I was feeling a certain amount of trepidation as I made my way to protest against one of the largest arms fairs in the world, last Tuesday morning. I had planned to catch a train down to London’s Excel Centre where a number of people would be gathered in peaceful protest and where I would help lead a time of prayer as part of the Pax Christi team.
After a short time of milling around and some opening prayers we began to spot a large number of trucks and heavy vehicles, all of which were approaching the Excel Centre with what we could only assume where the means and tools of war. The gathering songs and socialising quite quickly ceased and many of the crowd began to step out into the road and form a barrier across the road to the Excel Centre.
The courage and the commitment of so many people who stood, sat and lay down in the road that day was so powerful and the simple message of Peace and how futile war really is seemed to be far reaching to all who passed by.
Pax Christi led a time of prayer from 11am. With prayers, readings and hymns we reflected on the Gospel message of Peace and I felt invigorated by a deep unity among all of us gathered together for that time. We concluded our prayer time with a statement from Pope Francis and the recitation of the ancient Angelus Prayer.
Only moments after we had concluded the Angelus people began to point behind me and as I looked I saw a silent and solemn funeral procession on the horizon. Fr Martin Newell led the procession and a child’s coffin painted in dazzling white and draped in flowers was carried by young resisters to the roadside. What followed was a beautiful liturgy of heart felt prayer, readings and reflections offered up for the victims of war.
As the service of remembrance drew to a close I was struck by the sudden movements of a young woman from the Catholic Worker who hoisted the coffin up from the ground, walked into the middle of the road, and having gently placed it down in front of her proceeded to throw red paint (which clearly symbolised the blood shed through war) onto the road around the coffin. She gently knelt down and in what seemed like genuine serenity began to sing and pray for peace. We soon joined her.
I think we were all touched by the beautiful symbols in front of us and it wasn’t long before the ultimate symbol of war appeared in the distance. A huge tank which appeared to be loaded with weapons began to make its way along the road. In a moment I saw dozens of people rush towards it and holding up a banner they began to drive the vehicle away. By simply standing up to the tank and walking towards it, the tank started to reverse and soon enough had disappeared behind the horizon to a tremendous cheer and collective shout of joy.
I was so deeply moved at the humility and the frailty of so many men and women who gathered that morning in Faith outside the giant and looming presence of the Excel. The commitment and deep Faith of my brothers and sisters left a huge impact on me. A day of drama and witness that I won’t forget for a long time.
For a time that morning I felt like the constant noise and agony of war seemed to fall silent and instead a gentle yet piercing cry from the heart; Let there be peace among us.. More photographs here