Mushroom cloud from nuclear weapons test in the Pacific Ocean
I am Pax Christi, Nuclear Disarmament, Our Stories, Peace

Putting Hope to Work: The Pax Christi Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament

By Jonathan Frerichs, UN representative for disarmament, Geneva, Pax Christi International

Pax Christi’s working group on nuclear disarmament is an embodiment of hope born with Pax Christi 75 years ago—the hope for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The working group was formed at a propitious time, in 2016.  Three seminal conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons had changed the dynamics of disarmament.  A growing majority of the world’s governments and a broad range of civil society organizations were united behind a singular conviction: “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances”.  Pax Christi had the further good fortune that this new group was formed during the current papacy.  The Holy Father’s prophetic admonitions to free the world of nuclear weapons have encouraged and guided us from the start.

Here are some of the convictions and experiences, opportunities and challenges the group brings to a critical task.

Conviction.  In Japan’s symbolic cities last November, Pope Francis condemned not only the use of nuclear weapons, but also their possession.  His words inspired concerned citizens around the world.    Some of our group had heard him make the same point before 400 peace workers, diplomats and church leaders in 2017 when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which includes Pax Christi.  We also worked and prayed for his message to be heard in Japan.

At Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial, the Holy Father called nuclear weapons “a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home”.

At Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Hypo-Center Park, the pontiff said nuclear weapons breed “a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust”.  The pope challenged the theory of nuclear deterrence which has defined the nuclear era and continues to hold the entire planet at risk.

Before and after the papal visit, we took heart from actions of the Canadian and Japanese bishops’ conferences.  Both conferences urged their governments to sign and ratify the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  It will become international law when 12 more states ratify the agreement.

The bishops in Canada along with leaders of other churches urged the Canadian government “to work with allies and to engage would-be adversaries to formulate security arrangements that do not rely on the threat of nuclear annihilation.”

The Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan complemented the pope’s visit by calling on the leader of Japan, the only country to experience atomic warfare, to lead the international community in abolishing nuclear weapons.

These calls from the church have significant implications: Key nations must abandon the mutually assured destruction which has defined the 20th century and embrace the mutually assured security on which life in the 21st century already depends.

The working group’s members are familiar with such dilemmas.  They are mostly from countries which have, or rely on, nuclear weapons. But the language of “having” and “relying on” nuclear weapons can hide harsh realities.  For much of the past 75 years our countries have threatened humanity with indiscriminate destruction and practiced nuclear apartheid in international affairs.

In reality, today and every day, our leaders stand willing and able to destroy hundreds or even thousands of Hiroshimas and Nagasakis. Our governments insist they would use nuclear weapons only in extremis, but this does not alter the fact that they would be committing mass murder in other countries and mass suicide in their own countries at the same time.  What is more, they stand ready to take such actions with only a moment’s notice. This caveat alone makes a mockery of the entire nuclear regime and the doctrine of deterrence by which it justifies itself.

The work of peace requires conviction.  These are but a few examples.  Pax Christi’s diverse membership knows from experience that every true work of peace is much more than opposition to something evil.  It is also positive engagement for something of great good.  The case of nuclear weapons leads us to what Pax Christi’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative calls a wider engagement with the suffering of our world, the forms of violence which spawn that suffering, and the love and determination to end it together.

Experience. The working group is blessed with the wide range of skills, vocations and commitments of its members.  One member, a national coordinator of Pax Christi, came from a career in teaching, speech therapy and clinic management.  She had always worked for justice and peace with the church.

Another member of the group practiced law for 35 years, specializing in civil litigation, before working with Pax Christi.

One member is a life-long advocate of nonviolent methods for dealing with conflicts. He became a foreign service officer during the Cold War and then helped establish the Nonviolent Peaceforce.  A toolkit he designed for Pax Christi provides faith communities with ways to address ethnic and racial conflict.

Another member was a mathematician in Germany’s Space Operation Center. His local Pax Christi section, which he joined 40 years ago, focuses on arms exports, Middle East peace and interreligious dialogue.  His priorities include removing the nuclear bombs based in Germany and opposing the growing threat of lethal autonomous weapons.

Members speak of milestones in their pursuits of peace. Theresa Alessandro of Pax Christi UK recalls: “As a teenager I read John Hersey’s book ‘Hiroshima’ and I have believed in getting rid of nuclear weapons ever since. Finding in Pax Christi others who feel the same has supported me and helped me channel my frustration over the continuing presence of nuclear weapons in the world.”

“A regional meeting in Jordan, followed by visits to members in Palestine and Lebanon, and to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, made a deep impression on me,” says Marie Dennis of Pax Christi USA and former co-president of Pax Christi International. She is connected to peacemakers around the world through the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and has authored theological blogs against nuclear weapons.

“The work leading up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017 was highly gratifying—sessions at the UN, lobbying individual Missions and meeting creative, intelligent, passionate people from around the world, capped off by the Vatican conference on nuclear disarmament,” says Mary Yelenick of Pax Christi USA. Her work has led to new friendships with young peace-builders around the world.

Opportunities.  Working groups are a benefit to their members when opportunities in one place lead to new approaches in other places.  When one member shares their plans and purposes, it may help another member to see new options too.  Collaboration along these lines may even shape a kind of power map showing which actions work where.

For example, the new nuclear ban treaty is being signed and ratified at a healthy pace.  Only 12 more ratifications are needed before it enters into force.  But that process takes time.  The nuclear powers and various allies are going to considerable lengths to denounce, dismiss and ignore the accord.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will make nuclear weapons illegal.  Meanwhile, close at hand, are ways to make nuclear weapons even more illegitimate than they already are.  Thanks to the work of PAX Netherlands (formerly IKV Pax Christi), detailed information is available to the international community about which banks and investment funds are financing nuclear weapons and which corporations are involved in making them.  BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund are among the 77 financial institutions which have cut or ended their investments in nuclear arms.  Pax Christi UK is also advocating and facilitating responsible investments with an inter-faith project on Banks, Pensions and Nuclear Weapons: Investing In Change.

The most striking feature on our power map of Europe are the US nuclear weapons permanently stationed in five European countries.  Pax Christi’s nuclear disarmament working group has members in four of these countries—Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy.  Protests at the bases and lobbies of governments take place regularly.  A new project by Pax Christi Flanders would engage with parliamentarians opposed to nuclear weapons in each country and encourage inter-parliamentary initiatives for the weapons to be removed.

One of Pax Christi International’s other global priorities is to advocate with communities affected by mining, logging and other extractive industries in Latin America.  Pax Christi partners there and in Africa are aware that the economic and ecological injustices they face are also related to the nuclear threat.  The exploitation of strategic minerals is one example; the fact that virtually all nuclear weapons tests have taken place on the territory of indigenous peoples is another.  Pax Christi International is part of the worldwide effort by ICAN to have states sign and ratify the nuclear ban treaty.  This was explained to partners in Colombia and DR Congo.   They contacted their foreign ministries at home and worked through Pax Christi’s United Nations office to bring the same request to their missions in New York.

Challenges. The road to a nuclear-weapon-free world is paved with challenges.  Here are some current examples:

  • It is fitting that the members of Pax Christi’s nuclear disarmament working group are mostly from nuclear-weapon states and their allies. But since Pax Christi has 120 member organizations on five continents, it would also be fitting to welcome new members on the working group—especially from the global majority of countries which reject nuclear arms.
  • A new nuclear arms race has begun. Treaties which have limited nuclear arsenals for decades are expiring without being renewed. Nuclear-weapon states are modernising their arsenals.  The USA is spending more on its military than the next 10 military powers combined.  Such trends must be reversed.
  • Curiously, the nine states with the world’s most fearsome weapons have done a poor job of defending themselves against a microscopic coronavirus. New national priorities are needed— moving vast resources from threatening lives to saving lives.
  • The world is still at risk of nuclear annihilation 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pax Christi is still working for healing, reconciliation and peace.

The climax of Pax Christi’s anniversary year was to have been the movement’s World Assembly in Hiroshima, a much-anticipated opportunity for reflection, thanksgiving, fellowship and renewal.  There is reason to regret that the gathering was not possible but also to be grateful for the safety of foregoing it.

This 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings is a warning to a world newly reminded of its fragile, common fate.  Nuclear weapons have no place where security is truly shared.  Pax Christi’s anniversary motto – “Let’s build peace together” – is an invitation to the practice of hope.

Photo: US Government via the ICAN Flickr Stream CC BY-NC 2.0.

I am Pax Christi, Peace, Social Issues

Reflections from my work with torture victims in Sri Lanka

by Fr. Nandana Manatunga
Director of Human Rights Office in Kandy, Sri Lanka

“Having seen the tears of the mothers and family members of torture victims, I was compelled to go beyond the cultic role of the priest”

As a very young priest, I saw how the security forces killed thousands of young people in broad daylight. They were suddenly picked by the armed forces and detained. I went in search of them … it was the beginning of my human rights work.

In the very second year of my priesthood, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front or JVP) youth insurrection led to unfortunate incidents occurring during the 1988-89 period, and over 60,000 people, including those who did not have any connections with the JVP, were killed or made to disappear by security forces and paramilitary groups who operated with the blessings of the then-government.

Arrests, torture and killings

I saw so many young people being arrested, almost every day, being brutally tortured and killed and their bodies either burnt or thrown into the river. I had to visit several police stations and army camps in search of the arrested youth, to get them released. Security and protection had to be provided to the youth who were searched by the security forces. Once when I was traveling alone in my vehicle, a man suddenly stopped me and got into the van and asked me to speed. The stranger got off at a bus stop and told me that he had been taken to the cemetery to be shot, but that he had managed to escape.

Having seen the tears of the mothers and family members of torture victims, I was compelled to go beyond the cultic role of the priest to broaden my pastoral ministry to defend and protect the vulnerable that were subjected to torture and inhuman, degrading treatment and punishment.

Moral leaders

I was convinced that the priests and religious are also moral leaders and we believe that God created mankind in his own image and likeness and that we are equal and share the same dignity. Hence since year 2000 we have empowered more than 125 priests and religious to commit them to work against torture and to protect, promote and safeguard the rights of the poor, the discriminated, and the marginalized of the society. We have formed the network “Priests and Religious for Human Rights” (PRHR).

Inspired by the families of the disappeared and the victims of torture and rape, I journey with them in search of justice and redress. For the past 20 years I have provided them security, protection, legal, medical and psychological assistance to regain their lost dignity. To achieve this goal, the Human Rights Office was set up, with a support group of more than 35 members, both professionals and civil society activists. Several torture victims were provided security and protection, legal, medical and psychological assistance for more than 15 years, until the adjudication process was completed. So far, we have assisted around 128 victims of torture to receive justice and redress.

A historical day

July 28th, 2015 was, to me personally, an historic day, as one of our torture victims Rohitha Liyanage activated the Torture Act no 22 of 1994 after a long interval without use. No torture perpetrators from the police or armed forces were indicted nor sentenced during the previous regime from 2005-2015, as a reward for assisting the armed forces during the civil war.

The legal machinery was once again activated when the two accused police officers who severely tortured Rohitha on the 28th July 2005 were sentenced to 7 years rigorous imprisonment by the Kandy High Court Judge on the 3rd of December 2015.

Jesudasan Rita, a schoolgirl, also secured a historical judgment in 2015 when two perpetrators were sentenced to 23 years’ imprisonment for abduction and rape in 2001.

I have had to face threats from police and other rights violators and have had to navigate criticism and skepticism from some fellow priests and church leaders since I challenged them to be more active in fighting abuses.

I dedicated the award which I received in 2018, the Gwangiu Prize for Human Rights, by the May 18 Memorial Foundation in South Korea, to the victims and survivors of torture and rape.

I am Pax Christi, Women and Peacemaking

The #IAmPaxChristi interview: Kanini Kimau, Horn of Africa Grassroots Peace Forum

In this latest installment of the #IamPaxChristi interview, we’re profiling Elizabeth Kanini Kimau of the Horn of Africa Grassroots Peace Forum which works in Kenya and South Sudan. This series aims to highlight short conversations with the women and men who make up our movement. The interview was conducted over email. 

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Can you give a concrete example of conflict resolution and peacebuilding in your region or country in which you were involved?

The northern parts of Kenya are torn by persistent inter-ethnic violence among pastoral communities who inhabit that region. In 2009 I went to Marsabit with a team of Justice and Peace Commission members from Tangaza University College. At this time over ten ethnic communities where in conflict with each other, apart from the Rendille and Samburu ethnic groups.

I resolved to contribute to peace in the region as a volunteer and decided to focus on Rendille-Borana violent conflict which takes place around Marsabit Mountain (one of the few arable areas in a region characterised by desert). First I carried out research on the conflict to understand it better. The research established that these two groups were in conflict for many years. The violence had left the communities deeply divided, with a lot hatred, enmity and a quest for revenge which was passed on from generation to generation leaving the violence in a vicious cycle. There were efforts by the government and civil society to resolve the conflict, however it would calm down for some time only to then escalate again.

In a such deeply divided society, I felt the only way to attain sustainable peace was using an approach which would generate relationships, build trust, tolerance, and understanding, and enhance genuine inter-communal dialogue.

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The communities were very suspicious and did not want to listen to anyone speaking about peace. In addition I was a young woman in a patriarchal society where women do not speak in front of elders or give them advice in any decision-making process. In this situation I chose religion as my entry point to these communities. This is because religious leaders are trusted by grassroots people so it makes it easier for them to accept anyone who comes through them. This enabled me to go and live among the people to first create a rapport and also deeply understand the violence situation.

Secondly I noticed that religion provided a big opportunity in bonding these divided people; however this potential had not been exploited in building a culture of peace in the area. The grassroots leaders had shared values inspired by their religion — like love, respect for life, and a recognition that all beings are children of God. Building sustainable peace is a slow and continuous process, but I observed that NGOs came and went after one year, two or three. Religious leaders are always with the people. In addition the ethnic groups who were fighting shared the same religious leader. For instance, the priest who celebrated mass for the Rendilles was the same who served the Boranas, so he was listened to and respected by both communities, hence making him a channel of peace in the area. Finally many peace initiatives are dependent on heavy donor funding which creates dependency at the grassroots and the peace process ends when the funding ends. When religious leaders are empowered with the right skills, they will continue strengthening the peace initiative even without money.

The potential which religion holds helped me to choose it as an instrument of bonding people. First I chose 14 elders who were key decision-makers and influential in their communities. They were composed of Muslims, Christians and traditional elders. I took them to Nairobi, more than 6oo km from Marsabit. The long journey on poor roads made them forget their differences. In Nairobi we held our meeting in a church which was burned some years back by Muslim youth when seeds of hatred in Kenya were taking root. After five days of interaction and learning a nonviolent way of communication, the elders went home as a team and visited various villages asking people to come together despite their religion or ethnic group and to work for their own peace.

Secondly I met with the religious leaders at the grassroots and asked them what role they can take to build peace in their area. The leaders started organising common worship where one month they prayed among the Boranas and next month they prayed among the Rendilles. Each year the leaders were organising a very big worship service where people prayed and shared meals together. For instance in 2018 during the political campaigns, several cattle were raided. Children were then killed by slaughtering them like animals in order to anger the other community to revenge. The grassroots people refused to take revenge. They organised for a very big worship service in July 2018 which brought Christians, Muslims and traditional elders together from various communities. They all asked for forgiveness and decided not to exact revenge. Despite the high tension brought by politicians, the communities refused to go to war. The grassroots leaders continued to mobilise the communities to pray together without any money. People who had not talked together found themselves in discussion on how to organise the worship and where to get food from. Children and youth from the warring communities organised a common choir and spent a night in the community where the worship was to be held. Additionally, the youth organised themselves across various religions and started organising sports matches which also facilitated the regeneration of relationship between the two communities.

These initiatives helped to bring so many people together.

DSC00794What were the challenges in terms of reaching conflict resolution and peace building and why was it successful?

Some of the challenges I faced on this journey were;

  • Strong political influence which was dividing the people we were trying to unite.
  • A lot of dependency on “sitting allowances” created by NGOs — people came to meetings when they knew they will get money and eat good food.
  • I lived with the people at grassroots so I heard negative stories of loss and lots of anger. Children always told me that when they grow up, they will go kill the enemy and bring back their livestock. So I got traumatised and did not have a team or institute which was helping peacemakers in this situation.
  • I was working without money even though the mission made so big of an impact. Some people got interested to support the initiative; however after some time, they raised money for their own use instead of the mission. Others wanted to make the initiative their own work. Struggling alone to retain the mission for the sake of marginalised people drained so much energy from me.
  • There was very poor infrastructure, no means of transport and I was cut off from friends and family for a long time. Being in such insecure and hardship areas, many of my friends believed that I was getting so much money and am not inviting them. This made me lose several friends.
  • The success of this mission was because of my insertion into these communities where people knew me, accepted and trusted me, and knew my intention was not to look for money but peace. In addition I saw each person as precious to me and had the right motivation of contributing to peace where many people who lived in a dehumanising situation would be able to live as human beings. This enabled me to overcome many challenges which I faced on the ten year’s journey.

What have you learned from this experience?

I have learned the following:

  • Peace in deeply divided societies is possible without lots of money if we have actors who have the right motivation and are committed to making lives better.
  • Religion has a lot of potential for building a culture of peace in the society because it is always with people; however this power has not been fully exploited.
  • The grassroots people who are the majority in society suffer most in times of war and they have the potential to work for their own peace; however many actors do not recognise this potential and end up doing the work for the people. Hence there is no sustainability of the peace process.
  • Finally there is a lot of money given for peace and very little impact is made.
  • Building relationships in a deeply divided society is key to attaining sustainable peace.

Why is the role of faith leaders important? What is the added value in conflict resolution and peace building?

  • The religious leaders are always with the people.
  • In a society where peacebuilding has been commercialised, these leaders are guided by religious values not money.
  • The structure of several religions enables the leaders to influence decisions at the top, middle and bottom levels.

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I am Pax Christi, Our Stories, Women and Peacemaking

Taking the long view: Pat Gaffney reflects on 30 years with Pax Christi UK

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Pat Gaffney is retiring as the General Secretary of Pax Christi UK this year. She wrote this reflection covering her nearly 30 years in that role.

1 April 1990: the day my contract with Pax Christi    began. 29 years on, I am still here (how did that happen?) but preparing to move on and create space for some new thought and energy. This article takes a long view of our work over this period, of changes within the global and domestic arenas, and in technology. Our movement has undertaken so many challenges with a spirit of ingenuity, flexibility and faithful persistence to Gospel peacemaking.

1990 was a good time to come on board. Talk was of a Peace Dividend. With the Cold War behind us, new opportunities were unfolding for economic and social growth. Spending on defence would decline and investment in arms conversion would follow. The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp had helped to get rid of cruise missiles. Pax Christi’s valiant East-West group, coordinated by Peggy Attlee, having worked towards one Europe, was prepared for the new challenges of creating a common home. In the summer of 1990 our British section of Pax Christi hosted in Clifton Diocese an international ‘route’ for young people, with the theme, Let’s build a Europe of Peace.  Sadly, many of those hopes crashed on 2 August when Iraq invaded Kuwait and what was to become protracted war in the Gulf and Middle East began. Goodbye peace dividend.

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As a ‘new’ person four months into the job, the prospect of sliding into war was daunting! Thankfully, friends in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Christian CND, the National Peace Council (NPC) and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) were ready to create common plans. Could we de-escalate the tension by urging our Government to prevent a full military response from the USA? Setting up communication systems was key. Pax Christi at that time had one temperamental computer, an old but sturdy Adler   typewriter, and a photocopier. My first big purchase was a FAX machine – essential for getting out press  notices, sharing drafts of leaflets, sending letters to Government and so forth. By Spring 1991 we had established the Christian Coalition for Peace in the Gulf and a ‘Call for Action’ supported by church leaders, religious communities and groups around the country. In response to military attacks and then years of sanctions against Iraq, weekly vigils were held nationwide. The NPC ran a conference that became a springboard for much joint work, including the creation of the Peace Education Network (PEN) and a more focused response to the UK’s arms trade to the region – in particular that of British Aerospace.

Meanwhile, we kept a watching brief on developments around Trident. Peace activists and theologians reflected on the morality of nuclear weapons. Support for the annual Ash Wednesday witness grew, moving beyond London to Liverpool, Cambridge and Scotland. We organised a Christian lobby of Parliament on Trident and produced resources for the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima to revive awareness and campaigning.

Through our international links, and in partnership with the Catholic Institute for International Relations, CAAT, and TAPOL, an organisation promoting human rights in Indonesia, we became a member of the Stop the Hawks: No Arms to Indonesia Coalition, opposing the UK’s role in supplying arms that were used to terrorise the people of East Timor. We supported nonviolent action against  British Aerospace, including the BAE Ploughshares in 1993 and the Seeds of Hope Ploughshares women in 1996. We held a joint lobby of Parliament, vigils and campaign events. Around the country members engaged in solidarity actions with students from East Timor. Our then president, Bishop Victor Guazzelli, gave great support to all of this work. In 1996 I visited East Timor and was able to experience the deep meaning of solidarity: sharing accounts of these UK peace actions and bringing home stories of hope and nonviolent resistance by the East Timorese. Hosting the Pax Christi International Council in London in 1997, we invited Fr Domingos Soares to come from East Timor and receive the Cardinal Alfrink Peace Award, along with Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz, in recognition of their work for peace.

If the start of the 90s brought hopes of a peace dividend, 1998 brought hope for Northern Ireland with the Good Friday Agreement. Pax Christi’s Northern Ireland group had been working for years in partnership with Pax  Christi Ireland and others – building bridges, creating volunteering opportunities, speaking out about the abuse of human rights and more. Fresh approaches to ‘winning the peace’ were called for and we organised a           conference in 1998 on the theme Reconciliation and the Healing of Memories and in 2001 Northern Ireland: Reconciling a Divided Community.

Formation in peace and nonviolence has always been a priority for Pax Christi with support from the Christian Peace Education Fund, established in 1982. We co-founded and subsequently facilitated PEN, with its annual conferences all through the 1990s and early 2000s. We developed training within other institutions including the Missionary Institute London where we helped initiate an MA in applied theology: The Peace & Justice Mission Studies programme. We have run courses in active nonviolence with the Conference of Religious, students in pastoral ministry, prison chaplains, and St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Throughout the 90s we worked    ecumenically with the Churches Peace Forum producing resources and workshops for the World Council of Churches’ Programme to Overcome Violence. We contributed to the powerful training scheme arranged for the Jubilee Year 2000 by the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN) and have co-hosted three annual conferences with NJPN on peace-related themes. This accumulated experience underpins our current work on nonviolence with the Vatican.

A constant in our outreach and education has been Peace Sunday.  Since it began in 1967 Pax Christi has played a unique role in amplifying the World Peace Day message through homilies, prayers, discussion questions, children’s activities, giving every parish in England and Wales the opportunity to celebrate the theme and deepen awareness of the peace teaching of the Church.

Writing now in the eighteenth year of the ‘War on Terror’, I recall work initiated in 2002 by theologians and members of Pax Christi who produced the Declaration on the Morality and Legality of the War Against Iraq. Gathering the public support of hundreds, including prominent church leaders, we were thrust into the limelight of national TV and press.  That declaration helped to create a critical momentum around the country casting grave doubt on the war. We heard that Downing Street was fed up with these outspoken Christians. With CAAT and other Christian groups we launched the Called to Conversion message that, though called to be peacemakers, as a nation we sow the seeds of war. We devised petitions, tools, liturgies, which enabled groups to engage in arms-trade campaigning with various government departments over several years.

After years of global polarity which saw security framed almost exclusively in terms of military strength, we began to consolidate our approach. With the Fellowship of Reconciliation we produced Security for the Common Good – a document arguing the case for redirecting money away from military defence, nuclear deterrence, the arms trade, and towards investment in human, sustainable security. We became a key organiser of the annual Global Campaign on Military Spending, providing a dedicated website and popular campaign materials. These encouraged people to take to town centres, cafés, schools, government departments, and stimulate  political debate by offering ‘people’s budgets’ that prioritise education, health, climate change over military spending. With the Network for Christian Peace Organisations (NCPO) we developed this approach in several General Election briefings and, more recently, briefings on Trident and the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.

In 1999 Patriarch Michel Sabbah became Pax Christi’s International President at our world assembly in the Middle East. Taking part in delegations and organising visits to Palestine opened new partnerships with Palestinian and Israeli peace groups. The Separation Wall was being built, along with other ‘facts on the ground’ that made daily life for Palestinians impossible and enshrined the illegal occupation of Palestine. Our support for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (which led to several members becoming volunteers), campaigns such as People need Bridges not Walls, and the Week of  Prayer for Palestine and Israel, have allowed us to become a voice for our partners and engage in education and advocacy work. One gift of this partnership is the Pax Christi ICON of Peace, created in Jerusalem, presenting stories of peacemaking and reconciliation across time and many traditions. Since 2004 the ICON has been exhibited in British cathedrals, schools, prisons and parish churches – an inspiration for prayer throughout the ‘100 Days of Peace’ surrounding the 2012     Olympics, and at the 2018 Eucharistic Congress.

Through the great communication shift – websites, Facebook, Twitter, online shopping, e-newsletters – our message today reaches a much wider national and international community. Providing sound alternative news, advocacy tools, accessible education resources, notice of events and campaigns, reports about the work of members – this has become a priority for us. At the same time we produce high quality ‘paper’ resources, from study packs to seasonal reflections, assemblies for schools, Peace People stories, postcards that celebrate women peacemakers or spread the message, No More War, Let’s Build Peace. Let’s not forget internal developments, the move to Hendon in 1998, several changes in staffing, new systems for data-management and accounting. The unfailing support of our President, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, our members and volunteers – all contribute to the wonderful service that our small staff team offers to the Church and the peace movement.

The words and gestures of Pope Francis affirm our work and encourage us to be even bolder in future. The arms trade is ever more aggressive. Technologies are shifting to the dangerous world of automation, drone warfare and killer robots. Financial investments still support the weapons’ industry and unjust structures in Israel and Palestine. Our young people are increasingly vulnerable to knife and gun violence. We face these challenges in our national context and, through the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, work with the Vatican to address the deep roots of violence, to forge a new moral teaching and practice. The potential of the Church to be a model and a powerhouse for active nonviolence is immense. Our task is to build a community of peace people who will help release this power.

 

 

 

I am Pax Christi, Women and Peacemaking

The #IamPaxChristi interview: Martha Okumu of Peace Tree Network, Kenya

In this latest installment of the #IamPaxChristi interview, we’re profiling Martha Okumu of Peace Tree Network which is based in Nairobi, Kenya. This series aims to highlight short conversations with the women and men who make up our movement. The interview was conducted over email.

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How did you become involved with peace and justice work? What led you to do this kind of work?

I got involved in peace and justice when a college friend introduced me to a peace organisation which employed me. It was an eye opener in the sense that I had previously not interacted with civil society and community based organisations. I worked there for a period of two years and gained experience in peacebuilding and conflict transformation, advocacy, mediation and dialogue. The organisation was mainly involved in conducting workshops, hosting peace forums and offering certificate training courses in partnership with one of the Catholic Universities in Kenya.

With time I realised that I did enjoy the work and getting to learn about the genesis of conflict and the existing resolution mechanisms that existed needed to utilise in addressing the conflict issues. With this, I later found myself working for Peace Tree Network which works and partners with the community in developing conflict resolution mechanisms as well as enhancing the capacities of community members, especially the youth and women with skills in resolving/preventing conflict.

During your time at Peace Tree Network, what do you think is the greatest contribution that Peace Tree Network has made to the people you serve? Is there something that you recall in your work that you think really led to a positive change?

One of our greatest achievements was working with the youth in Mt. Elgon region in Kenya during the 2007/2008 violent conflict inflicted on the community by the SLDF which was a militia group. The violence was a result of the perceived marginalisation of a section of the community during the land allocation exercise by the government. As a result, a militia group made up of the youth from the community that felt marginalised started to terrorise people living in the areas of Kopsiro, Kipsigon, Cheptais, Kaptama and Kapsokwony. This led to people deserting their homes, rape, destruction of property, and physical and mental trauma.

At this point, Peace Tree Network identified and partnered with youth leaders, local organisations, and the church, as well as the local administration in identifying activities that would bring the parties in conflict together; we had a series of dialogues to help identify and resolve the issues of concern. We also had workshops and trainings in peacebuilding and conflict transformation with the aim of equipping the community with skills for finding alternatives to conflict as well as identifying latent issues that could lead to an eruption of conflict.

Martha Okumu in white shirt, 2nd from left.

Bringing in the local administration was important, as the local community were hostile to them, and this resolved the lack of sharing information that would lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. We also partnered with the security agents and organised ball games between them and the youth; this helped in mending relationships that had been broken.

This was a process that went on for a number of years, and, in concluding our project in 2016, we initiated a Peace Connectors Project whose aim was not only to build the skills of the youth in peacebuilding but also to economically empower them with life skills and identify income-generating activities, like communal farming, that brings together parties in conflict to work together. In the process, they learn about each other and discuss contentious issues amongst themselves. We also implemented table banking whereby the members would contribute towards an income-generating activity — in this case, the buying and selling of grains. The profit made would be ploughed back into the business while at the same time members would make their monthly contribution which would be lent out and repaid with a small interest on the principal borrowed. At the conclusion of this project, we had trained over 1000 trainers of trainers in peacebuilding and conflict transformation in Mt. Elgon who still are active in preaching peace.

We like to believe that our work has positively impacted people and led to meaningful changes in their lives. One instance that stands out for me would be an incident that happened last year in the Kinondo area in Kwale County after the announcement of the winner of the seat being vied for in the General Elections. The presiding officer announced the winner (this was later reversed and a new election was held on 18 April 2018) of the political seat despite having two candidates having the same number of votes. This led to a situation whereby the supporters clashed, leading to heightened tension in the area. In partnership with our partners on the ground as well as participants that had previously gone through our trainings, we managed to bring the parties in conflict together in a forum where they vented their displeasure on what had happened and agreed to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner while campaigning for their candidate and respecting the decision of the IEBC. This made the people aware that they could agree to disagree without escalating the situation to violence, and we also learnt the importance of providing a platform for people to address issues that negatively affect them.

What does nonviolence mean to you personally and professionally? How would you describe it? Is it important to your work?

Nonviolence to me is when one uses peaceful means when resolving conflict without forcing their will on others so as to bring about change.

Martha Okumu, center, at the Nonviolence in Africa conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, December 2016.

I would also say that through the use of dialogue, advocacy and skills enhancement, we try to bring about social change, justice and political change in our society.

Nonviolence is important to our work as our mission is to develop and maintain collaborative relationships among people and peace actors to develop sustainable peace, and this can only be achieved through dialogue, finding points of collaboration, and working through our differences peacefully so as to bring about change.

Is there someone who has been influential in your life in terms of the work you do for peace and justice? Someone you admire or who inspired you?

I would say I have been inspired by a number of people during one stage of my life or another. Initially, when starting out, I was inspired by my friend who introduced me into this line of work as the dedication and interest that I saw in him made me want to get involved.

After working with the community, I would say there are two people in Mt. Elgon (Sakong) and one in Kwale County (Barroh) who stand out as they are devoted to their community and are willing to sacrifice themselves in order for the voices of the community to be heard; to me, this is remarkable and selfless. This makes working in this field worthwhile as they are a source of inspiration.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Pax Christi International network?

For us, being part of the Pax Christi International network is an opportunity to share our experiences, work together and share our values to bring meaningful change in the world. It also signifies a platform for positive change through its advocacy platform which has a wide reach that helps in transforming the lives of people it touches.

I am Pax Christi, Our Stories, Peace, Women and Peacemaking

Through blurred lenses: A snapshot of a gathering in Manila

by Rev. Valentina Satvedi Leydon
Pax Christi Victoria

Being offered the opportunity to attend the Asia Pacific Network Regional Consultation organised by Pax Christi International was a privilege. The consultation was held in Manila, Philippines from November 27 until December 1, 2017.

Pax Christi in its inception is a very Catholic organisation. While that may be the case in regards to many of the Pax Christi member organisations, the one I find myself part of and based in – Victoria (Australia) – is very ecumenical and has been intentional in moving towards being an interbelief organisation, not merely a Catholic one. This movement is imbued with a stated intention to be inclusive of all who are committed to the work of justice and peace.

My identity is significant to me and as such I attended this event as an Anabaptist woman of colour of Indian ancestry. As is my personal practice, I went without any ‘set’ expectation, even though I was informed that I could end up being the lone person carrying the ecumenical banner. As it turned out, the gathering was essentially Catholic in its cultural practice, underlying assumptions and ritual.

Four persons including myself represented Australia and there will be a formal report collated and presented to Pax Christi Australia, by the four Australian attendees. The short recollection which follows is only a glimpse of what I noticed, as I participated in the consultation, through my personal lens. The larger report will share comprehensive details of the consultation from the perspective of all four participants: myself, Maggie Galley, Caesar D’Mello and Fr Claude Mostowik MSC.

I noticed:

  • The oppressed always have to be mindful when speaking about their oppressions so as to not offend the oppressor. However, the internalisations of the oppressor are strong and when not worked on, the attitude of destabilising the oppressed continues.
  • It is challenging for those working within an established institution to hold the institution accountable, or be open to taking a stance of critical detachment, for its affluence while a significant portion of the masses live in poverty.
  • Absent was the articulation of education for gender justice. It was unclear how we as an international community of peace builders, perceive how the young in their formative years are being (or could be) instructed to respect women in all aspects of living and being.
  • Few persons were willing to acknowledge how words, actions and postures – their own or that of others – still lack sensitivity towards gender and racial imbalances.
  • Ecumenism is understood differently by those in the Catholic tradition. This was evident through the instructions I received in regards to planning an ecumenical prayer service, for example.

I appreciated:

  • Pax Christi International staff taking the ‘backbench’, making room for those in the region take the lead in planning, organising and facilitating this event.
  • The conversations and the space provided for those from indigenous communities to articulate how they engage in the peace and justice work.
  • The purposeful invitation to those working at the grass roots level from various parts of the Asia-Pacific, to share best practices and insights into their fields of justice and peace.
  • The support I received as the lone non-Catholic, from my colleagues representing Australia (Maggie Galley, Claude Mostowik and Caesar D’Mello), for which I express deep thanks.
  • The Anabaptist connections that I indirectly discovered at the Conference, especially in regards to peace-building. In particular, I appreciated a few common connections via the Summer Peace-building Institute of the Centre of Justice and Peace-building at the Eastern Mennonite University Virginia and the Mindanao Peace-building Institute.
  • The inability to force a way of ‘doing’ and ‘being’ when it comes to dismantling ‘roadblocks’ to peace-building. We do not have all the answers and it is OK to come away without set answers, steps and concrete ways of moving forward.
  • The space made for Sacred Circles to discern and share the spirit’s moving each day.
  • The opportunity not to simply be a passive participant; rather, to be engaged in moderating, facilitating and assisting as appropriate.
  • The invitation to collate the sharings articulated in Sacred Circles, then offered as a way of ‘being’ and a sense of commitment to doing the work of peace embraced in those attitudes.
  • The opportunity to hear directly from families of victims affected by the practices of extra-judicial killings, currently mandated in the Philippines. It was powerful to witness those from positions of privilege in the Church walking alongside people being oppressed by the powers-that-be.
  • Inspiring work being done by the Filipino members of Pax Christi, in what can be a hostile social context for peace and justice advocacy.
  • Hearing about the ongoing work of the Non-Violence Initiative, culminating in an invitation to Pope Francis writing an encyclical on non-violence. It is clear that the Catholic Church is starting to shift its emphasis towards the notion of a just peace rather than a just war.

Having said all of the above, I have been energised by this experience and I am thankful for the opportunity granted to me by the joint generosity of the International, Australian and Filipinas sections of Pax Christi. The journey of the various members of the Pax Christi Asia-Pacific region is long and has received rejuvenation. There is much more to come in this regard and I look forward to developing the new relationships and journeying with all those who are intentional in their work towards a just and a peaceful world for all, regardless of their race, gender or theological belief.

Rev. Valentina Satvedi Leydon is a Committee member of Pax Christi Victoria (Australia), a member of Pacific Fellowship and a member of the Pace e Bene Communities of Practice. She is an Independent Consultant committed to her journey of undoing oppressions through a postcolonial lens while being grounded in nonviolence and peace.