Youth Workers against the Arms Trade

In September the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi) Arms Fair comes back to London. In this article, written at the time of the last arms fair in September 2015, Matt – our education worker – reflects on the interconnectedness between his two decades as Catholic youth worker, his background working with the Salesians of Don Bosco, and his work in peace education and activism.

In September 2015 the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi) Arms Fair came to London. Again. In this article Matt Jeziorski reflects on being part of the No Faith in War day of action which formed part of the wider campaign to stop the arms fair, and quite how he ended up there.

The last amen of the Angelus has just risen heavenward as the funeral procession came around the corner. A priest in habit and stole, the processional cross, an acolyte, and then the child’s pure-white coffin carried by two heartbroken young women. The mourners follow, sadly, prayerfully.

No Faith in War 2015I am an accidental peacemaker. When I left the monastery I landed in Durham lost, hurting, and confused. I coasted through my studies, concentrating more on trying to make sense of it all and to work out what next?

Next, as it turned out, was – and remains – Pax Christi, the Catholic movement for peace. Not for any deep or noble reason – when asked in my interview why I had applied for the job I quipped that they ought to ask my bank manager before going on to give a more considered reply.

This is no ordinary funeral service. We are on the roadside in London’s Docklands. Nearby looms the ExCel centre, the week following it will be hosting the world’s largest arms fair. This solemn liturgy is a memorial for the child victims of that iniquitous trade.

I nodded a silent greeting to the acolyte as the procession passed the spot where I stood on the roadside, Katrina Alton CSJP; we were youth workers together once.

There was a time where Katrina and I would chat deeply in her Savio House office. We were both on the retreat team, both youth workers endeavouring to work in the spirit of St John Bosco. The topics discussed were broad and varied and the conversations were, to me, valuable – formative even.

These days we seem to only ever see each other at peace protests and vigils. I don’t ever recall talking peace back then, nor was it a significant aspect of the work. It is certain that my awareness was lesser in those days, my sensitivity to injustice duller – I still wonder how, later, I lived two years in Farnborough and never even realised that the local air show was an arms fair packaged as family fun.

Yet there is a thread running through all of this, from that naïve young youth worker with all the answers to the peace educator and activist who doesn’t.

Time came for committal. The coffin is placed in the middle of the road, red paint – representing the innocent blood – spilled all around. Mourners kneel in the road, weeping as they sing psalms and lamentations. Behind the congregation stand a line of trucks in reluctant and poignant vigil; their loads are the very instruments of war and death.

It would be ludicrous today to claim that I have any part in the work of Don Bosco yet the saint’s influence is there in the very fabric of my work for peace, for that, like his, is about forming good Christians and honest citizens.

Neither good Christian nor honest citizen in a sense of blind obedience or unthinking piety; but good Christians in the willingness to stand for the teachings of the nonviolent Christ in a world addicted to war, death, and violence; honest citizens in the determination to speak truth, to stand against injustice, and in the refusal to accept that things cannot be better.

stop arms fairJoin us on Tuesday 5 September for No Faith in War – a day of prayer and action against the Arms Fair.

Join us on Monday 11 September at the Silent Vigil to Stop the Arms Fair


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