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Thursday, October 27, 2016
Pax Christi UK “gives inspiration” internationally
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Bishop Kevin with HIV patient
Pax Christi UK’s work for peace has been applauded by the vice-president of Pax Christi International, Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg Diocese in South Africa. Speaking at its Annual General Meeting in London on Saturday 16 May, he said: “I want to affirm and praise Pax Christi UK for giving inspiration to us in Africa and helping us to build our spirituality and commitment to non-violence”.

Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of the UK section, which has offices at St Joseph’s in Hendon, outlined solidarity work with partners in Israel and Palestine. People are currently being recruited to work as volunteers in the Peace House in Bethlehem and the story of the January 2009 siege of Gaza is being highlighted in publications and with a speaking tour.

Other issues covered over the past year include militarism, the arms trade, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and education work on moving away from a militaristic model of security. Pax Christi has also made a submission on peace to the Bishops Conference of England and Wales as they draft their new Catholic Social Teaching document. In addition, it resources January’s Peace Sunday, which is celebrated in Catholic parishes and schools and based upon the Pope’s annual Peace Day message.

In his keynote address to a packed audience of Pax Christi members, including Pax Christi President, Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham Diocese, Bishop Dowling spoke of his involvement in peace initiatives in Africa, particularly expressing concern about the 2005 peace agreement in Southern Sudan which ended several decades of civil war. He attended a meeting in March 2009 in Khartoum where Christian leaders spoke of the possibility of war erupting again unless resources are put into rebuilding the South’s ruined infrastructure and community services.

“The international community should work together to implement programmes on the ground, for example, with the internally displaced” he urged. He outlined the work of the Solidarity Peace Trust in relation to Zimbabwe. Set up by bishops from Zimbabwe and South Africa, including Bishop Dowling, it has documented and denounced human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, calling for an end to the impunity of state-sponsored abusers.

Bishop Dowling explained that his “mentor” has been Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador who was martyred for his peace and justice work there in 1980. He described his “conversion” experience of moving from a privileged background in apartheid South Africa to minister as a white priest to oppressed peoples in black townships in Capetown during the 1970s. “I was challenged to see that justice and work for justice is central to the church’s mission to evangelise” he reflected. In recent times he has ministered to tens of thousands of aids victims and orphans in his diocese, which he calls, “being in solidarity with the little ones of the world”. His Justice and Peace staff in Rustenburg run regular workshops promoting Catholic Social Teaching, which he describes as the church’s “great, hidden treasure”.

The churches in Africa play an important role in holding human rights abusers accountable in countries such as Sudan, Zimbabwe and DR Congo, said Bishop Dowling. They also offer support in terms of conflict resolution techniques which reject the use of violence, often using Pax Christi resources. He said Pax Christi members open up opportunities for peacemaking and help create “a global community of solidarity” and he urged more people to join the UK section.

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Tags: Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg Diocese in South Africa, Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham Diocese, Pat Gaffney, Pax Christi

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