This is the third installment of a regular feature on the Peace Stories blog featuring the stories of our 120 member organisations on five continents around the world. For March 2017, we’re getting to know Pax Christi UK. This interview was conducted by Marie Just, Pax Christi International communications intern, with Pat Gaffney. Gaffney is the General Secretary of Pax Christi UK.
Marie Just: When and how did Pax Christi UK start? Was there some particular event or issue that served to bring Pax Christi UK into being?
Pat Gaffney: In 1958 a small group started meeting in London to discuss Church teaching on peace and to promote the international routes, which are marches/pilgrimages across Europe, for peace. The objective was to further peace by fostering international friendship. John Geary, a young man who had taken part in Pax Christi International routes in Germany, Italy and France, inspired these activities. The first issue of a news bulletin was published in 1961 and Bruce Kent, then a curate, agreed to act as chaplain. Pax Christi had strong links with London University and most members were under 30 years of age.
New papal teaching on peace contained in the encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963) and in documents emerging from the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) gave encouragement to Pax Christi’s mission. Issues of contemporary concern which the British group took up included the lack of rights for conscientious objectors in Catholic countries such as Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, and British arms sales to Nigeria, Biafra, and South Africa. Pax Christi emphasised the value of international exchanges with foreign students visiting London and with young people staying in its summer hostels. Joint retreats and conferences were held with PAX, an older Catholic peace group, and in 1971 a single Catholic peace movement was created when PAX and Pax Christi merged.
MJ: What is the structure and who are the people involved in Pax Christi UK?
PG: We are a membership organisation, we have around 1,500 individual and family members and then we have around 1,500 Catholic parishes who support our work financially through our annual Peace Sunday work. We have an Executive Committee who oversee the management and planning work of Pax Christi. This is made up of nine people who are elected at our Annual General Meeting. They serve for around six years and attend meetings five or six times a year.
We have a staff of four in the office, three full-time and one part time. We have an Editor who works on a free-lance basis and we have volunteers who regularly come to the office to help with administrative work and mail-outs.
MJ: What are the current issues you are working on, or what are your major priorities?
PG: In our campaigning work we are involved in the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty work – representing an on-going commitment to our work on nuclear disarmament. We are part of the Global Days of Action on Military Spending and will be promoting action for April 2017. We are part of Kairos Britain and will be reviewing how best to work in this network and weave in the advocacy opportunities around Israel & Palestine that come from PC International and from the World Week for Peace in Palestine & Israel.
In our nonviolence work, we are deeply involved in and committed to the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and will be running workshops/seminars and conferences to promote this work within the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
In our on-going Peace Education work we are committed to running workshops and training days in schools around the country. We are also working with others to produce a new nonviolence resource for schools.
We are also undertaking a strategic review of all of our work to plan for changes that are due to impact on the organisation within the next couple of years.
MJ: How is Pax Christi UK putting nonviolence into practice? What role does nonviolence play in your work?
PG: In our nonviolence work, we are deeply involved in and committed to the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and will be running workshops/seminars – we will be offering four this Spring and in the Autumn we will be hosting Maria Stephan and Marie Dennis on a 2 or 3 city speaking tour.
We produced resource materials on the World Peace Day theme which were sent to every parish in the country and we are encouraging parishes to reflect on the theme and practical suggestions for the whole of the year.
We are setting up a theology/spirituality group on nonviolence to help set some direction to this work.
We will be looking to create some new resources later this year – probably visual resources that help people to better understand what nonviolence is about.
MJ: What is the greatest accomplishment of Pax Christi UK during your history?
PG: I don’t think there is just one!
Our promotion of the World Peace Day message, securing a Peace Sunday in the Catholic Church in England and Wales would be one. It is Pax Christi who have faithfully created resources/reached out each year to parishes to promote the theme. In that time we have seen a massive increase in the take-up of resources and also in the financial contributions that parishes make to Pax Christi as a result.
Work undertaken in the 1970s-80s on Northern Ireland. Pax Christi was a key English partner in many cooperative projects. Pax Christi also played a key role in bringing to the attention of the Church the miscarriages of justice at that time – helping to advocate for those wrongly imprisoned.
Work undertaken in 2002 when Pax Christi initiated a petition/project on the Morality and Legality of War with Iraq which attracted national and international attention and support and raised the debate within the Church and beyond about the prospect of war with Iraq.
MJ: Is there any story about Pax Christi UK that stands out for you?
PG: The experiences created around our International gatherings: councils, World Assemblies, Annual General Meetings. When we come together and begin to appreciate that we are a part of a much bigger, richer movement. These encounters are informative, creative, life-giving and give a really human face to the work of Pax Christi around the globe. The solidarity we develop at such gatherings helps to sustain us when we return home.