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Remembering Bruce Kent

Bruce Kent and Pax Christi England and Wales

Pat Gaffney writes …

There are so many aspects of Bruce’s work with Pax Christi,  here we offer a glimpse of some of those contributions from the late 1960s to the present.  While most well-known over almost 60 years for his campaigning on nuclear weapons, Bruce had a very rounded and grounded approach to peace work.

Pax Christi England and Wales would not be the organisation it is today without the creative energy enthusiasm and support of Bruce Kent, most especially in the early days of the movement when, as University Chaplain, he was well placed to direct enthusiastic university students towards Pax Christi International and its routes. In the 1960s such experiential activities, routes and summer hostels providing hospitality for young people, with a strong international focus, were key to creating a core of young people, a large number who are still active in the movement today, who would take things forward when Pax Christi merged with PAX in 1971.   From its introduction in 1968 Bruce encouraged the Church to promote the annual Day of Prayer for Peace (World Peace Day). The advocacy and campaigning concerns of the day were conscientious objection in Catholic countries such as Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.  Bruce had a direct encounter with war in 1969, visiting Nigeria and Biafra during the civil war, which spurred campaigns to stop British arms sales and eventually the establishment of the Campaign Against Arms Trade. 

1970s

In 1971 Bruce became a member of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace and served on the Pax Christi International Executive Committee for 10 years.  During this period he contributed to several PCI Congresses.  Between 1974 – 77 he was Chaplain for Pax Christi,  taking a ‘hands-on’ approach in the office, starting the first newsletter and helping to find new premises, first in Caledonian Road (Houseman’s)  then Blackfriars Hall, at St Dominic’s Church in London. He used Church resources well, providing space for Pax Christi meetings and events at the   Gower Street Chaplaincy and then at St Aloysius Parish where he served as a priest.  

Bruce (r) at Pax Christi International Council, 1977

Already active in CND, Bruce undertook an exorcism at the Faslane nuclear submarine base in 1975.  Many more visits, speeches and actions  at Faslane followed, more recently in the company of Archbishops and Church of Scotland Moderators. 1975 was also the year of the first Pax Christi pilgrimage to St Radegund, the birthplace of Franz Jägerstätter.  Bruce promoted the witness of Franz through talks, workshops, articles and pamphlets, no doubt contributing to the beatification in Austria in 2007 which Bruce attended with Pax Christi.

1980s – 1990s

During the first decade of this period Bruce was General Secretary of CND, a movement that grew from 2,000 to 100,000 national members, nourished by Bruce and his organisational skills, his personality and his clear focus.    Pax Christi groups and members around the country invited Bruce to speak at meetings and took part in national CND demonstrations and campaigns.  Debates on the legality and morality of nuclear weapons were carried in the Catholic press, through articles and letters and engagement.  Leonard Cheshire and Michael Quinlan were a part of this.

With Pax Christi, Bruce returned to the plight of conscientious objectors, making representation through letters and protests,  on behalf of CO’s in Poland and Canada (COs from the Iraq war.) 

With the support of Pax Christi and CIIR, he opened public debate on the need to renew the United Nations with a national conference ‘In a time beyond warnings – strengthening the United Nations.’  Bruce had a gift for being ahead of the game in networking and encouraging organisations, peace, development, human rights and latterly climate to cooperate and draw together the threads that link them. Well before the launch of the Movement for the Abolition of War in 1999, another Bruce initiative, he was offering workshops at Pax Christi events, the Pacem in Terris conference in 2003 and the PCI Council in London in 1997, on the need to abolish war and what that would mean for the peace movement.  

2000s

As an acknowledgement of all Bruce had achieved he was one of the first people to receive the Pax Christi Peace Award in 2001.  He would never miss a Pax Christi AGM and took his role as a Vice-President extremely seriously – engaging critically with the movement and speaking in the name of Pax Christi in the public arena. Developing MAW and challenging the language of the ‘war on terror’ and its impact on UK society, building relationships with Muslim communities and leadership were another focus for the first decade. 

Government plans to renew the Trident nuclear weapon programme from between 2013 – 2015  saw Bruce take to the road again on his Scrap Trident Tour.   Pax Christi groups around the country hosted meetings as Bruce encouraged them to engage with both the Church and state to prevent this renewal project.  

Bruce with Valerie Flessati and Mary Rylance, CO Event, Tavistock Square, 2017

Bruce would faithfully support Pax Christi vigils and protests, including the bi-annual DSEi gathering against the arms trade, the annual Conscientious Objector Day gathering in London (including 2022) and the 2014 he took part in Pax Christi Pilgrimage to Flanders, to visit the WWI sites.  Most recently, he raised money for the Pax Christi Pilgrimage4Peace project in 2021, visiting and presenting letters to a number of embassies in central London. In March 2022 Bruce wrote to President Putin urging him to halt attacks on Ukraine and withdraw Russian troops.   

Much more about Bruce, his life and peace work, as well as the many tributes that have been made since his death, can be found here:  http://bruce-kent.com/

Bruce Kent: A Priest for all Seasons

An appreciation of Bruce by Ian Linden, former Director of the Catholic Institute for International Relations was circulated in Independent Catholic News (20/6/22)

Pax Christi responds to the news of the death of Bruce Kent

We are all deeply saddened by the news that Bruce Kent died on Wednesday night after a short illness. He has been a constant presence for all of us for so many years. Courageously outspoken, deeply concerned about the injustices suffered by others and working tirelessly for an end to nuclear weapons and militarism to achieve peace. His visits to schools, conferences, demonstrations, embassies  and all manner of events, his letter writing and persistent campaigning, has made a deep impression on so many people and he continued to do this right up to the end. He has made a difference that is impossible to measure. We were expecting to see him at our AGM next week. We shall miss his presence, his questioning interest, his knowledge of peace history, his wealth of experience and of course his humour that never failed to lighten a gathering.We send our love, condolences and assurance of our prayers to Valerie and to all his family and friends.If you have memories and photos that you would like to share with us all, please send them to the Office.The family have shared the following announcement and fuller obituaries will follow.  

Bruce Kent, peace campaigner, has died 

It is with great sadness, but deep gratitude for his life and gifts, that Bruce Kent’s family announce his death, on 8 June after a short illness.  He would have been 93 on 22 June.

Photo credit: Lawrence Archer

At the time of his death Bruce was a Vice-President of CND, a Vice-President of Pax Christi, and Emeritus President of the Movement for the Abolition of War. 

After national service in the Royal Tank Regiment and a law degree at Brasenose College, Oxford, Bruce Kent was ordained a Catholic priest for the Diocese of Westminster.  Between 1958 and 1987 he served in several London parishes, as secretary to Cardinal Heenan, and as the RC Chaplain to the University of London. 

It was his Christian faith that brought him to reject nuclear weapons as fundamentally immoral because, even without their use, nuclear deterrence itself depends on a willingness to commit mass murder.  As a leading spokesperson for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s, Kent became well known as a formidable opponent of Margaret Thatcher’s defence policy at a time when public opposition to the acquisition of Trident, and Cruise missiles, was escalating. 

With his warmth and wit, Bruce Kent was a popular speaker with audiences of all ages from primary schools to pensioners’ groups.  His commitment to innumerable peace and human rights campaigns over many decades included the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, for the reform of the United Nations, and the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (which came into force in 2021).  He was always actively concerned about the welfare of prisoners, especially those maintaining their innocence, and prison reform. 

Among his heroes was Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian farmer who was executed in 1943 for refusing to fight in Hitler’s army.  As recently as 15 May, Bruce Kent took part in the annual ceremony in Tavistock Square, London, to honour conscientious objectors throughout the world. 

He was an Honorary Fellow of Brasenose College, and in the past year was awarded the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Cross for Ecumenism.

Bruce Kent is survived by his wife, Valerie Flessati, his sister Rosemary Meakins, sister-in-law Ruth Kent, and their extensive families. 

More biography here:  http://bruce-kent.com/biography.htm

Immediate tributes: 

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC: I have known Bruce Kent since my student days in the early seventies when he was Catholic Chaplain to London University. He was a huge influence on my life and his commitment to peace and human rights was inspirational. He wanted a more compassionate and inclusive Church and a more decent and just society. He lived out his faith in everything he did – for the marginalised and the poor – and he gave his all with such a great sense of fun. He was one of the finest human beings I have ever met. 

Malcolm McMahon op, Archbishop of Liverpool, and President of Pax Christi England & Wales: Peacemakers across the world will saddened to hear of the death of Bruce Kent who made a lasting contribution to the peace movement within the Christian churches and much farther afield. Bruce became well known and influential in his national role in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and with Pax Christi, the international Catholic Peace Movement. His clarity of thought and deep Christian faith brought light and direction to many people wrestling with the complex arguments around war and peace.  Personally, I’ll miss him for being a wonderfully warm human being.  May he now rest in the Peace of Christ to which he dedicated his life. 

A warm tribute to Bruce Kent from Pax Christi’s National President, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon can be found at the start of Sunday programme (12/6/22): https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00187d4

Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, and President of the Movement for the Abolition of War: For more than 50 years Bruce was an utterly determined advocate for peace, and a relentless campaigner against the idiocy of nuclear weapons.   He never let up and was forever optimistic and inspiring, even at the most difficult of times. 

Reiner Braun, Executive Director of the International Peace Bureau: It is seldom we call someone a ‘peace hero’ because, as peace activists we are generally against such terms.  But Bruce was one of these historical peace figures with his deep, lifelong, emotional and argumentative engagement for peace. We are doing everything to continue the work in his spirit. 

Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: Bruce Kent transformed the scope and confidence of the anti-nuclear movement beyond all recognition. His leadership of CND in the 1980s was the embodiment of integrity, creativity and sheer determination. Bruce’s razor-sharp intellect, together with his humour, tireless work, intolerance of flannel, and total commitment to his faith and principles, made him a leader of our movement beyond compare. He will be much missed.

Further tributes:

Cardinal Vincent Nicholls: writes in his tribute reported in Independent Catholic News (10/6/22) of Bruce’s ‘passion, determination and power of argument’.

Ellen Teague, Journalist: writes a warm and moving reflection on Bruce’s long life and his legacy in Independent Catholic News (11/6/22).

Greet Vanaerschot, Secretary General of Pax Christi International: I am so sorry to hear about the death of Bruce Kent. I remember his compassion, integrity, his eagerness to make the world a better place to live and his humor that left a mark on all of us. I offer my deep sympathy and the assurance of my prayers in the days ahead. At times like this, please realize that you do not walk alone but are accompanied by the Pax Christi International Family. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

Emeritus Bishop Kevin Dowling, Emeritus Bishop of Rustenburg, SouthAfrica, former Co-President of Pax Christi International:

It was with great sadness that I read the message about the death of Bruce Kent. Even though I am in South Africa, I had the great privilege of meeting him and his dear wife, Valerie, on a few occasions when I served on the Board of Pax Christi International, and as Co-President with Marie Dennis. The last time was at the farewell for Pat Gaffney in London – a truly wonderful occasion. I will always remember sitting next to Bruce on that afternoon and chatting with him. I will never forget this warm, passionate, and caring human being whom I have admired all my life. No words can adequately capture the profound contribution he made to the great causes and ideals to which he committed himself personally and with so many others. I offer my sincere condolences and prayerful support to Valerie, his wife, to his family and loved ones, and to all who mourn his passing. I pray that his life and witness will inspire all of us. to continue striving and working for the ideals he believed in, and especially when the going gets difficult.

Johnny Zokovitch, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA: recalls ’emails [from Bruce] marked by the wit that anyone who knew him well would immediately recognise’. More here.

Newspaper Obituaries: The Guardian

More tributes and information here:  http://bruce-kent.com/biography.htm

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