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.

patgaffney

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

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, Peace

Creating a culture of peace in our schools

by Matt Jeziorski
Schools and Youth Education Officer, Pax Christi UK

There was great joy in the Pax Christi office recently when the news broke that a miracle due to the intercession of Blessed Oscar Romero had been approved confirming what so many of us were already sure of – that Oscar Romero is a Saint. His faithful witness to the Gospel, his readiness to speak truth to power, his solidarity with the oppressed, and his tireless work for peace and justice make Romero a hero for us. He is one of those peace people whose lives we often look to for encouragement and inspiration.

Reflecting on work for peace and the power of nonviolence to transform situations of injustice Archbishop Romero said that Christians are peacemakers, not because they cannot fight, but because they prefer the force of peace. This is a force that is not passive nor cowardly, neither it is the easy option, but it is a force that faces the violence and injustices in our world and transforms them through faith and love.

This is the force that Pope Francis speaks of when he reflects upon the need for us to us to banish violence from our hearts, words, and deeds, and become nonviolent people and build nonviolent communities. Everyone can be an artisan of peace was his bold and ambitious claim in his 2017 message for World Peace Day.

That Pope Francis desires artisans of peace is telling. The need is for skilled workers; craftsmen and women, trained and qualified in peace and peacemaking. The world wants for a deeper pool of people able find creative nonviolent means to address the root causes of war and violence. Our schools can play a crucial role in responding to Pope Francis’s call by ensuring that their work of Christian formation includes an apprenticeship in Christian peacemaking – and peace education is the key to achieving this.

Schools can sometimes appear nervous about peace education. I have lost count of the number of anxious phone calls I have received from teachers who have booked some of our Pax Christi peace education workshops and find themselves having to reassure a senior member of staff that I am not visiting to campaign, to criticise, or to brainwash. I have had Heads concerned that my workshops might be seen as promoting extremism under the Prevent agenda, and I had one Head take me to task for sowing seeds of dissent amongst my staff during an INSET day.

Yet at the heart of what we are doing in our work of peace education is exactly what Pope Francis demands of us – helping young people to critically explore how they are called to be a peacemakers in the world today. We follow Christ who, in telling us to put down your sword, points us towards the path of peace and nonviolence – peace education breaks open this Gospel call to nonviolence and challenges us in how we live our lives. It may not always be comfortable but any nervousness is misplaced for this is wholly authentic Christian witness.

The Church of course has long held up for us examples who, like Bl Oscar Romero, point to what it means to be an artisan of peace: St Martin of Tour in refusing to fight in the army due to his Christian faith; St Francis of Assisi – the Pope’s own patron – in his radical poverty and great efforts to negotiate peace in the Holy Land; Blessed Franz Jägerstäter and Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser both executed for following their conscience and refusing to fight in Hitler’s army; and the Servant of God, Dorothy Day, in her radical pacifism and steadfast commitment to campaigning against war and the injustices that perpetuate it. Pope Francis is building on a rich heritage.

Much of Pax Christi’s peace education work is one-off, an invitation to work with groups of students over the course of a day in support of their GCSE or A-level religious studies, part of the schools chaplaincy or citizenship provision, or as part of sixth form general RE. Whilst sure of the quality and importance of these workshops, their value can be limited to some extent if they remain a one-off encounter.

Our work is at its best when it is complimenting and supporting the wider mission of the school. This is why Pax Christi encourages schools to make a firm commitment to peace and to nonviolence as part of their Christian vocation.

Becoming a Pax Christi school means recognising that peace and nonviolence are at the heart of the faith life of the school and can touch every area of school life. A Pax Christi school begins with the prayer and liturgical life of the school. Prayers for peace are incorporated into the regular rhythm of prayer life of the school. The feast days and secular memorials with a peace link throughout the school year are observed and celebrated. These prayers are rooted in the sometimes messy realities of the world and the heartbreaking stories of violence in our communities and our world.

Joining acts of public prayer, such as the Ash Wednesday witness against nuclear weapons at the Ministry of Defence, has engaged one Pax Christi School over several years. In reflecting prayerfully on these realities we pray that, as peacemakers, we may grow in understanding of our role in bringing peace.

Special care is taken over acts of remembrance that ensure that war is never gloried nor celebrated but recognised for the failure that it always represents. As we remember sacrifice and the heroism of various forms, our prayer will always be that most basic one for peace: Never again!

A Pax Christi school educates for peace. Peace issues are included in the curriculum but, more than that, the way teaching is practiced models the principles of nonviolent peacemaking including respect, empathy, and nonviolent conflict resolution. The practical skills of being a peacemaker are also taught. Conflict resolution skills are promoted across the school with student leaders being specifically trained in peer mediation. In modelling the principles of peace and nonviolence the school might reflect on the role of the military and arms companies have in supporting work experience, careers events, or STEM days. Alternative, more life-affirming, options are available.

A Pax Christi school stands in solidarity with the victims of violence and those working nonviolently for peace around the world. They are supported through prayer and fundraising, their stories are shared to raise awareness, and advocacy is done on their behalf to those in positions of power and influence in our own country. A pilgrimage to Palestine to meet children and young people living under occupation is a profound and transformative experience for school groups. Closer to home, participation in the Pax Christi International
young journalist project has connected young people with refugees in their area – creating an opportunity for them to write articles and produce podcasts to amplify the refugee experience.

A Pax Christi school campaigns for peace at home and abroad. Having carefully considered a situation and reflected upon it in the light of faith members of the school community are confident in taking action to bring about positive change for peace. Joining together with other peacemakers they stand in vigil, they protest, they write, they lobby, and they raise their voice to demand action.

When a culture of peace is fostered and allowed to prevail in our schools then an apprenticeship in peacemaking becomes a natural consequence. In this way our schools are training those artisans of peace that Pope Francis so desires and our world so desperately needs.

Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

The burning dove of peace

by Fr. Rob Esdaile
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for Pentecost Sunday…

Acts 2:1-11 | 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 | John 20:19-23

In the beginning was a mighty wind, stirring the waters on the first day, bringing forth life and light. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, a gentler image of a descending dove illustrates the heavenly voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved.” But there is nothing dove-like at his crucified end, when Jesus expired, surrendering his Spirit into the Father’s hands with a cosmic cry of pain.

There’s no white bird seen at Pentecost, either. The mighty wind returns, of course, probing footings and rattling doors and windows. A noise fills the place and startles, bringing people running. But it’s visibility is now a flame descending on believers’ heads, a fire like that which Moses saw, flaring without consuming.

This testing fire is the form the Dove of Peace must take today if we would free crucified humanity from its cross and open up paths of justice, solidarity and simple grateful living. The Spirit is an awkward gift, testing the foundations, attracting attention and opposition, admired and yet despised, cutting off the option of quiet indifferent living in the face of human pain.

The fire that settles on each disciple brow and in each heart; this passion for the earth and rejection of crucifying violence; this asking of the awkward question and rejection of the easy lie; this is Pentecost and this the way of Christian hope. After forty days of flood the dove returned, bearing in its beak an olive twig, a sprig of possibility, a sign of a fertile earth where humanity might make landfall, disembark and till the broken earth once more. Our brow, our lips, our heart, bearing that sprig of God’s Shalom/Salaam, become the Dove descending; and heaven’s voice is heard once more: “Here is God’s Beloved. Listen – and live!”

Fr. Rob Esdaile is a member of our Nonviolence Working Group and Parish Priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Thames Ditton. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here.

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* Photo from http://allanpeters.com/blog/2013/04/18/old-new-a-collaborative-bible-design-project/21-brian-danaher/
Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

When we realise our weakness, we realise our discipleship

by Henrietta Cullinan
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 7th Sunday of Easter…

Acts 1:15-17, 20-26 | 1 John 4:11-16 | John 17:11-19

Discipleship, we learn from this Sunday’s readings, means transformation, means thankfulness, means accepting God’s will. As the psalm says, ‘The Lord has set his sway’. Jesus prays that we be ‘one like us’, leading me to the blessed but at the same time terrifying understanding that God has chosen me and given me to Jesus. Jean Vanier writes of this Gospel passage, ‘This holiness is not something we achieve; it is given.’ [1]

We don’t only become disciples by being committed activists, full of austere courage, brimming with facts and figures about the arms trade say, or high level analysis of geopolitics. The world won’t thank us for bearing witness, it is true, or causing a disruption and standing in the way of its business. But according to Jean Vanier, Christ’s prayer calls us to accept our vulnerability.

When I visited friends in Kabul last year, unlike in most well-to-do houses, and institutions, there was no armed guard. I signed a statement, asking not to be rescued if I was kidnapped. I tried not to think about the implications of this, remembering S. Brian Willson’s words, ‘We are not worth more’ [2]. Instead I followed my hosts’ precautions, taking different routes, not speaking in public, even though taxi drivers often wanted a chat. Stuck in a massive traffic jam once, our driver even warned off a nosy policemen, saying we were Turkish. I had no choice but to put my faith in the people around me. But then I had a passport and a plane ticket, a heavily- guarded international airport, to fly in and out of.

As followers of Jesus’ way of nonviolence, we become vulnerable. When we put ourselves in the way of the businesses and powers that put greed over human life, we come to realise our weakness, and realise our discipleship.

Guide us into the way of Peace.

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[1] Vanier, Jean, Drawn into the mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, DLT Books, London 2004, p296
[2] S. Brian Willson is an American peace activist and Vietnam War veteran who lost both his legs blockading arms shipments bound for Central America in 1987

Henrietta Cullinan is administrator for the Faith & Resistance Network and a member of the London Catholic Worker. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here. 

Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

The Acts of the Apostles: Our family album

by Gerry McFlynn
Pax Christi UK

A Reflection for the 6th Sunday of Easter…

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48 | 1 John 4:7-10 | John 15:9-17

The Acts of the Apostles is the only New Testament book of which we can claim authorship. The Gospels describe the life of Jesus; they contain his Will and Testament and we are the executors of that Will.  The letters of the Apostles explain how that life should be lived.  Acts tells us how those first followers of Jesus did, in fact, live it.

It describes how they tried to make sense of the large print of his words about things like – losing one’s life in order to save it, turning the other cheek, sharing one’s goods, going the extra mile, to say nothing of loving one’s enemies!  It also gives an account of the enormous joy and hope unleashed in them.  And it is a story that has not ended, for every Christian life is a chapter in this Book – our family album!

A striking feature of the lifestyle of those first followers was their refusal to engage with militarism or any other “ism” that militated against the wellbeing of another human being.  They believed that God’s Spirit of love had been poured out on everyone.  In fact, they became known for the love they had for everyone, a love that manifested itself in their care for the poor, the weak and marginalised in society.

Acts describes a nonviolent, caring and compassionate lifestyle and shows how, even in our complicated and violent world, it is still possible to live such a life. As Easter People, we are challenged to live the same Spirit-filled life as those first followers.  We do this in another time, in a different world.  We have to do in our world NOW what those first Christians did in their world THEN.

Gerry McFlynn is a member of our Nonviolence Working Group, a priest and project manager for the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas. You can read all of Pax Christi UK’s post-Easter Sunday reflections here.