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.


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.




Nonviolence, Peace

The power of nonviolence

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Building on the 2016 gathering in Rome (see previous page), Pax Christi International created the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, invited by the pope to ‘revitalise the tools of nonviolence, and active nonviolence in particular.’ The project has been organised around five international round tables, to pull together and document experiences of the theory, thinking, theology and practice of nonviolence to help the evolution of Catholic church teaching on nonviolence.

I have been involved in the round table on the power of nonviolence. As well as the models, tools and approaches that we identified through our sharings from the front line (see below), our group has offered many ways in which the Catholic church can move forward in revitalising the tools of nonviolence. Among them are these:

  • Identify and scale up existing Catholic-affiliated unarmed civilian peacekeeping programs and give them special recognition and support. Answer the question: ‘Where’s the Catholic peace army?’
  • Revitalise or institute a lay community dedicated to nonviolence that takes the vows of nonviolence. Consider integrating this with a more robust encouragement to conscientious objection to military service for Catholics. Consider a lay youth movement that takes a vow of nonviolence.
  • Institute an archdiocese for nonviolent peacekeepers to provide the Catholic church’s full range of pastoral ministries and spiritual services to those representing the Catholic church on the front lines of violent conflict.
  • Advocate for funding, research, models and legislation for nonviolent civilian-based defence in national and international settings.
  • Review church-related investments at all levels to screen out revenue from military-related products and services or weapons manufacturing. Support positive shareowner action to address the underlying problems that lead to armed conflict and target investments to address conflict triggers and build positive peace.

As Erica Chenoweth noted: ‘We have a critical mass of actors within the Vatican institutions and outside who could mobilise, effect change.’…

Read the rest of this article in Peace News by clicking here.

Nonviolence, Peace

Working inside the Catholic Church to revitalise the tools of nonviolence

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Peace News readers will be familiar with the names of Gene Sharp, Jean Paul Ledarch, George Lakey, Martin Luther King and Gandhi, as among those who have lived, taught and supported nonviolent peacemaking through the decades. For some of those named, the Christian Gospels and the life and witness of Jesus will have been a source of motivation and inspired their thinking and practice of nonviolence.

In 2016, Catholic peace practitioners, academics, theologians and members of Pax Christi International gathered to urge ‘our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices.’

As a Catholic international movement for peace called ‘Pax Christi, the Peace of Christ,’ we had hatched a plan to take the experiences of peacemakers to the Vatican and open a process to move the institutional church closer to a commitment to nonviolence.

Pope Francis, we knew, would be open to this process, as he has never minced his words or shunned controversy in speaking out against global violence and warfare today: ‘Never war again. With war, everything is lost’ (2014); and ‘We plead for peace for this world dominated by arms-dealers, who profit from the blood of men and women’ (2015)…

Read the entire article at Peace News by clicking here.


Nonviolence: A style of politics for peace and the EU

by Judy Coode, Project Coordinator for the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative
and Alice Kooij Martinez, Senior Advocacy Officer

(Ed. note: This article appears in europeinfos, the newsletter of COMECE and the Jesuit European Office.) 

How can the EU contribute more proactively to the development of nonviolent strategies? Can it help forge an alternative style of politics when responding to conflicts and violence?

Seeking to build on Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message: A Style of Politics for Peace in which Francis invited the international community to make better use of nonviolent strategies, on 21 April, Pax Christi International hosted a lively panel discussion at its Brussels office. Pax Christi believes that the EU, along with its member states, has an important role to play, having employed and supported financially a wide array of external assistance instruments for the prevention of violent conflict and peace building.

Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi UK, moderated the panel discussion, with panelists Marie Dennis, Co-President of Pax Christi International; Teresia Wamuyu Wachira, a Sister of Loreto, professor at St. Paul’s University in Nairobi and member of Pax Christi International’s board; Canan Gündüz, mediation adviser at the EU External Action Service (EEAS); and Joachim Koops, dean of Vesalius College, Free University of Brussels (VUB) and director of the Global Governance Institute (GGI). The panelists thus represented a variety of backgrounds (grassroots, policy, research) and were able to speak about the potential for using nonviolent strategies and tools in responding to conflicts in the world. They also identified the challenges facing nonviolent strategies. The second part of the panel discussion looked at the link with EU policies…

Click here to read the entire article.

Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent, March 12 – Sharing the hardship of the Gospel

by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK

Genesis 12:1-4a | 2 Timothy 1:8b-10 | Matthew 17:1-9

On 18 March, in Bolzano Cathedral, Italy, another ‘Blessed’ will be added to the community of women and men who have witnessed to Gospel nonviolence: Josef Mayr-Nusser, born in the  Austrian Tyrol in 1910. A family man, his faith was informed by the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam, a movement in which he showed faithful service, and by his association with the Catholic Action movement. Following the accord between Hitler and Mussolini in 1939, he chose to stay in Italy, unable to associate with Hitler’s project which he deemed incompatible with the Gospel. He was conscripted into the SS in 1944 when South Tyrol came under Nazi control. Unable in conscience to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler, he was arrested, imprisoned and eventually sentenced to death for undermining military morale. He was transported to Dachau where he was to be shot, but with failing health and weakness, he died on 24 February in the cattle wagon transporting him to Dachau.

Almost fifty years earlier, these words were written on the walls of Richmond Castle, Yorkshire, England (used as a prison), by a conscientious objector of the First World War: “Then said Jesus to his disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let  him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” The ‘crucifixion’ was a punishment given to some of these COs in the field in France. They were placed against posts with arms outstretched and wrists tied to cross beams. Here they would stay, in all forms of weather, for hours at a time. [Excerpted from The Way of the Cross: Reflections Drawn from the First World War Conscientious Objectors, a Pax Christi UK publication.]

Timothy’s letter today speaks of ‘sharing the hardship of the Gospel’. We can only hope, looking back at these brave people, that in their harsh sharing, in their witness to peace and Gospel nonviolence, they also experienced the strength that comes from God.

Pat Gaffney is General Secretary of the British section of Pax Christi.

Our Stories

OUR STORY: Pax Christi UK

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.