barbieri, director of the Peace and Justice Studies Program at the Catholic University of America, described how conflict breeds environmental degradation and environmentally vulnerable places are more likely to develop conflict, pointing to integral ecology as a theological response to this vicious cycle.

Politics and Policy of War, Peace, and Nonviolence

The panel on “Just War, Just Peace, and Nonviolence” translated these notions of moral ecology into larger discussions of the just war and nonviolence traditions.

Laurie Johnston, executive vice president of the Sant’Egidio Foundation for Peace and Dialogue and an associate professor of theology and religious studies at Emmanuel College, particularly emphasized the climate-conflict-migration nexus and the need to increase restrictions on just war in order to mitigate disproportionate environmental effects.

Steve Colecchi, former director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, argued that though the two traditions are in tension, they are not entirely incompatible. He also referenced Fr. Christiansen’s ability to draw on these tensions to creatively move things forward. Connecting to the current Russia-Ukraine conflict, Colecchi affirmed that just defense is not a feasible long-term solution.

“What produces peace is working on human rights, building up the structures that enable people to reach their fulfillment, and building up the common good,” he said.

Deliberate Dialogue for Middle East Peacebuilding

During the panel on “Interreligious Peacebuilding: The Middle East,” moderated by Berkley Center Senior Research Fellow Amy Uelmen, panelists grounded peacebuilding in relationship-building. Joseph Cornelius Donnelly, former permanent delegate to the United Nations for Caritas Internationalis, spoke to Fr. Christiansen’s effective communication rooted in careful, deliberate diplomacy:

“Networking was our common DNA to move things forward, to connect the dots, to seize the moments, hopefully helping to create genuine paths to peace for all.”

To transform these moments of interreligious contact and encounter into substantive action requires an ethical foundation.

“We all have the moral vision, and we all have to draw a moral framework from that that peace can be built upon, because if we don’t it’s going to be built upon a political framework,” said Sir Jeffrey Abood, chair of the Catholic Advisory Council for Churches for Middle East Peace.

Discussion of Middle East peacebuilding carried over into the November 16 Drew Christiansen Inaugural Memorial Lecture, co-sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Office of Mission and Ministry at Georgetown University; the Bethlehem University Foundation; and Churches for Middle East Peace. Designed to rotate among Catholic universities across the United States, this lecture series aims to bring in a voice from the Holy Land to address various topics surrounding the life of Christians in that area of the world.

In this lecture, focused on “Being Church in the Land Called Holy,” speaker Sami El-Yousef, the chief executive officer of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, painted historical and contemporary pictures of the Holy Land while exploring the spiritual roots and practical application of the Christian faith in the area. In a climate where political instability often interferes with the social work of religious congregations, El-Yousef maintained that interfaith efforts are lived and not just taught or discussed. The question-and-answer session after the talk opened the door for civil dialogue on difficult issues surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict.

A Work in Progress

It’s clear that across his decades of service, scholarship, and advocacy, Fr. Drew Christiansen inspired and touched the lives of many individuals and communities. He leaves behind an exceptional legacy, one highlighted in a digital collection of tributes, memories, and other kind words gathered by the Berkley Center from across his networks of colleagues and friends.

This includes an extended piece from Gerard Powers, director of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame and one of the conference co-organizers. Powers fondly remembers Fr. Christiansen as a mentor, colleague, and friend.

“He was not content to be just an excellent teacher and scholar, however. He also dedicated his life to contributing to policy debates on pressing issues of justice and peace.”

To continue the conversations set forth by the conference, the Berkley Center also published a Berkley Forum series further exploring the influence of Fr. Christiansen on these pressing issues.

At the conclusion of the conference, Maryann Cusimano Love, a fellow conference co-organizer and international relations professor at the Catholic University of America, tied everything back to Fr. Christiansen’s dedication to moral discernment, intentional communities, and diverse pathways to peace.

“There are multiple paths and we have to grow and discern and nurture and water all of these paths, and we do this work together. So when we talk about carrying forward Drew’s legacy, it’s also carrying forward these networks, these relationships, these connections that he has built.”

The November 14-15 conference was co-sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University; Churches for Middle East Peace Catholic Advisory Council; the Catholic Peacebuilding Network; the Center for Religion and Culture at Fordham University; the Global Security Institute; the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America; the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, Keough School of Global Affairs, at the University of Notre Dame; and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of International Justice and Peace.

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