By: Ellen Teague
"The Annual Pax Christi Advent Service last night was as prayerful and inspiring as ever - I find the event a 'must' to get me into the real spirit of Advent" said Fr Joe Ryan, the Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace. He described the "thoughtful Liturgy", with signs, symbols, scripture, readings and inspiring singing as "a tonic". The 'Market Place' afterwards was enjoyed too, "with stalls by different groups and refreshments after the Liturgy and the chance to meet up with friends was so refreshing".
Around 200 people were there this year - at St Aloysius Church in Euston on 4 December - and I am one of those who never misses a service which brings out the Advent themes of 'Waiting' and 'God with us' in the context of today's world. There is a lot of contextual theology in there! Coming at the end of a year which has seen an upsurge in military tension around the world and huge numbers of refugees fleeing war zones, this popular service, with its focus on the peacemaking message of Advent, felt particularly poignant. It reflected the longing for peace in our world and the Advent call to be prophets of peace.
The service was organised and led by Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi UK, and she said afterwards: "We try and amplify the views of marginalised people in our world". There was signing by the Westminster Deaf Service. Julie McCann led the singing with the choir and musicians, adding much to the celebration.
Music by Bernadette Farrell and Marty Haugen, with strong social justice components, featured prominently. A song of peace in Hebrew was haunting and beautiful. An arrangement of the words of The Magnificat by Owen M Alstott went alongside a prayer by Joan Chittister asking Mary, "wellspring of peace", to be our guide. The congregation joined in with great gusto - including Pax Christi supporters from around England, CAFOD staff, many religious and priests involved in the Justice and Peace mission.
Fr Gerry McFlynn of the Irish Chaplaincy did one of the readings. Audrey Campbell could not be there because she died suddenly a few days earlier, and we prayed for her and her husband Frank who used to travel up from Southampton for the service nearly every year - both warmly remembered in the hearts of the Pax Christi community.
We sang and prayed, focusing on four themes: Israel/Palestine, Seeking Asylum, Women, and Peacemaking in our World. Halfway through the service we were invited to move to focal points around the church on the four themes and light candles. 'Wait for the Lord' was sung quietly by the choir. On the first theme, I was touched by the photos of Palestinian villages which have been intimidated by settlers and some have been hounded out. One photo showed a village I visited with Pax Christi two years ago and where we were so kindly welcomed by the community. The 'Women' area showed photos of women, many of whom I am privileged to know, and highlighted their words of reconciliation and peace. 'Peacemaking in our world' contained news from Pax Christi partners, such as the National Justice and Peace Network and the Columbans, and their work for peace. Afterwards the candles from each focal point were brought back to the centre.
There were readings and prayers from Isaiah, Ephesians, and John Henry Newman. Also, a reflection from an Ecumenical Accompanier in Palestine, who accompanied a Palestinian shepherd as he was moved off lands his family had accessed for generations by Israeli settlers. There was an extract from a talk by Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, who attended the recent Vatican Conference on nuclear disarmament where Pope Francis condemned the possession of nuclear weapons. He said, "Pope Francis was clear that because of the significant risks of even an anticipated or accidental war, and of the gargantuan and devastating effects of nuclear war, and of provoking other nations to perhaps use them, the possession itself of these weapons is now condemned, regardless of the intention".
Many participants - and certainly myself - stocked up on Christmas presents at the 'Market Place' which offered goods from Pax Christi and its partners in Bethlehem, Traidcraft, Zaytoun products from Palestinian, London Catholic Worker, Jesuit Refugee Service, WoW Bags from Hanwell parish, Women at the Well, Little Sisters of the Poor and St Joseph's Pastoral Centre. There was also mulled wine and mince pies!
They received reminders of future events, such as Peace Sunday on 14 January 2018, for which Pax Christi provides excellent materials. And there was Bruce Kent handing out leaflets about a concert in his parish of St Mellitus, Tollington Park, at 8pm on Sunday 10 December, with the proceeds going to the Comboni Sisters work among refugees on the margins of Jerusalem.
Read more about Pax Christi here: www.paxchristi.org.uk