Pax Christi Peace Pilgrimage witnessing against Arms Fair
This week the DSEI Arms Fair took place at the ExCeL Centre in East London. arms manufacturers, governments and military met against the displays of the most lethal weapons available in the world. There were games, like ‘guess how many bullets in the jar’ and give-aways included rubber stress balls in the shape of hand grenades!
On Tuesday, the opening day, peace activists gathered in many different parts of the site and its access points. Silent groups blocked station entrances to the centre and first thing in the morning, Quakers held a Meeting for Worship near the main entrance.
Pax Christi members gathered at St Anne’s RC Church in Berwick Street and were joined by Fr Dan Kelly, the Parish Priest, Sisters of St Joseph of Peace, Columbans and Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Just as we started our first Prayer Circle in front of the church, the heavens opened and we were drenched even before we set off but it did not deter us from making our pilgrimage for peace.
Gathered outside we began by recalling why we were there: “We are gathered here, near the exhibition centre to protest against the deadly Arms Trade. To protest against the lethal weapons on display and being sold inside:
– weapons that cause people to live in fear;
– weapons that destroy homes, water and energy supplies, clinics, hospitals and schools;
– weapons that destroy the environment and leave people without a livelihood;
– weapons that cause conflicts and wars and leave families with no option but to flee their homes;
– weapons that kill and maim.”
Pax Christi has signed the statement from the Catholic Bishops:
“As the UK again prepares to host one of the world’s largest arms fairs, we recall the message of Pope Francis: ” Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering in individuals and society?
Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.
In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”
Full statement: www.cbcew.org.uk/catholic-bishops-and-organisations-call-for-an-end-to-the-arms-trade/
Everyone was invited to say why they were there and Fr Dan sent us on our way after reading the Prayer of St Francis.
We moved into the local park where we stopped twice in Prayer Circles. In the first, we reflected on Jesus being condemned to death and on the Arms Trade that condemns to death all those killed by the weapons made and sold for profit. We remembered all who have suffered in wars and listened to Pope Francis’ statement:
‘Spending on Nuclear Weapons squanders the wealth of the nations. Resources would be better invested in education, health and the fight against extreme poverty.’
Moving into the road, our third Prayer Circle was near Prince Regent Station, where a group were inside blocking the entrance to the ExCeL Centre. Outside, at our Prayer Station, we remembered Jesus meeting his mother and that weapons sold at this Arms Fair will be used to kill mothers and sons, fathers and daughters. The agony of losing family members to violent deaths will be repeated again and again around the world.
Our walk along the main road took us along the side of the exhibition centre to the next entrance at Custom House Station. Here, we reflected on Jesus’ Death on the Cross, and we stood as witnesses to the violence and death that the Arms Trade sells.
Walking past homes with tiny front gardens, we saw the great care given to them as they were bursting with all kinds of greenery, beautiful roses and towering sunflowers. All very significant as, at our next stop at the Royal Victoria entrance, we thought of Jesus’ Resurrection, the hope of new life and of our vision of a world of beauty, peace built on justice, care for creation and respect for the human dignity of all.
Our last Prayer Circle was by the side of the Thames, a short walk from the main entrance of the ExCeL Centre where we had met in our powerful silent vigil the night before. Here, the Columbans told us of the Blessing they had been given from Myanmar as they set off early that morning. We listened again to the Bishops’ statement against the Arms Trade, and Fr Joe Ryan said a blessing for us to continue, as witnesses, in our duty of confronting and stopping the arms trade.
We walked, behind our Pax Christi banner, to the ExCeL Centre and found large banners held across the entrance: ‘Stop Arming Israel’ and ‘War Starts here’ which would be seen by visitors and exhibitors to the Arms Fair as they came past. We joined the circle of activists maintaining a continuous blockade of the road and found friends and others we know from peace groups around the country. Many had travelled long distances and some were camping nearby and had been supporting the previous week’s road blockades as the arms were being brought in.
Having been rained on the whole way and being wet through, we were then grateful for shelter, warm food and drinks in a local cafe.
Before we finished our day, some joined the Quaker Meeting for Worship outside in the circle and others of us were asked to support a blockade of the road near the station.
Despite all the difficulties of travel and access it was clear that there is a huge public will to stop the manufacture and sale of weapons of death and destruction. People were prepared to make long journeys, stand for hours, walk in the rain and be present.
Behind all those who were there, were hundreds of others in families, parishes and religious communities around the country who were in solidarity with us. We are grateful to them for their messages, their prayers, for being with us in spirit. Together, we continue in our commitment to stop the arms trade.
Pax Christi Exec Member, Henrietta Cullinan, writes about her peace delegation visits to Kabul, being in London in solidarity with the Afghan diaspora and the deadly arms Fair taking place this week.
‘We need your prayers’
With Afghanistan Peace Projects, formerly Voices for Creative Nonviolenc UK, I joined peace delegations to visit Kabul twice. Whilst there I stayed with the Afghan Peace Volunteers who ran a school for street children, lessons on nonviolence, and many grassroots peace and environmental projects. In recent months APP has been supporting Bamiyan Youth Solidarity Team that runs education and permaculture projects. [https://afghanistanpeaceproject.co.uk]
Last week I went to the Afghanistan Solidarity Day outside the East Gate of the Excel Centre, where a week of protests against DSEI arms fair has been taking place.
I sat in the shade, on the grass, and listened as members the London Afghan diaspora spoke of their horror and sadness at the violence that Afghanistan has endured for four decades. In the first six months of 2021, there were 1600 deaths, the highest since UN records began.
They told us of their feelings following the US withdrawal and the Taliban takeover: shame, betrayal, guilt. We all of us had been receiving messages from friends in Kabul, friends desperately fleeing, in hiding, or stuck in refugee camps. For us here in the UK there are feelings of shame, guilt and anxiety for friends still stranded. Feelings are important. We shouldn’t shy away from these feelings. They tell us the truth about our complicity in Afghanistan fast becoming a failed state.
During the quiet that followed, the police swiftly lined the road and a huge shiny painted rocket launcher trundled by on the back of a flat bed truck. I felt sickened at the thought of the arms fair about to arrive in Newham. Sadiq Khan has asked the organisers to cancel it. [https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/london-arms-fair-dsei-sadiq-khan-b1909875.html] This week the Congregation of Catholic Bishops condemned it. [https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/42988 ]
In Afghanistan now there is now threat of hunger and famine, following three years of severe drought, COVID, and natural disasters. Even before the withdrawal of US troops, about a third of the population faced acute hunger. Now the UN predicts that 97% of the population are at risk of sinking below the poverty line. Many life giving projects that brought healthcare, education, child care, care for people with disabilities, came with western aid. We learn that donors are urgently trying to work out how to send aid to Afghanistan when the Taliban is proscribed terrorist organization.
Military hardware left by the US army, 43 Black Hawk helicopters, tanks, planes. Thousands of rounds of ammunition and small arms for the Afghan police. The Taliban 2.0, as they are now called, are also good customers of the arms trade. but will not be able to feed a whole country, however much it says it will. The Taliban government, all male, mostly interested in fighting, has no experience of running a welfare state. Their emphasis is bellicose. They love fighting so much they have even had to recruit a new enemy, ISIS-K. They are addicted to guns. Every recent picture of the Taliban shows military men holding weapons.
But they’re not the only ones. The US is looking to see which war to fight next, with continued hypermilitarisation of the Pacific. For the UK, the arms trade is its last attempt at imperial might, trading weapons for good relations with countries it depends on like Saudi Arabia. The DSEI arms fair is a festival of UK militarization.
Just as Eisenhower warned exactly sixty years ago, the ‘military industrial complex’ has made uncontrollable amounts of money out of the 40 years of war in Afghanistan. As Julian Assange more recently predicted, the war in Afghanistan was intended and succeeded in taking money away from the tax bases of Europe and US, where governments are accountable, and into the hands of private contractors, and arms companies, all shadowy global corporations.
Arms can never bring peace, they can never bring life. You can’t eat a bullet, you can’t turn it into compost. A bullet has only one purpose, and that is destruction and bloodshed. Arms have a ‘negative production value’ as one letter writer to the Observer put it. Will UK arms companies put their skills and expertise to life giving activities. Following the COVID pandemic, there is certainly the hope that arms companies can turn their hands to producing life saving equipment and renewable energy.
And yet still DSEI arrives every other year as a kind of carnival of death, a horrible charade that sends even itself up. It promotes itself with euphemisms for different ways of killing people. An abomination in the face of people fleeing the violence in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Palestine, Eritrea. The wares brought to market are a kind of golden calf. Their guns have muzzles and triggers but no live ammunition. The DSEI arms fair is a parody of itself with guess the number of bullets in the jar and a wedding cake made of large caliber ammunition. to solve the world’s problems arms are as useless as smarties in a jar, and you can’t even eat them.
Numerous grassroots projects of the kind that I was able to visit, and the kind that Afghanistan Peace Project was supporting, solar pots in Bamiyan, peace education workshops, tree planting to prevent soil erosion have been swept away. On Channel 4 news last week, Benafsha Yaqoobi, disability activist who ran a school for the blind, now in London, said, ‘there is no hope.’ [https://www.channel4.com/news/afghanistan-the-blind-couple-who-escaped-the-taliban]
Betrayal, shame, guilt: these are hard emotions that dare us to bring about change, end our country’s addiction to weapons for good, abolish the projection of mindless wars and work together for life.
Liverpool – written by Jan Harper, Liverpool Pax Christi
In October this year, Liverpool plans to host many international arms companies who will be showcasing their electronic killing capacity. Despite the cities protest the event looks likely to go ahead.
Last Saturday, a broad coalition of groups, under the umbrella of Liverpool Against the Arms Fair, organised a march and rally through the city.
At least 1500 people joined in including trade union and political groups, church and peace groups, human rights and environmentalists. An Anglican clergyman said he had felt compelled to attend after watching the recent events unfold in Afghanistan.
There were speeches from politicians and veteran anti war campaigners as well as Maxine Peake, a local actress and extremely moving speeches from young people of Yemeni, Palestinian and Syrian heritage .
A samba band accompanied the march and there were some very creative puppets too. We were joined by a Nigerian contingent and Nigerian playwright Tayo Aluko, well known for his moving portrayal of Paul Robeson, added to the atmosphere with his singing . It was a very positive day and there was a real festival atmosphere . There will be continued lobbying and protest in the run up and during the event itself. We can only hope that at the eleventh hour the event will be cancelled and there will be a realisation that such an event does not belong in our city.
We are delighted that Bruce Kent and Dr Valerie Flessati, Vice Presidents of Pax Christi England and Wales, have been awarded The Lambeth Cross for Ecumenism. “For exceptional, tireless and lifelong dedication to the Christian ecumenical search for peace, both individually and together.” Congratulations to them both for this well deserved recognition.
Active non – violence course in Leeds February/March 2021
Active non – violence course In Leeds February/March 2021
Some of us from the Leeds Pax Christi group joined in the Active non- violence course that Pax Christi offered last year and thought it would be a great offer to people in the Leeds Diocese, we partnered with Leeds Justice and Peace group and offered a stand-alone introductory session led by Pat Gaffney about the Catholic Non- violence Initiative, people were then invited to the five evening sessions.
An average of 22 people joined the sessions and one of the unexpected blessings of lockdown is that there were people from much wider than just the Leeds Diocese, including Salford, Nottingham, Liverpool and even the USA and Lanzarote.
Despite the limitations of zoom, there was a real sense of community and of reflective people struggling with how to live a life of non- violence.
For some people it was a moment to reflect that some of the everyday activities they are involved in, for example building interfaith relationships are active non- violence. Someone else in the group is involved in the Caritas Criminal Justice project in the diocese and very clearly saw the links between active non- violence and Restorative Justice. We were fortunate to have people in the group who had experience of a whole range of active non- violence including Greenham Common activists and those more recently protesting against the DSEI arms sales event in 2019.
People also fed back that it was great to have an open discussion about active non- violence and to deepen our understanding. One person said it was a thought-provoking introduction to active non- violent peace-making that addressed personal and institutional ways forward.
In the latest book of Pope Francis’s reflections he invites us to contemplate, discern and be purposeful or see judge and act as we might be more familiar with. At the end of the course we invited people to make their own commitment in private to active non- violence and we will meet again in May to share our reflections.
The Pax Christi group are now reflecting on how to follow the course up. One suggestion is to look at the evidence for active non- violence and to do some theological reflection.
Carol Burns, March 2021
I always find our silent vigils, on the steps of Coventry Cathedral Ruins, very powerful. Powerful enough at times to move people to tears. There may be two or twenty-two gathered, but the silence is powerful whatever the number.
We have stood there on so many occasions, to remember Soweto, to call for the release of political prisoners, in times of imminent invasion of a country, in times of war, to protest the possession of nuclear weapons and Coventry Council’s investment in cluster bombs and on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days. We have joined in world peace vigils, holding our candles so that the lights shine out to unite with those of others.
We are lucky to have the Cathedrals, old and new, in the middle of the city, both incredibly symbolic. The old and the new, death and resurrection, the phoenix rising from the ashes. The huge expanse of the glass West Window gives us a view of the Tapestry behind the altar and reflections of the ruins behind us and of the passers-by.
The canopy between the two Cathedrals sheltering us from the rain is an advantage – but it is a terrible wind tunnel!
It is interesting to watch the different reactions of people as they pass in front of us, from the Bus Station or University to the Shopping Precinct, or as they climb the steps on either side of us.
Some are totally unaware of us, chatting to each other, talking on their phones or walking in a very determined way with their task in mind.
Judging by the carrier bags we saw, on their way back, many were going to shop in Primark just up in the Precinct. Others are on their lunch break or maybe visiting for a short time. Others are aware but pretend not to notice us. Some come right up close to read the placards that we have stuck to the steps beneath us. We get smiles and thumbs up too and occasionally someone will join us for a while. A few even hesitate to walk in front of us and silently gesture asking for permission to carry on walking. A time of silence, of reflection, and of being with others both those on the steps and passers-by, as we hope for better times.
Campaigning for Peace in Lockdown – Anne Dodd
There is both more freedom and more restriction. This irony was brought home particularly in the marking of the coming into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons last month/ in January. We ( Abingdon Peace Group – I am a member of this as well as a member of Pax Christi ) had to scale down our plans to offer a glass of celebratory bubbly to people in the Market Place in the centre of town. We had hoped to set up a stall with banners and large imitation bottles of champagne – alas no longer possible as restrictions on gatherings got tighter and tighter. However 9 or 10 of us did stand socially distanced in the central Market Place on the Saturday morning (23rd January) with banners and placards – all clearly visible from a distance. The images were shared as widely as we could on social media. Bells were rung and banners displayed outside individual members` houses and photos of these actions photographed and shared.
But there is also freedom within the restrictions. Above all, the freedom of Zoom. Abingdon Peace Group held its monthly (February) meeting on Zoom to share what could be done individually or as a group, to move the British Government’s position (or lack of) on the TPNW. Thanks to Zoom, Bruce Kent was able to join and inspire us, the journalist John Gittings, representatives of our sister Peace group in Abingdon, Virginia, USA and activists from other CND groups. New links were formed and ideas shared, all only possible through this recent gift of Zoom. We could encourage each other, individually, to write to our own Banks etc. to challenge their policies in the light of the now – illegality of nuclear weapons. We could individually write to our Anglican and Catholic faith leaders thanking them for their strongly – worded support of the TPNW and to thank our MP if he/she had signed the EDM 1072 or to urge them to do so etc.
All these are actions that in the restrictions of lockdown we might have more time to do. Restrictions and freedom –both are opportunities for campaigning to be seized!