29 June 2014, Peace Walk through London
Undeterred by the odd shower, more than sixty people gathered in Tavistock Square on the morning of 28 June as they began their Peace Walk through London to commemorate peacemaking between 1914 -2014.
Why 28 June? The day marks the 100 anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo and also Armed Forces day in the UK. The walk was a counter-witness to the culture of war and militarism – if we want peace we have to work for peace and be encouraged and inspired by those peacemakers who have led the way over the past hundred years.
The walk began with a visit to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi and the memorial to Conscientious Objectors in Tavistock Square. As the group made its way to sites that commemorated Bertrand Russell, Anne Frank, Rev Dick Sheppard, Edith Cavell and the 20th century martyrs, including Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King at Westminster Abbey others stopped to ask what was happening and some even joined.
Pax Christi member Martin Birdseye reflected: The evidence of human courage, perseverance and often heroic progress towards a more peaceful world is all right there, in our city…. 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?
The walk ended at the TibetanPeaceGarden in Lambeth where Archbishop Kevin McDonald
joined and offered the peace prayer which Pope Francis had used at recent meetings in Israel Palestine. The group prayed together for the inspiration and energy to be peacemakers before making their way home with a gift of white poppy seeds which they were encouraged to plant, as a symbol of peace, in their own home or church garden.
The day was organised by the J&P commissions of Brentwood, Southwark and Westminster and Pax Christi, the international Catholic movement for peace. The walk is based on Peace Trails thorugh London by Valerie Flessati, available from Pax Christi
Read report from Pax Christi member, Martin Birdseye
23 June. Arms dealers on church property
Church House Conference Centre Westminster is due to host two RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) Conferences sponsored by the world’s largest arms companies. The Land Warfare Conference is to be held between 24-25 June and the Chief of Air Staffs Air Power Conference between 9 – 10 July. The companies sponsoring the Conferences include BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Lockhead Martin, Raytheon and Saab. The publicity for the Land Warfare Conference states: This year’s conference, on the anniversary of the First World War, will reflect on what history can teach us about the British way of war, considering what insights this offers us about the present and in shaping the future for land forces. Publicity for the Air Power Conference states: The conference will look to improve understanding of the utility of air power in our changing world… It will then explore the use of air power as an extension of political will.”
Organisations including the Network for Christian Peace Organisations, Fellowship of Reconciliation and Pax Christi have written to Church House Conference Centre expressing their dismay that a church venue should host and profit from a gathering sponsored by the arms trade and urging them to cancel the Conferences.
Silent vigils are being arranged outside the venue for the mornings of 24 June and 9 July as a Christian witness against the hosting of these Conferences on church property. Similar actions took place in October 2012, supported by FoR, Pax Christi, the Quakers, Christian CND, Christianity Uncut and CAAT Christian Network, when a similar conference was held.
Spokesperson Symon Hill said: “Two years ago, thousands of people, including many Anglicans, voiced their dismay at the willingness of Church House to host an arms dealers’ conference. I met with a senior member of Church House staff and shared my concerns. Now, it’s happening again. The Christian Church cannot be neutral in the face of sins such as militarism and the arms trade. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, resisted injustice with active nonviolence. Let’s seek to give our loyalty to the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Love, not the idols of money and militarism.”
12 June: Pax Christi gatherings in Sarajevo
Members of the Pax Christi from around the world gathered in the city of Sarajevo for annual business meetings and to take part in an International Peace Festival between 6 – 9 June. Anne Dodd, Chair, Emma Atherton, Executive Committee member and Pat Gaffney, General Secretary represented the British Section. Ann Farr also took part as a member of the International Board of Pax Christi.
Sarajevo was chosen for the peace festival because of its historical role as the place of one of the triggers for the First World War. On 28 June 1914 Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. To most of us it is remembered as a place of war and genocide in the early 1990s. The organisers of the festival stated: People all over the world want to live in peace but the last century has seen wars and violence at all levels and most parts of the world, including the former Yugoslavia. We believe and want to show that the power of active nonviolence is the only sustainable way to transform a world.
Pax Christi contributed to a number of workshops within the Festival. Bishop Kevin Dowling co-president of the movement led a session on Transformative Justice: responding to past violence, transforming the present, drawing on his experiences in South Africa. Anne Dodd, Chair of Pax Christi UK took part in a panel discussion on The Role of Faith-Based Organisations on Military Spending and Disarmament.
Arriving in Sarajevo one is immediately reminded of the war. Many buildings still carry the scars of war and looking up from the city centre are the now beautiful hills and residential areas from which bombings of the city took place. Monuments to the dead can be found all around and there is a most moving exhibition on the genocide that took place in Srebrenica which led to the deaths of 8,372 people, the majority of whom were Muslims. One is reminded of the words of John Paul II when he visited Hiroshima ‘to remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace’. Surely these words are true when we are reminded of any of the killing fields of war.
The 2014 Pax Christi International Peace Award was given to the Jesuit Refugee Service Syria. ceremony was centred around performances by the PONTANIMA, an interreligious, intercultural choir who performed for us a ‘symphony of religions and cultures’.
Jesuit Refugee Service began working in the Middle East and North Africa in 2008 in response to the large number of displaced people as a result of conflict in the region. In 2011 JRS Syria began to focus on providing support for those in their own country who were suffering at the hands of the emerging violence in Syria. They now provide support to over 300,000 people in Syria. They work to accompany, serve and defend the rights of the poor in Syria by providing food, hygiene essentials, basic healthcare, shelter management and rent support. They work to provide educational and psychosocial support to almost 10,000 women and children.
JRS Syria is recognised for its interfaith work. They provide support to everyone and anyone, be they Muslim, Christian, rebel or pro-Assad. Their team is made up of people of different nationalities, culture and religions also. JRS Syria is striving to promote the rejection of the logic of war, of the perversion of religions to turn people against one another and the spread of fear of the ‘other’. Their message is that we all should open our doors to one another, foster respect and loves in our communities, and realise that we can live together, we do not need to be afraid of one another. Fr Mourad and Fr Ziad from Syria received the award with Fr Ken from JRS Rome.
Bishop Kevin Dowling gave a rousing speech at the final ceremony – reminding the gathering of the powerful witness of Nelson Mandela and his long road to justice. He said: For us peace activists, maybe we feel it is too difficult, too exhausting. Political, economic and military elites seem so powerful and organised. Perhaps we feel our resources are limited . We must say NO to this, nothing should destroy our hopes and the dreams in our hearts. We all have a higher power within us which empowers us as individuals and as communities to say YES we can!
Pax Christi also took part in a peace market in the city, offering resoruces to others taking part in the Festival and to those living in the city. Our rainbow Peace Badges were a great hit.
Pat Gaffney and Emma Atherton