This reflection was given by Matt, our Peace Education Worker, at the celebration of 35 years of the Christian Peace Education Fund on 2 November 2017.
I am particularly delighted that my reflection follows Jennie’s showcase of the Northampton Diocese Faith in Action Day – a day that I am immensely proud of my small part in making happen.
It was a great day for many reasons not least because the model – Diocesan Youth Team, School, and Youth J&P person coming together to organise a vibrant youth event rooted in Justice and Peace – is one that can be, and is, already being imitated, adapted, and used elsewhere.
But more than important I think is what the day was – a space where students from six schools (and their teachers) could step back from the day-to-day pressures and reflect upon what it means to live as a Christian – to study and work as part of a Catholic Faith Community.
Over the years I have been Pax Christi’s education worker – eight years now – we have increasingly identified our work in schools and with young people as work to foster a vocation to peacemaking… the Christian Vocation to Peacemaking. Space to critically reflect is fundamentally important to these efforts.
Anyone spending much time on Twitter is likely to encounter tweets from schools – I find them fascinating, an insight into what a school identifies as most worth celebrating of their work. But there is one style of tweet – and it is not a rare – that always bewilders me.
The tweet shows a group of young people, a couple of adults in sharp suits, and a couple of robots of some sort. The caption reads something along the lines of: Our students loved their STEM – that’s Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics – loved their STEM Day with BAE Systems.
Bewildering from any schools but from a Catholic School – and that is not at all unusual – I find it utterly flabbergasting. Especially given how strong our current Pope has been on the Arms Trade. You will remember his prayer intention for June this year:
It is an absurd contradiction to speak of peace, to negotiate peace, and at the same time, promote or permit the arms trade.
Is this war or that war really a war to solve problems or is it a commercial war for selling weapons in illegal trade and so that the merchants of death get rich?
Let us put an end to this situation. Let us pray all together that national leaders may firmly commit themselves to ending the arms trade which victimizes so many innocent people.
I don’t think I am being unreasonable if I suggest that statements like this might make Catholic Schools think carefully about who is invited into their schools.
Rather beautifully, the last time one of these tweets appeared on my timeline immediately below it was another tweet that provoked a different, rather more joyful, response.
This one – also a Catholic School – tweeted an image of a couple of their students standing with a couple of military personnel dressed in rather eccentric outfits. The caption this time read something along the lines of… Our sixth form are at an alternatives to university day… I think we’ll keep looking!
Wonderful! Unthinkable that they might join the army.
The tweets had me wondering what made these schools so different in how they interacted with war and the machinery of war? And I think the answer is space to reflect.
I do not believe that the school who invites BAE Systems in is doing so out of a positive and enthusiastic choice to embrace the Arms Trade and all it stands for. I am sure that it is simply a teacher biting the hands off someone willing to provide amazingly good Science workshops well beyond the capacity of the school and, crucially, do it for free.
I would be amazed if they had even heard the Pope’s words about the Arms Trade as I reluctantly concede that not everyone has alerts on their phone whenever the Pope mentions war, peace, arms trade, nuclear weapons, or whatever.
What I think is a crucial difference is whether or not there is not space for our Catholic schoolteachers to reflect on what it means to be a Catholic School, what it means to be a Catholic Teacher, what it means to be involved in the formation of young Christians.
It is creating this space to reflect on what it means to be a Christian, on the call to follow the nonviolent Christ, that is central to the peace education work of Pax Christi.
You can see it in our work with young people – the talks, workshops, seminars, and retreats where young people have the opportunity to critically reflect on the work of Christian peacemaking.
It is seen in our resources produced to support RE curriculum – producing high quality resources for those points in the curriculum where our expertise is particularly valuable.
And it is in our assemblies, liturgies and our prayers – making space for peace in the everyday of school life.
And increasingly, it is in our work with teachers – the biggest growth area of our work is our Catholic Spirituality INSET that we offer in collaboration with the Columbans and the Salesians and the support of many others. I think we were all a bit surprised by how popular it has been – and I am struggling to get used to taking bookings nearly twelve months in advance – but perhaps this speaks of a need, a desire, to create that space for teachers to think theologically about their vocation.
We ought to be and are immeasurably grateful to the Christian Peace Education Fund – and to its supporters and funders – for all of their efforts in supporting, resourcing, encouraging, and supporting this peace education work. It has been a richly productive and valuable relationship and one I hope will continue for the next 35 years and beyond.
Find out more about the Christian Peace Education fund at cpef.org.uk