London: Pax Christi Advent Peace Service + readings

Julie McCann, 3rd right with musicians from St Leonard's,  Streatham

Julie McCann, 3rd right with musicians from St Leonard's, Streatham

The annual Pax Christi Advent Peace Service and Fair was held at St Aloysius Church in Euston last night.

Coming at the end of a year which has seen an upsurge in conflicts around the world and a huge influx of refugees fleeing warzones, this popular service, with its clear focus on the peacemaking message of Advent, felt particularly poignant.

The service was led by Pad Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi UK. The church was specially decorated with focal points for prayer around the church dedicated to refugees, the people of Palestine and Israel and women peacemakers.

The choir and musicians - including a very talented group from St Leonards Streatham were led by Julie McCann. Westminster Deaf Service provided the signing.

There were readings and prayers by Thomas Merton, Kairos Palestine, Brother Johannes from the Catholic Worker House in Calais, Joan Chittester on Mary and the Message of Pope Francis to this years Pax Christi conference on non violence.

The service was followed by an alternative Christmas market which with goods from the Philippines, the Jesuit Refugee Service, Traidcraft, Zaytoun products from Palestinian , London Catholic Worker and olive wood goods from Pax Christi partners in Bethlehem. There was also mulled wine and mince pies.

(To see more more pictures of the evening visit ICN's Facebook page. They are there now! More to come.)

The main readings from the service follow below:

Receiving Christ - Thomas Merton

Our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that his plan has been neither frustrated nor changed. All will be done according to his will. Our Advent is the celebration of this hope. What is uncertain is not the "coming" of Christ but our own reception of him, our own response to him, our own readiness and capacity to "go forth and meet him." We must be willing to see him and acclaim him, as John did, even at the very moment when our whole life's work and all its meaning seem to collapse.

Palestine & Israel - Kairos Palestine

"It takes a long time to build the tents and the village", says father of seven, Mahmoud. "All of it takes time and energy. Destruction takes seconds; everything is gone in a moment".

Mahmoud, whose children range in age from one to 13 years, lives in a tent set among the main cluster of homes. He sits on a thin mattress on the floor. Now at 40, he recalls being evacuated in 1981 when he was 6 years old. The experiences he remembers are the same ones now affecting his own children. "We were threatened with evacuation several times," he says. "The most important thing is to stay on our land. If we are evacuated, everything will be destroyed. We will lose everything."

Children who are affected by demolitions are subject to long periods of instability that can have an impact on education and health. "Demolitions often happen quickly, suddenly overturning the order and stability of the family home," says Hassan Faraj, a psychologist working with medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières. "This creates anxiety and stress, which can manifest itself in aggressiveness, particularly in boys. It has a long-term impact on the mental health of children who witness their normal daily routines destroyed."

Mahmoud reflects, "After 35 years, my children and I are facing the same thing again from the same people. Don't ask me how I imagine my children's future. The future my father imagined for me failed. I try to imagine a good future in Susya for my children, but I am worried that I too will fail."

Refugees - Br Johannes from Catholic Worker House, Calais

Often people ask me how I feel now the jungle has gone, the answer is my heart is saddened on the way it all happened, the people I worked with for months have forcibly been moved, a community I belonged to is now no longer. So, all our volunteers and those of our partners and many others feel sad and angry.

I am worried about Amaniel who is 16 and trying to go to his sister in the UK. He is now in the centre of the South of France not knowing what follows. I am worried about Mohammed, an isolated young Sudanese man with serious mental health issues. He lost control of his life after losing his young wife travelling through the Libyan Desert. I am worried for Titi, one of the Eritrean women who came praying at our house and called our volunteers crying that she didn't know where the coach was taking her and she had already been on the bus for more than 12 hours. She ended up somewhere near the Spanish border. After everything they have been through, that is how we treat them....

No one should live in a jungle; no one should live in that kind of destitution but it ended so abruptly and without respect for the refugees and migrants... Now we are getting phone calls from people who have our numbers, to say where they have arrived. From Marseilles, Vienna, Toulouse, Strasbourg to Langres.

Refugees and migrants have been coming to Calais since 1998, since the war in Kosovo. Refugees have lived in squatted houses, huts in bushes. As long as Calais is the geographical and logistical connection between France and the UK, refugees and migrants will come to Calais. Hopefully our work will continue to serve the most vulnerable of God's children here in Calais.

Mary: from Star-Filled Grace, by Rachel Mann, Wild Goose Publications.

And on that day when I sang, that day when I met Elizabeth -
I sang of how my body was full of God,
and my spirit rejoiced in the Spirit and all her works,
for she was with me in my poverty and in my riches.

And I sang of how, even if I am nothing to the power-brokers,
if to them I am just a woman,
the Justice of God had blessed me and holy is her name.

And I sang, and I sang, of her mercy - of how her mercy
will be lavished on those who dare to rejoice in her awesome love,
who dare to oppose the mighty and greedy,
from everlasting to everlasting.

For she has shown the courage of women and the toughness of mothers
and scattered the arrogant and overbearing.
She has upturned the thrones of the powerful and exalted the nobodies;
she has fed the starving and has shown her fury towards the mean and selfish.
she has remembered her people who walked in the desert,
she has remembered our ancestors,
according to her promises to Sarah and Hagar, Ruth and Naomi, Deborah and Jael.
and their descendants or ever.

Peacemaking - Message by Pope Francis to Pax Christi Rome Conference on Non Violence 2016

In order to seek solutions to the unique and terrible 'world war in instalments' which, a large part of humankind is presently undergoing, it helps us to think back in time. Let us rediscover the reasons that led the sons and daughters of a still largely Christian civilization in the last century to create the Pax Christi Movement and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. From their example we learn that to bring about true peace, it is necessary to bring people together, so as to reconcile peoples and groups with opposing ideological positions.

The unceasing effort on the part of that higher creative imagination which we call diplomacy must be continuously nourished; and justice in a globalized world, which is "order in freedom and conscious duty", must constantly be promoted. In a word, humanity needs to refurbish all the best available tools to help the men and women of today to fulfil their aspirations for justice and peace.

...The ultimate and most deeply worthy goal of human beings and of the human community is the abolition of war. In this vein, we recall that the only explicit condemnation issued by the Second Vatican Council was against war, although the Council recognized that, since war has not been eradicated from the human condition, "governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defence once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted."

We recognize that "conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced." Of course, the purpose is not to remain trapped within a framework of conflict. Rather, we must accept and tackle conflict so as to resolve it and transform it into a link in that new process which "peacemakers" initiate. As Christians, we also know that it is only by considering our peers as brothers and sisters that we will overcome wars and conflicts.

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