18 December. Pax Christi member Martin Birdseye recently took part in the Civil Forum of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Martin wrote a blog while he was there which you can read here . This is an extract
“Are we really awake, or are we in a mad dream? It seems like that, when we see the daily need to make a case for something that is blindingly obvious. Nearly everyone agrees that nuclear weapons are terribly dangerous, that they could destroy all of Earthly creation and that this could happen, by accident, madness or evil design. But still the political establishment and a significant minority of the population think we must continue to deploy nuclear weapons, at enormous cost, for the next forty years. We are surely trapped in a nightmare.
And yet we know we are awake; we know we have to persevere, patiently explaining the case against retention of nuclear weapons. ”
More reports on the Conference, including the message from Pope Francis.
15 December, Pax Christi member Frank Campbell reflects on the place of the olive tree and its fruits in Palestine today.
Here in microcosm was the seemingly intractable conflict between Palestinian villagers and Israeli settlers. Somehow olives have assumed a symbolic and even symbiotic significance for Palestinians as an assertion of enduring survival and economic sustainability, and a powerful token of the steadfastness which Arabs call ‘sumud’. Whereas in Israel the properties held by Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere flaunt the Star of David flag from every window, the Palestinian response is not a symbol of military conquest but a quiet determination to thwart the land-grabbing of the illegal settlers by insisting on growing olives and striving to replant the groves which have been torched or grubbed up by the settlers
If we consider what olives represent we could think of longevity – some trees survive and produce fruit for several hundred years. Olives are hardy and able to thrive on semi-barren terrain and hillsides. They are living plants of beauty, and bountiful for those who tend them: an icon of sustainability and peace, whose oil is both nourishment and agent of healing. Olives represent a powerful marker of humanity’s place in the order of creation and our interdependence. The wood of olives can provide fuel and the raw material for construction and crafts and is widely used in anointing. Such powerful and peaceful indicators of survival, prosperity, and cultural meaning in the face of destructive violence make it seem that the olive trees are required to share the suffering and slaughter of their subjugated custodians. Just as the Arab villages were abandoned or renamed as Palestinians fled the conflict, so these innocent symbols of a dignified people must pay a heavy price at the hands of marauders.
Whenever I use olive oil in the kitchen I shall remember that it represents the strength and endurance of people in an occupied land.
8 December, Pax Christi supporter Joe Tatton Brown reflects on John 15: vs 13
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John chapter 15 verse 13.
This is part of Jesus’ discourse at his last supper, shortly before his crucifixion. For some reason this verse is often quoted in connection with WW1. It clothes the dead soldiers, indeed the whole conflict, with a consoling and loving aura. But in reality the battles of the Somme and Ypres were no more loving than Waterloo and Bannockburn. In most battles there are a few instances of self-sacrificing heroism which could at a stretch be called Christlike, but for the great majority of combatants, particularly in WW1, the battles were a brutal mechanical slog lasting several days, in which both sides were inflicting horrifying death on the other on a pitiless industrial scale. The combatants, by being combatants, were risking their lives, which is not the same as laying down their lives. Death or survival was almost entirely random. A considerable number were conscripted, often against their will. A key element of Christ’s road to Calvary was that it was voluntary. No human being forced him to go to Jerusalem.
We should not associate the horrific, inhuman activities of WW1, which were mostly not loving at all, with Christ’s willing, non-violent acceptance of his own crucifixion which was one of the most loving actions there has ever been.
8 December 2014. Pax Christi member Martin Davis reports on Pat Gaffney’s visit to Cheltenham Christian Ecology Link.
Pax Christi UK’s General Secretary saying this evening that she was one of only three paid staff prompted surprise. “It punches above its weight,” I remarked – only to arouse a titter: we had just been discussing nonviolent protest as a way of drawing attention to planet Earth as (in Ban Ki-moon’s phrase) “a silent casualty of war”.
It reminded me how heavily our language depends upon military vocabulary. As our speaker, Pat Gaffney said, “It’s the whole of me that has to be a peacemaker.” Just as a film lover is a different animal from a film maker, so the Sermon on the Mount talks not of “Blessed are the peace lovers” – but “peacemakers”. So, celebrating Remembrance Day without a commitment to peacemaking “is pure sentimentality”. In the same way, the Eucharistic “Do this in remembrance of me” is a call to action as well as devotion.
“Do I need to be a pacifist to join Pax Christi?” Pat was asked. No, Pax Christi has supporters all along the spectrum. Anyway, she preferred to use the term “nonviolent”. To develop a nonviolent attitude in all things was an aspiration: despite her 23 years with Pax Christi, it’s one she had yet to attain fully. It’s often easier, she says, to protest outside Downing Street than to talk to one’s sister-in-law. Recently, she’s had to work out a non-violent reaction to the theft of the flower pots she kept outside the front door of her home.
At the end of a year of escalating conflict in, among other places, the Ukraine, Syria and Iraq and Nigeria, it was opportune that our guest was a prominent representative of the international Catholic peace movement. Active in 50 countries, Pax Christi next year celebrates 70 years of peacemaking.
Pat after working for CAFOD, came to Pax Christi 23 years ago, and has won renown as a campaigner, an educator and an advocate. She has travelled to Sarajevo, East Timor and (frequently) to Israel Palestine, a pilgrim visiting communities. She has been nominated along with fellow women peace workers for the Nobel Prize, and imprisoned four times for nonviolent direct action – about which Martin Luther King wrote that it “seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it may no longer be ignored.” This, Pat believes, is her Christian duty.
Outside the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston Pat photographed children holding a home-made placard: “If we destroy our planet, we have nowhere to go,” it said. We need, Pat urged, to rethink what security is all about. UK military spending – at £38bn. a year – is the sixth largest in the world. But if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. What of climate change, resource depletion, marginalisation of the majority poor? We spend £1.3b. p.a. on military research and development, compared with £45m. on looking into renewable energy.
With the aid of illustrations, the links between war, conflict and the degradation of our planet were explored. Do we really measure the true costs of war? Pat asked: the enforced migration, the disablement, the psychological costs, “the toxic remnants of war” (the title of an independent project, fairly recently set up). 18,000 square miles of land were laid waste in Vietnam. In Kuwait, retreating Iraqis torched 800 oil wells. Over the past 50 years 800,000 olive trees, a spiritual resource for the people, have been destroyed in Israel Palestine.
At the heart of her message was Pat’s conviction that one person putting their faith into action can make a difference: the priest who came to say Mass on the sacred rocks, threatened by the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island off South Korea; Bishara Nasser’s devotion to protecting Daher’s Vineyard near Bethlehem, resulting in The Tent of Nations project to prepare young people to contribute positively to their culture and future; the Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement.
This presentation to Christian Ecology Link was as powerful as any we have hosted in Cheltenham.
19 November, Pax Christi Liverpool members meet with Pat Gaffney
John Usher from the Pax Christi group in Liverpool writes: Pax Christi members had a very enjoyable meeting in the Egg, Liverpool, with Pat Gaffney following her meeting with Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, and before she caught her train back to London. An added bonus was the attendance of our colleague Sheila Cogley, now home following her long engagement as a volunteer in hard-pressed Haiti.
Pat writes: it was so good to meet with the group who do so much to keep Pax Christi’s work visible and alive in Liverpool. Earlier in the day Anne Dodd our Chairperson and myself met with our National President, Archbishop Malcolm to talk about our work plans for the year ahead. We are delighted that Archbishop Malcolm has chosen to stay with us given all the new demands upon him. He will be with us in London for our AGM on 6 June 2015
18 November – Coventry Peace Festival – and security threat to University by Paul McGowan
Every November, Coventry puts on a fortnight-long Peace Festival. Most of the events are organised by the ordinary people of the city of Peace, Reconciliation and Lady Godiva, with financial support from the city Council. This year, the University of Coventry, unusually, put forward two events for the official programme. I do not know if they have claimed the £1000 they would normally receive for this. They may well need the money. The titles of both events contained the word ‘Trust’. I hear that Coventry academia talks of little else at the moment, now that the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies has been replaced with the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.
However, ‘trust’ was in short supply when it came to attending these events. The University had put in place a system of preregistration, so that it could vet members of the public wishing to devote some of their precious time to these attractions.
I know this for a fact, because of the three security guards (including someone who identified himself as the ‘Chief of Security’) barred my way in to the gleaming Techno Centre, on the grounds that my authorisation to attend had been withdrawn by ‘the University’. There were reasons, of course. Six months of CCTV coverage has burned my image into the brains of ‘security’. This is no fun for them. And then, collecting dozens of bits of paper advertising the wares of Lockheed Martin. No one likes doing this. of course. Even so, are these really grounds for supposing I was intending to disrupt a lecture? Unless, of course, it is thought that asking questions at the appropriate time counts as disruption. When ‘trust and peace’ are at risk, who can tell?
I fear that ‘trust, peace and social relations’ between Lockheed Martin and the University may be at breaking point. Perhaps the Americans have warned the University that, unless they can be better protected from adverse publicity, they will have to take their business elsewhere.
3 November 2014 – Remembering David Scutt
On 30th October local Pax Christi members in Oxford and the parishioners of St Anthony of Padua Church organised a Memorial Mass for David Scutt, a long-standing member of Pax Christi who died earlier this year. David`s father had been a military chaplain at Ypres in WWI. Deeply influenced by his Anglican faith and his reading of the Sermon on the Mount, David registered as a Conscientious Objector in WW2 and was imprisoned three times. It was while he was working during the war with Friends (Quaker) Relief Service that he became a Catholic. He did relief work in Germany after the war and joined Pax, the British Catholic Peace Organisation that later merged with Pax Christi. He remained an active member of Pax Christi all his long life.
At his Memorial Mass, his steadfast courage and integrity in his long commitment to non-violence and peace – building were celebrated. Since David loved poetry, it was fitting that the following poem by Daniel Berrigan sj was read as part of the memorial event. May he rest in the peace that his life so steadfastly witnessed to.
To the Plowshares 8 with love
Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.
Some stood up twice, then sat down.
“It`s too much,” they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
“I`ve had it,” they cried.
Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.
Some walked and walked and walked –
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.
“Why do you stand?” they were asked, and
“Why do you walk?”
“Because of the children,” they said, and
“Because of the heart, and
“Because of the bread,”
“Because the cause is
the heart`s beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread.”
20 October Up-date of events in Coventry/Lockheed Martin from Paul McGowan
Coventry plays its part! Lockheed Martin staff have been ‘mentally scarred’ by public references to the company’s products, says Coventry University Technology Park’s Facilities Supervisor. ‘Stickers’ have appeared at various points around the site, and have now spread even to the Ladies and Gents toilets. This morning an elderly man was detained for twenty minutes on suspicion of conspiring with others to walk about the site carrying pieces of paper.
Mention of cluster bombs, Hellfire missiles and nuclear warheads has not gone down well with the IT specialists working at the Design Hub, inside sources have claimed.
On top of this, repeated reports, passed on by site operatives to their superiors, of so-called ‘stickers’ referring to Lockheed Martin’s activities are beginning to generate a bureaucratic blizzard of paperwork in the University’s administrative headquarters, ashen-faced security staff have confided.
And now the world’s Number One arms-dealer (Lockheed Martin) has begun to complain that it is not getting the protection it needs, if it is to continue its activities in the peaceful and tranquil surroundings which it has the right to expect, having paid vast amounts into the University’s coffers.
It is understood that steps will be taken to ensure that employees working at the Technology Park will be safeguarded against the possible harmful effects known to be associated with bits of paper and dabs of Blu-tak. (also see 18 September)
20 October : Homily Reflection on anniversary of start of First World War
Pax Christi member Jan Royan from Hallam Diocese shared this Homily Reflection from Fr Andy Graydon last Homily in St Mary Magdalene Parish, Hallam Diocese. Jan says Fr Andy sang the original Pete Seeger refrain “Gone to graveyards everyone” and the congregation responded with “When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn”. Jan says it was really powerful, a great lament from the whole congregation.
15 October: Ann Farr reports on a vigil the Elbit Factory, Shenstone for International Week of Action Against Drones.
Members of Pax Christi and Friends of Sabeel joined with staff and students from Queen’s Theological College, Birmingham, and members of Birmingham churches in an ‘Act of Witness’ outside UAV Engines, the Elbit Factory at Shenstone, near Lichfield. The Israeli owned factory manufactures the engines for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) which are used for military purposes. The group regularly meet there to protest against the use of these military drones to kill innocent people. They were also used in Israel’s recent war on Gaza, where the loss of life and devastation have shocked many throughout the world.
Christian, Jewish and Muslim readings and prayers were used during the vigil and there were extensive times of silence for us to reflect on all those killed, and those affected, by the violent use of drones in conflict zones and for us to commit ourselves to resisting the arms trade and all warfare and to working for peace.
During the vigil, the fuselage from an A10 Warthog USAF war plane, typical of those used in the invasion and firing of air-to-ground missiles in Iraq, was beaten with hammers by participants as a symbol of the ‘beating of swords into ploughshares’ and a protest at the use of killing machines.
Read here a personal story about a family living under the continual threat of drones
18 September, Coventry, Pax Christi member Paul McGowan and his ‘stickers’ become a security risk!
As has been my weekly habit for the last six months, I passed through the Coventry University Technology Park this morning, looking for opportunities to give some free publicity to Lockheed Martin, the self-effacing multinational arms-dealer, now busying itself in our city.
This time my luck ran out. I was spotted by an eagle-eyed security man. He pointed out, politely, that strictly-speaking I was trespassing. I said I knew. He said he knew I was the one responsible for putting stickers on their property all round the site. He said they had me on CCTV. I said I wasn’t surprised. He said what was on the stickers wasn’t true. I said it was. He said the staff at LM were upset by what it said, and they weren’t responsible. I said it was the company to blame. He said they do different things here. I said I knew they didn’t make weapons here, but that we don’t know what they do do, but it was the same company that did make the weapons. He said the authorities were considering prosecuting me. I said, which authorities? He said he wasn’t at liberty to tell me. He said LM were thinking about taking it further as well. I asked if he was asking me to leave the site. He said he was politely asking me not to put up any more stickers. I said I couldn’t promise that, but that he had, indeed, been very polite.
The stickers in question are, in fact, not stickers at all. They are small bits of paper, no more than 10cm by 5cm usually, with two small dabs of Blu-tak on the back. Sometimes I put up longer strips on the board where LM’s name should be. The writing on them says ‘LM, tell us the truth about your cluster bombs’, or ‘LM, your Hellfire missiles kill children in Gaza’, or simply lists some of LM’s products, or names LM as the world’s biggest arms-dealer.
I’m not surprised the staff are upset. It would be terrible if they weren’t, since most of them didn’t choose to work for LM originally.
Nevertheless, the bits of paper and Blu-tak cause no damage at all to property, or people for that matter. Which is more than can be said for LM’s products.
9 August – Wool Against Weapons actions, Berkshire by Lorna Hicks
Great photographs here
9th August is, of course, the anniversary of the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki in 1945, so it was a most appropriate date for the Wool Against Weapons action to link the two Berkshire bomb factories of Aldermaston and Burghfield. People all over the country (and some abroad) had been knitting pink scarves for the last 18 months or so at the suggestion of Jaine Rose of Stroud. The combination of Jaine’s inspiration and the organisation of National CND meant that on the day we had more than enough scarves joined up to cover the entire seven miles between the two bomb factories very efficiently and effectively. At 1 pm we spaced ourselves out along the road to hold up the scarf, rang bells, and then observed a two-minute silence to remember everyone killed or injured by nuclear weapons, not only in Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also those harmed by production and testing.
Kate Hudson, National Chair of CND, walked the length of the scarf with her dog and found it impressive. Anne Dodd, National Chair of Pax Christi, was also there with her local contingent. Local CND groups had organised coaches from Scotland and Wales, as well as all parts of England, which dropped us off and picked us up at pre-arranged milestones along the route. We were fortunate to have a lovely sunny day, and the police were pleasant and friendly. Although more press coverage would have been welcome, people were pleased that the day went so smoothly, and the action was a strong symbol of peaceful activity and beautiful creativity. The scarves will now be made into blankets for Syrian refugees.
8 August, Yorkshire Pax Christi
The group organised a ‘People’s Budget’ stall about the renewal of the Trident missile system outside Holy Trinity Church in Leeds city centre on 8th August. The Government is intending to spend £100billion in renewing the Trident programme. This stall asked people what they would spend the money on if it was their decision – no one taking an interest wanted to spend £100billion on nuclear weapons!
The stall itself was provided by Yorkshire CND.
4th and 6th August events in Abingdon by Anne Dodd
There was widespread apprehension that national and local events around 4th August would be marked by the glorification of war and militarism. There were fears of a jingoistic tone to the content of services. This, thankfully, was not so in the two main events in Abingdon on 4th August.
From 6,30pm to 10.30pm in St Helens Church, in total silence, the names and addresses of the 1336 men of Abingdon who joined up were read slowly. The slow litany of names – some of them so familiar still in Abingdon eg. Hemmings, Cox, Wiblin . . . . together with the familiarity of addresses – Ock St, Swinburne Rd, Turnagain Lane . . . . brought home some of the impact on Abingdon, a small town of 6,800 at that time, with over 1300 men away during the war. 205 men died – the date and place of their death was read out as the list proceeded slowly and alphabetically. The naming of each death is always powerful – whether of the 1WW, Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan . . . . Huge statistics can dull the senses, names restore dignity and tell us of individual lives cut short and the legacy of grief and bitterness. There was no religious element at all to the reading of names though it took place in St Helens Church, just the solemn naming of names.
By 10pm a very large silent crowd had already gathered at the War Memorial in the darkness. It was a very different atmosphere to that of Remembrance Sunday. No formal processions, banners, little sense of rank and uniforms. Just silent people gathered in the darkness and candlelight. The tone of the religious service led by Charles Miller of St Helens was one of penitence, an awareness of each and everyone`s share in “the world`s pride, greed. . . its violence and its darkness”. The Act of Remembrance and Intercession was taken from the Remembrance resource booklet produced by the Movement for the Abolition of War – and this was credited at the end of the printed service.
The Peace Group vigil on Hiroshima Day, two days later, at the same War Memorial, can be seen as a continuation of these 2 official events. This year we stood with 2 banners. One saying Hiroshima Aug 6th 1945, the other saying The best way to honour the dead is to work now to PREVENT war. On 4th Aug, Abingdon, like so many communities up and down the country, remembered 1WW in sorrow. The task of converting that sorrow into positive peacebuilding TODAY is the task that faces all Peace Groups and organisations over the next 4 years
Peace Walk through London by Pax Christi member Martin Birdseye
Probably a good test of the success of any peace action is to ask ourselves: Did we come home happy? This is because we are conscious of the urgency of our work and of getting the best use of our time. So we ask ourselves what we are achieving. Did we have any effect on public awareness and understanding? Did we speak truth to, or even influence, any power? Did we learn anything? Did we develop our own thoughts and awareness? And for Pax Christi actions you could usually add: Did we ask God to help?
Today’s Peace Walk commemorating peacemaking 1914-2014 stands up well in this analysis. I don’t suppose we had any political influence but I felt happy about all the rest. And even just for interest and entertainment it was quite hard to beat. With the guidance of Valerie’s excellent booklet I had already visited most of these ‘shrines to peacemakers’, but to be taken to them and to be given more detailed expert explanations, made it so much more real. The evidence of human courage, perseverance and often heroic progress towards a more peaceful world is all right there, in our city.
As usual Westminster was crowded with tourists and there was a transitory mingling with other guided walks. Each time I thought: this is at least as good and as interesting as they are getting. Here is a thought: Could we find the human resources to do this for a potentially much wider public, using one of the agencies (London Walks etc)? And should not the Peace Trails booklet be featured in the Time Out London walks list?
Anyway I suspect that we gathered one or two tourists along the way today. And the pigeons of Christ Church Gardens were obviously impressed. They all assembled on the branches of the tree right behind us and seemed to be listening attentively to what Valerie was saying.
The Tibetan Peace Garden, in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, was warm, quiet, and filled with the scent of jasmine. On our walk we had been alternately baked in the sun and blasted by a storm, so the steady rain here actually added to the peace for our concluding prayers.
Finally, what a good idea to have this collaboration between Pax Christi and the Justice and Peace Commissions of our three local dioceses (Brentwood, Westminster and Southwark). Thank you all for the work that went into this event.
25 May , Southampton
Pax Christi member, Frank Campbell from Southampton reflects on input at our AGM in Liverpool
Following the presentation by Symon Hill on Campaigning for Peace in a Digital Age, at the Pax Christi gathering in Liverpool, and some insightful comments by Valerie Flessati, I was prompted to reflect again on a movement which impinges directly on the question of speaking truth to power in society. I refer to Media Lens and to David Edwards and David Cromwell. The website is worth investigating, and the two books, Newspeace in the 21st Century (D.Edwards & D. Cromwell 2009 Pluto Press), and Why are we the good guys? (D. Cromwell 2012 Zero Books.
The work of Media Lens since 2001 has encouraged thousands to challenge the distorted version of the world presented in newspapers and broadsheets. Naom Chomsky has said, “Regular critical analysis of the media has never been more important, Media Lens has performed a major public service by carrying out this task with energy, insight and care”.
By the simple expedient of careful noting and recording news items from journalists and media presenters, and politely requesting from them the evidential basis for their stories, they uncover the unsupported allegations and arrogance of so many news media personalities. “Speaking truth to Power” could not ask for a more genuine and effective method of challenging the power of the media, and the myth of impartial press reporting. I would strongly recommend that Pax Christi take seriously as an effective campaigning strategy what Media Lens has set in motion.
8 May, Oxford – Clare Prangley writes of Bruce Kent, No Faith in Trident evening.
Bruce Kent came to Oxford to talk on ‘Peace and Security- what does the Church say?’ at the invitation of local Pax Christi members.
Blackfriars, the Dominican friary, hosted the meeting and the prior John O’Connor OP chaired it. We had tried very hard to focus our quite intense publicity on parishes and other Christian groups, so it was slightly disappointing that of the 65 or so in the audience, most were already committed peacemakers . However, this did make for a sympathetic and interested response to Bruce’s talk.
Bruce spoke of his own awakening to peace issues through his experience in Nigeria during the Biafran War, and with War on Want.
He reminded us how irrationally the choice to have nuclear weapons is in telling us that at one point Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the Defence Minister Knott and the Chancellor Howe were in agreement not to buy the very expensive Trident missiles. They were, that is, until someone pointed out that to abandon these weapons would lead to the French being the only nuclear power in western Europe, at which they reversed their decision. Bruce drew attention to the teachings against war of recent Popes from Benedict the XV, and since John XXIII, of the Popes who have been increasingly firm in condemning nuclear deterrence. But for those teachings to have any practical influence in the wider Church or on national policy we must all be active in calling attention to them.
Peace and social justice issues – such as war and poverty – are so closely linked that we should all work together to expose the connections and show the links. He urged us all to be more active in bringing to the public the facts and the issues concerning nuclear weapons in particular, and not to give up; it is the persistent who win through in the end.
Altogether it was an enjoyable and informative evening, and Pax Christi Oxford and Abingdon are very grateful to Bruce for fitting us into his very busy schedule.
28 April , Penarth
Pax Christi member Anthea Fairey reports: We had a vigil at BAE Glascoed on Maundy Thursday. The Vigil was good, it was with the CAAT from Penarth. The event was advertised in the Archdiocese newspaper, but we had no takers. Pax Christi was mentioned in the liturgy we used.
25 April, up-date on West Midlands Pension Fund work by Paul McGowan
The committees which manage the West Midlands Pension Fund met on March 26. On their agenda was the proposal (outlined in an earlier blog) concerning the eight firms thought to be involved in the production of cluster bombs. It is clear from the Minutes of the meeting that the pressure for change is beginning to work. Up to now, there has been a flat rejection of all proposals made by the disinvestment campaign, on the grounds that the value of investments must be protected and engaging with companies is likely to be more effective than shunning them. This time, the Coventry representative suggested that the question of arms investments be referred to the body which coordinates the activities of local government pension funds, and which is known as the Local Authorities Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF). The suggestion was accepted. Swift follow-up is promised. Taking cover in the long grass of bureaucracy will not be an option, because the disinvestment campaign continues to spread and has now attracted the support of 20 organisations in the area, including one Coventry MP and most recently the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre.
In an interesting development, the Coventry City Council pension fund representative, Councillor Gannon, has been drawing attention to the existence of a document called ‘A Statement of Investment Principles’, published by the Pension Fund itself. We can only speculate about the Councillor’s reasons for doing so, but this is what I personally read in the Statement: The Trustees of the Fund must not bring it into disrepute, they must consider Human Rights when managing the Fund, and they must recognise that there are many interested parties, who may have legitimate concerns about the Fund. Trustees can screen out investments, companies must respond to ethical issues when these are raised by the Trustees, and the Trustees may act in all of the following ways, in relation to companies: direct meetings, writing to companies, joining with others to exert pressure, putting out statements and reports on such actions. Trustees must be aware that the following factors can damage investments: a company’s reputation, companies which fail to match social and ethical trends, companies which are slow to follow where others have gone.
In a nutshell: The Fund’s reputation must be protected, Human Rights safeguarded, and all interested parties heard. In pursuit of these aims, the Trustees may: refuse investments, demand ethical compliance from companies, lobby and pressurise firms which fall short of expected standards or fail to make reasonable progress towards them.
So, it would appear that the Fund simply has to practice what it preaches, especially in the ‘City of Peace and Reconciliation’. Following Councillor Gannon’s lead, all 54 Coventry Councillors were sent a copy of the summary just before the Easter break. The local elections are almost upon us, and Hustngs will provide further opportunities for raising the issues.
14 April, Coventry.
Paul McGowan reports on GDAMS vigil/event in Coventry
Pax Christi and Stop the War Campaigners against the use of Council Tax money to invest in arms companies such as Lockheed Martin attempted to present a lunchtime letter of protest to the firm’s offices in Coventry University’s Technology Park. We were prevented from entering the site by security guards who had been posted there since 7am, in anticipation of any such activity. Eventually, it was agreed that the security guards would deliver the letter, which calls on Lockheed Martin to explain whether they continue to be involved in the manufacture of cluster bombs. Later in the day, campaigners distributed leaflets in the city centre, explaining the Council’s complicity in the funding of arms companies out of Council Tax money. Postcards illustrating alternatives to military spending, a petition to scarp Trident, and a People’s Budget to allow citizens to declare their own spending priorities were used to publicise the Global Day Against Military Spending. No member of the public thought that money should be spent on renewing Trident. Arms companies involved in the Trident programme include Lockheed Martin, Rolls Royce, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, all of whom have links to Coventry (the ‘City of Peace and Reconciliation’, as it likes to be known), and receive public funding through investments of Council Tax money in the West Midlands Pension Fund.
14 April, Oxford
Anne Dodd reports on Global Day of Military Action in Oxford
A small group of Pax Christi members and the Fellowship of Reconciliation were, together, a visually colourful presence on Bonn Square, Oxford on Monday, 14th April. A big home-made banner clearly showed passersby the reason we were there; some took up the invitation to take part in the survey we did with the Budget Game. Using buttons and jars, people were invited to reallocate some or all of the £40 billion annual UK Defence Budget. Education and Healthcare proved the most popular choices for “reallocated” military funding. A children`s see-saw, with an army helmet on one end and a medical cap on the other was part of the effort to “shift priorities” in the thinking on Global and National spending. The “shifting priorities” postcards, produced by Pax Christi, were used to distribute to passersby. It was good to know that the Oxford event was one of many, nationally and globally. Shifting priorities will be a long haul but the Global Day of Action on Military Spending is a valuable opportunity in this.
12 April, York Justice and Peace stall
Pax Christi member Alan Gerrard writes to let us know that York J & P had a peace stall at York Market on Saturday 12th April 2014 where among other things they gathered 103 signatures on the petition to stop recruitment of under 18s into the armed forces.
Alan sent this photograph showing Pax Christi members Ann Tracy and Nan Saeki
2 April, Southampton
Bruce Kent speaks in Portswood, Southampton – part of Scrap Trident Tour hosted by Pax Christi members Audrey and Frank Campbell. Read more from Frank:
One hundred and twenty people from Southampton parishes and a variety of other peace activists gave an enthusiastic welcome to Bruce Kent as he began his Scrap Trident tour on 1st April. The session in Immaculate Conception in Portswood was sponsored by Pax Christi and CND, and organised by the parish Justice and Peace group. Bruce and his co-workers had spent the afternoon with the Jand P group inviting people in the local shopping area to engage in the game of choosing alternative ways of spending £100billion (the projected cost of Trident replacement over ten years). Many of the students who took part were genuinely hearing the message for the first time.
Speaking without notes to the packed evening meeting, Bruce explored the myths and distortions of nuclear weapons acquisition over the decades. He recalled the references to a Moss Bros deterrent which is totally dependent on American missiles. The notion of deterrence had also been exaggerated. Despite commitments made in the Nuclear Non- proliferation Treaty, little progress towards decommissioning had been made. Nor had the nuclear threat prevented regular outbreaks of conventional warfare. The nine existing members of the nuclear club seemed more interested in international prestige than in genuine defence issues.
Most of the major political parties in the UK were committed in government to the Trident replacement programme. He pointed out that the Labour party are to hold a manifesto planning meeting in Manchester in June. There was an urgent need, therefore, to contact local MPs and Councillors to make it plain that a rejection of Trident could be a positive vote-winner in the face of ongoing pressure on public spending. The massive Hyde Park rally to protest against the war in Iraq had not been a failure; it had helped to prevent precipitate action against Syria over the recent unrest. There was much to be gained by building a consensus among the many organisations and groups dedicated to promoting a peaceful world. All schools, he declared, should be acqainting pupils with the Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter. The leaflet recently produced by Pax Christi makes clear the position of the Catholic Church on nuclear weapons.
After a useful Q and A session we were left with enthusiasm for further action and collaboration in this important work.
20 March, Newcastle
Pax Christi member Veronica Whitty led a meditation on the theme ” Streams in the Desert” at the Women`s World Day of Prayer service at The Church of Our Lady and St Columba,Wallsend. The theme this year was offered by the Christian women of Egypt. Sixty-five women from Wallsend Churches Together attended representing the following : Salvation Army, Methodist, Baptist, Church of England, Catholic and New Life Centre Introduction below full text complete text here
Streams in the desert. The desert. How many of us have experienced the desert in our own lives a time that
feels arid, non-productive, stuck. It was just such an experience that Florence Nightingale had when her family refused for years to allow her to nurse. As a result she was often ill. Travel was her escape. Then she was never ill. She went to Egypt in 1850. It was there that God spoke to her again.
Her first experience of God`s voice was on her 17th birthday. She spent the next ten years clarifying God`s call. In Egypt God asked her if she could do good without desiring great things for herself. Her family finally relented in 1853 and allowed her to take up an unpaid position as Superintendent at a charitable nursing home in London.
Florence Nightingale is a good example of both ecumenism and inter-faith activity. One side of her family were Dissenters and the other Unitarians. She was raised an Anglican but ceased to be a church-goer by her early `30s although she remained a communicant. When in Rome she did a ten-day retreat based on the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola.
Paul McGowan reports more on the challenge to the West Midlands Pension Fund (see more below)
The meeting of the Investment Advisory sub-committee, due to take place on March 12, was cancelled. The next scheduled meeting of the Management Committee is on March 26. Can I urge all Pax Christi members in the West Midlands to get in touch with their Council’s representatives on this committee. They are as follows: Wolverhampton – Cllrs Turner, Shah, Bilson and Heap; Birmingham – Cllr Afzal; Coventry – Cllr Gannon; Walsall – Cllr Ali; Dudley – Cllr Harris; Solihull – Cllr Martin; Sandwell – Cllr Silvester.
If anyone does not have a copy of the proposal, please get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 024 7667 4495
19 March, Vigil at Heysham Nuclear Power Station, Lancaster.
Pax Christi member Mo Kelly reports of vigil she helped to organise. Heysham Powerstation Full Report
Over 60 people including children from Lancaster District and around the UK held a vigil at Heysham Nuclear Power station on Saturday, March 8th to mark the 3rd anniversary of the nuclear accident at Fukishima in Japan. The gathering of concerned people called upon EDF to publicly answer a number of questions. In the face of climate change, rising sea levels and storm surges, these questions relate to the safety of the reactors and the radioactive spent nuclear fuel which is temporarily stored on site at Heysham prior to it’s transportation by rail to Sellafield. A further question which will be asked relates to the continuing and longterm problem of nuclear waste storage.
Local architect Mo Kelly took levels to demonstrate how high sea levels may be in 2100. Others held a long purple cloth showing where the seas on 3 January 2014 swept across the concrete promenade barely some 7 metres from the flood defence wall to the power station. Using a measuring staff Mo Kelly showed how high a 5 metre storm surge would be, making reference to the 18 metre storm surges seen on the Dorset coast this winter. The staff reached beyond the height of the security perimeter fence.
People stood in silence for some minutes after messages were read out, including from Japan, where the Fukushima nuclear meltdown occurred in 2011. Thousands of people who lived within 20 km of Fukushima have still not been able to return to their homes, and just weeks ago on February 20th, another 100 tonnes of highly radioactive water leaked from the plant into the Pacific ocean.
14 March, members of Pax Christi Coventry take part in vigil for Syria
About a hundred people gathered at sunset at Coventry Cathedral for a prayer vigil on Thursday 13 January. This included members of Pax Christik Coventry Justice and Peace and religious and clergy. The prayer vigil, led by the Bishops of Coventry and Warwick, was part of a global initiative which is drawing attention to the on-going humanitarian crisis in Syria. 15 March marks the third year of the crisis in Syria.
The Anglican Bishop of Coventry, Bishop Christopher who joined the vigil said: We can remain silent no more. The world can ill-afford another anniversary for Syria marked by bloodshed. This week the Church stands with others in shining a light in solidarity with the people of Syria and as a demonstration to our own government, and others, that they must intensify their efforts to end the bloodshed and to get aid to all those in need.”
11 March, Ash Wednesday gathering in Liverpool, report from Jan Harper
Liverpool Pax Christi,joined by members of Justice and Peace groups, CND, Liverpool Friends of Palestine, as well as local Clergy and religious on Ash Wednesday, to call for a change of heart from our continued involvement in the research and development of military drones. In the shadows of the University of Liverpool one of 5 universities involved in the Gamma Programme, to develop autonomous systems and costing 4.42 million pounds, we reflected on the effect of military drone strikes around the world and the cost , both physically and psychologically to those living under their constant presence.
Marking each other with ashes as a symbol of our sorrow, we resolved to turn away from military security to a way of security built on love , justice and truth. As a symbol of new life we took bulbs freshly planted to the gardens in front of the Harrison Hughes building where much of the research is carried out. After the service we remained to leaflet the public and the students passing by.
Executive Committee member Paul McGowan up-dates us on his work in Coventry on pension fund investments and weapons. (see Paul’s original article here)
The West Midlands Pension Fund campaign moves on. The IKV-Pax Christi Netherlands report on cluster bombs has provided new information on several of the companies receiving investments from WMPF. Newspaper reports and statements by financial institutions indicate that other firms are also continuing to manufacture the weapons which the UK government has outlawed and destroyed. Our campaign has drawn up a statement, which has been submitted to the Fund, and which we are asking groups and organisations within Coventry and the West Midlands to endorse. The statement expresses shock that the situation still exists, reminds firms of the UK position, and requires them – eight in all – to declare publicly that they have permanently ceased their involvement with these weapons, or that they will do so by December 31st this year. Failure to make such a declaration by June 30th will result in their investment being withdrawn. The investments are worth about £10 million currently. Since we began this course of action, four weeks ago, we have had support from twelve groups – religious, political and charitable – and we have several more in the pipeline. We intend to publish the full list in due course. We have been told by the Director of the Fund that the proposal will be discussed at the next meeting of the Investments Advisory sub-committee on March 12th.
Offer of workshop from Pax Christi member Tom Baxter who lives in Stratford upon Avon
A short talk / workshop entitled “Philosophy and War – The conflict of Ideas”.
Content in outline:-
- The psychology of entrapment – the cultural and political causes that move people into an aggressive state of mind : the them and us scenario.
- The gap between Pacifism and Just War criteria – how to evolve a holistic approach for both.
- A developmental ladder of spirituality based on Julian of Norwich and St.Thomas Aquinas.
Contact: Tom Baxter <email@example.com>
6 February report from Anne Dodd who attended this talk in Faringdon
First World War Peace Pope
Amid the current tidal wave of books, lectures and TV programmes on the First World War there has been little attention to those voices, denouncing the barbarism of the war, calling for a negotiated settlement. One of these international voices was Pope Benedict XV. On Feb 5th the biographer of this Peace Pope, John Pollard, spoke to Faringdon Peace Group about Benedict`s efforts to urge the warring parties to the negotiating table. Elected in Sept 1914, Pope until 1922, he spoke out passionately against the war from the beginning, calling it a “useless slaughter” and “an unnecessary massacre of young men.” Outraged by the gassing, the aerial bombardment of cities, the torpedoing of ships filled with civilians, he called the war “a suicide of civilised Europe”.
He failed in his efforts to persuade Italy and America not to join the war and was hampered throughout his Papacy by being isolated diplomatically but he nevertheless pursued his path relentlessly, culminating in his Peace Note of Aug 1917, addressed to all the warring parties, with 7 key proposals for a negotiated settlement. His efforts failed in this and the Papacy was unrepresented at the Versailles Treaty which ended the war. His legacy, however, is seen in his successors continued denouncement of war as a way to true peace – up to and including Pope Francis