The light of soul force: remembering Veronica Pelicaric

Veronica Pelicaric brought deep wisdom, compassion and longing for a more nonviolent world to Pace e Bene as our training director and spiritual guide.
Veronica found this statue in Montreal, reminiscent of a standard part of her training repertoire: “The Two Hands of Nonviolence,” symbolizing the synergistic power of Yes and No. (Pace e Bene)

After two years of living with cancer, our dear friend and colleague Veronica Pelicaric died on Feb. 21. Below is an initial reflection on Pace e Bene’s Training Director and powerful spiritual mentor. More reflections are forthcoming. We are in the process of making plans for all of us to join in celebrating Veronica’s life and work.

The letter came out of the blue.

Musing on the unknown Montreal address, I opened the envelope and found a note full of exuberance for “From Violence to Wholeness,” a nonviolence workbook I had published in 1996 at Pace e Bene. Now it was 1999, and two people I had never met were explaining that they had come across this text and liked it very much. But this was less a fan letter than a business proposal: would we give them permission to translate this volume into French, so they could get it out across Quebec?

I wrote back quickly, letting them know we would be very happy to have them do this — and then promptly forgot about it. After all, we regularly heard from people with all kinds of great ideas, including translating our books, which often came to nothing.

Exactly one year later, “De la violence à la plenitude,” Veronica Pelicaric and Martine Sauvageau’s translation, landed on my desk.

At a Pace e Bene planning meeting in Oakland, Calif. in 2009. (Pace e Bene)

This was the beginning of Veronica’s long and powerful pilgrimage with Pace e Bene. Not long after completing that first book project, she was invited to join our small nonprofit, where she brought her deep wisdom, compassion and longing for a more nonviolent world.

This week, our dear friend, colleague, and spiritual guide died in a Montreal hospital after a second bout with cancer over the past two years.

Though beset by this dreadful illness, Veronica made a conscious decision to live fully, carrying on with purpose and extravagant energy at Pace e Bene.

Despite the rigors of both her ebbing health and COVID-19, for the last two years Veronica poured her spirit and relentless persistence into 40 pandemic-induced online trainings, the daily wisdom of “This Nonviolent Life,” and 45 episodes of her dazzling podcast, “The Soul of Nonviolence.” 

Over the past several weeks, the cancer accelerated and a steadily growing number of us, in person and in cyberspace, accompanied her in her final days.

Her Journey

Veronica was born in Rome in 1946 to Croatian parents. She grew up in Argentina, living through its “Dirty War” in the 1970s and 1980s. She became a practicing Buddhist, joining an ashram in Brazil for two years and living for some time in India. She got a degree in psychology. Eventually she found her way to Canada. 

Leading a training in Rosario, Argentina. (Pace e Bene)

After joining Pace e Bene, she traveled often to California to take the nonviolence trainings we offered. Eventually she became a trainer herself and crisscrossed the world building the capacity of many people to live the nonviolent life. 

Hers were spiritually-infused programs, but always with an eye to preparing change agents to build a more just and peaceful world. She led workshops in Venezuela that brought diametrically opposed camps of Chavistas and anti-Chavistas together to learn how to resolve their differences. She joined Laura Slattery and Leonardo Vilchis in the war zones of Colombia during the civil war, training participants who traveled many hours and crossed numerous military roadblocks to get there. (Veronica reported hardly sleeping one night with the nearby gunfire.) She led trainings in Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and Southern Mexico, including many programs in Oaxaca, where she worked with local movements struggling against multinational corporations with their egregious labor practices and the destruction of the land. In addition to other trainings in Peru, Britain and the Netherlands, she led many workshops over the years in her homeland, Argentina.

She and I were part of the launch of the Nonviolent Peaceforce in Faridabad, India, near Delhi, in 2002, and in 2005, Veronica, Laura, Ken Preston and I were invited by Brendan McKeague and his colleagues to help initiate Pace e Bene Australia, which continues today. We spent an exhilarating week with our new friends, including Carole Powell and Gill Burrows, at a retreat center outside Melbourne, going deeply into the dynamics of nonviolent change, then we headed out to different parts of the country to lead trainings. For five years she and I joined Ken Preston in leading Pace e Bene’s year-long training program. She was part of the 2019 Pace e Bene Assisi Pilgrimage team, joining 30 participants walking in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare as we celebrated Pace e Bene’s 30th anniversary.

Facilitating a Pace e Bene training in Chicago in 2008. (Pace e Bene)

Over the years Veronica trained with many co-facilitators in many contexts, including Dr. Kit Evans-Ford, Janet Chisolm, L.R. Berger, Suellen Semekoski, Lisa Haufschild, Jonathan Relucio, Joi Morton-Wiley, Robert Ferrrell, Julia Occhiogrosso, Adam Vogel and Nina Koevoets. Her recent online training duties were shared with several facilitators, though most especially with Rivera Sun, who has been Veronica’s persistent partner in the sacred process of inviting people from many walks of life to unleash the power of change.

Her Magic

Veronica brought a shaman’s touch to her work, helping us to look deeply into the realities we confront, while also tapping the power we all possess for metamorphosis. For her, change required tactics, but in the end, it needed more than this, including intangible poetics, emotional intelligence, and a spiritual heft.

We can glimpse these elements in the pithy, mostly two or three word titles of the podcast episodes she produced weekly since last March. Here are a few of them:

Silence changes us.

Pain for the world.

Anguish of the soul. 

Open breathing space. Embrace conflict.

Listen. Know their story. Each other’s magnitude.

A path with heart. North star of healing. Repairing the human spirit.

Finding your task. Courage is the key.  Keep creating.

The root of the matter. Truth and transformation.

Guard your light.  Grounded in practicality.

Changing the structures. Noncooperation.

You are what you give.

Never give up. 

Wake up! 

Each of these episodes is a sparkling jewel, as you may see for yourself here. Veronica chooses a quotation — from Thich Nhat Hanh to Medea Benjamin, from Ursala Le Guin to Ranier Maria Rilke, from Gandhi to Joanna Macy — and then, very delicately, reveals it, honors it, revels in it, savors it. Most of all, she knits together with metaphysical gossamer thread the deep and abiding connection between the interior life of nonviolence and the gritty, seismic change that our suffering world requires.

Street dramatization of “Oil Addicts Anonymous” after the BP Oil Spill, part of the 2010 yearlong training, in Santa Cruz, Calif. (Pace e Bene)

It was this inextricable web of the personal, interpersonal and social-structural that was front-and-center for her, whether in shaping the 2020 online nonviolence conference (it was Veronica who insisted that we shift it to Zoom as the pandemic was beginning — she was spot on!) or in proposing the 2021 online music festival. This was also at the heart of her 2019 book written with Nina Koevoets, “Engaging Nonviolence: Activating Nonviolent Change in Our Lives and Our World.” In these and many programs and formats, it was always about envisioning the indissoluble interconnectedness of “soul” and “strategy.”

Her light: soul force

St. Lucy’s Day — Dec. 13 — was Veronica’s birthday. She delighted in the fact that she was linked with this fourth century saint, who has been celebrated down through the centuries with a “festival of light,” dispelling the darkness of winter. Veronica was an inexorable light-bearer, forever bent on the trail of enlightenment and the radiance of soul force.

In the midst of our teeming culture of global violence and injustice, it makes sense that there is a growing nonviolence lineage. Veronica stands firmly in that tradition. She was ceaselessly looking for ways to shine the light of nonviolent transformation onto the often-murky path ahead, and inviting so many others to do the same.

We are grateful for the plenitude of her life — and her light.

If you have not done so yet, please consider experiencing Veronica Pelicaric’s “The Soul of Nonviolence,” which you can listen to here.

This story was produced by Campaign Nonviolence

Campaign Nonviolence, a project of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, is working for a new culture of nonviolence by connecting the issues to end war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction. We organize The Nonviolent Cities Project and the annual Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.

Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.