Ash Wednesday 2019: Vigil for Peace at Ministry of Defence

  • Ellen Teague

Processing through Embankment Gardens ICN/JS

Processing through Embankment Gardens ICN/JS

More than 100 Christians braved freezing rain in Whitehall today to take part in the annual Ash Wednesday procession and prayer vigil outside the Ministry of Defence (MoD). They called for the UK government to get rid of its nuclear weapons and support the International Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. They prayed for a conversion of hearts and minds away from nuclear war preparations and the 'waste' of resources that entails.

Organised by Pax Christi, Christian CND and the London Catholic Worker, participants included members of the National J&P Network and Westminster J&P, J&P Religious Links, Columbans and Assumption Sisters, and a number of peace campaigners from as far afield as Southampton and Chesterfield. Japanese Buddhist monks and nuns from the Battersea Peace Temple also took part. This was the 37th year of the vigil. "We are living in fragile times with several nuclear states - such as India and Pakistan - in standoffs," said Pat Gaffney, the outgoing Pax Christi General Secretary, "and this prompts us to be vigilant and determined to pressure our own government to take a moral lead and support the Treaty banning nuclear weapons". Her successor, Theresa Alessandro was there too, and other Pax Christi stalwarts such as Bruce Kent, Valerie Flessati and Holly Ball.

At a liturgy in Embankment Gardens, ashes were blessed by Westminster priest Joe Ryan, the Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace, and distributed "as a sign of repentance" before the group processed to the MoD, led by Pat Gaffney. Other clergy present included Fr Rob Esdaile of Arundel and Brighton Diocese and Fr Gerry McFlynn of the Irish Chaplaincy in London. Participants tied purple and black ribbons to the MoD railings. The ribbons represented the countries that have signed the Nuclear Ban Treaty and those who have yet to support the Treaty.

The group then processed to the front of the MoD and wrote REPENT with ashes on a piece of sackcloth. One of the readings said: 'Possession of nuclear weapons is now unequivocally condemned by Pope Francis and many other Christian and religious leaders. Yet our nation holds them ready, a threat of unspeakable humanitarian crimes to be done on our behalf; and cannot think beyond outdated cold war deterrence policy. Are we ourselves thus enslaved by nuclear weapons, possessed by them, in so many ways?

"What a profound way to spend Ash Wednesday," reflected a Methodist Presbyter who attended, "joining the Ash Wednesday Christian Witness and Resistance against the MoD's preparations for the deployment of weapons of mass destruction".

Similar events were held - also in the rain and described as 'rain-soaked resistance' - in Liverpool and at Faslane Naval base near Helensburgh in Scotland. Faslane is the base of the UK's nuclear-armed submarines and Trident nuclear weapons.

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Tags: Ash Wednesday, Pax Christi, MoD, Pat Gaffney,

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