Pax Christi AGM: 'Pope Francis continues to inspire our work for peace'

L-R: José Henríquez, Pat Gaffney,  Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, Fr Ziad Hilal SJ, Ann Dodd

L-R: José Henríquez, Pat Gaffney, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, Fr Ziad Hilal SJ, Ann Dodd

Pat Gaffney was thanked for her 25 years as General Secretary of Pax Christi UK at Saturday's AGM in London. Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool, the National President, presented her with a special bowl and flowers to a standing ovation from all present. "I get more out of Pax Christi than I could ever give", she responded to around 100 members at the annual gathering.

Awards also went to three woman who were recognised as grassroots peacemakers - Sheila Gallagher from Westminster Diocese, Sue Scott from Birmingham Diocese and Anna Kobayashi from Brentwood Diocese. They each received a beautiful medal which reflects the work of Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salaam village in Israel where Israeli's and Arabs live together. In her words of thanks Anna talked about her work with nuclear catastrophe survivors in Japan - firstly in 1967 in Hiroshima with people who had been terribly injured and could not have children after being victims of the Hiroshima bomb, and secondly in 2011 in a relief camp near Fukushima full of families who had to flee their homes in the aftermath of the radiation leak from a nuclear power station. "There was no sound of young people in the exclusion zone" she said and, "the whole pattern of life had been destroyed". Anna also prayed with the women of Dale Farm Travellers community in Essex, during "a pointless and costly eviction process" and watched them raise funds for Syria from their camps on roadsides, saying "at least they're not throwing bombs at us".

"Pope Francis continues to inspire our work for peace" said Pax Christi Chair Ann Dodd at the AGM. She particularly highlighted Pope Francis's words to the December 2014 conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons where he said: "Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states". Pax Christi's annual anti-nuclear weapons witness at London's Ministry of Defence on Ash Wednesday was spotlighted, along with the Hiroshima/Nagasaki remembrance in August and the annual Franz Jägerstätter service at Westminster on 9 August.

Other areas of work have included Education outreach. Matt Jeziorski reported that there was high demand for Pax Christi's schools workshop to support GCSE Religious Education, and more schools are joining Pax Christi. The Peace Sunday assembly has been well used. Pax Christi is a member of the flourishing Peace Education Network and collaborates on inset days in schools with other groups.

Valerie Flessati reported on commemorations surrounding the centenary of World War One, suggesting that it has brought Pax Christi's work to new audiences. "It has been a great opportunity to tell the stories of peacemakers and conscientious objectors and to raise questions about how we remember war and how we sanctify war" she said. Pax Christi will be calling on the bishops of England and Wales to produce a Pastoral Letter on Peace for 2017.

Pat Gaffney reported on UK involvement in the recent Pax Christi International Assembly in Bethlehem and urged people to support the 23 June lobby on Palestine, and the September Week of Prayer for Israel and Palestine. She reported on campaigning to halt the renewal of Britain's Trident weapons at a cost of £100 billion, and to halt arms sales to the Middle East. Pax Christi will be marking the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings in August. Pax Christi vice-president Bruce Kent regretted that the recent election statement from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales failed to mention nuclear weapons.

José Henríquez, the Pax Christi General Secretary who is from El Salvador and is now based in Brussels, pointed Pax Christi members towards the Bethlehem Commitment which is a statement of the common values in Pax Christi produced during last month's Pax Christi International Assembly in Bethlehem. He said that "in the coming five years Pax Christi will strengthen the network for connecting women's peacemaking and peacebuilding experience in our movement; we will listen to and learn from that experience; we will support the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security and other efforts to create a gender inclusive route to peace".

During the gathering Fr Ziad Hilal SJ spoke about his work in the Syrian city of Homs and said he appreciated the engagement between Pax Christi and the Jesuit Refugee Service to raise awareness of the terrible violence and refugee situation.*

Southward and Brentwood Dioceses were singled out for their generous support of Pax Christi collections at Peace Sunday in January.

* London: Jesuit priest appeals for peace summit on Syria www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=27619