A buzzing room of around 80 Pax Christi UK members and supporters gathered in London on Saturday for the Annual General Meeting of the Catholic peace movement in Britain. They included people from the dioceses of Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Salford, Shrewsbury, Southampton and Westminster, and two from Pax Christi in Scotland. Peace activists Bruce Kent and Valerie Flessati, Anne Peacey (National J&P Network), Chris Cole (Drone Wars) and Patricia and Michael Pulham (Christian CND) also attended.
They heard Chair Holly Ball welcome the new Director Theresa Alessandro, who said she was "really enjoying" her new job. Theresa highlighted that Pax Christi's networks are Catholic, ecumenical and inter-faith, and in the near future she will be taking forward the issue of morally responsible investment in Israel and Palestine, and Pax Christi International statements on the European Elections 'The Europe We Want', and on nuclear disarmament. Pax Christi has representation at the United Nations and the European Union. Valerie Flessati and Pat Gaffney are taking forward the international Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and met last month in Rome with the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and with Pope Francis himself. Valerie said, "it would be wonderful if Pope Francis one day produces an Encyclical on Nonviolence".
Holly also welcomed new Executive members Joan Sharples and Henrietta Cullinan. Joan has a three-decade involvement in justice and peace outreach, including 19 years as a J&P fieldworker in Shrewsbury Diocese before redundancy in 2012. "Its now time to get involved in joining with those who are working to bring about a peaceful world for our young people, including my grandchildren". Henrietta has been involved with the London Catholic Worker in challenging nuclear weapons, British military involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the arms trade. She writes on peace and nonviolence and has visited Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years.
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, President of Pax Christi, reflected that the Catholic peace movement has helped the world seek the Truth in conflict situations, and to value God's Grace in providing the gifts of the natural world - which human society is too ready to commodify and destroy. He highlighted that militarism is a big contributor to the climate crisis through its greenhouse gas emissions. He felt that God's word Sets Us free, prompts us "as peacemakers to build community".
After this, Pax Christi presented peace awards to four people who have been prominent supporters of peace: Fr Joe Ryan, who has been a staunch supporter of Justice and Peace in Westminster Diocese, Peter van den Dungen, who has worked to set up peace trails and peace museums, and teenagers Anna and Eleanor Marshall from Hallam Diocese, who have organised school initiatives to promote justice, peace and ecological awareness.
Fr Joe was cheered on by Bishop Nicholas Hudson, auxiliary in Westminster, and a large group of his parishioners from St John Vianney in North London. He highlighted his work on Migrants and the Climate Crisis and thanked Westminster for investing time and money in the diocesan J&P Commission.
Peter said: "nothing is more important than peace education but we have war and military museums!" He was very proud of helping to set up a peace museum in the Iranian capital of Tehran.
Anna and Eleanor said that their commitment comes from their faith - particularly Catholic Social Teaching - their parents Sheena and Andrew, and regular engagement with J&P activists. "Working for justice and peace is the right thing to so" they said to rousing applause.
Every two years Pax Christi honours the work of unsung and unknown peacemakers as a way of acknowledging the essential daily work of peacemaking. The first awards were given in 2001 and since then 31 women and men have been recognised in this way. The 2019 award is a peace medal created by the artist Natasha Ratcliffe with the title P(lease) E(ngage) A(ll) C(ommunities on) E(arth).
Pax Christi UK is in a stable financial position, although members were asked to push January 2020's Peace Sunday in their parishes. Peace Sunday donations declined this year, actually halving in Northampton, Nottingham and Portsmouth dioceses. However, on-line sales of Pax Christi resources have doubled over the past year and some other statistics: 2,600 twitter followers, 11,500 'No More War' distributed for Remembrance, 1,800 visited to Pax Christi's Facebook posting for Palestine/Israel Peace Week. Planning towards 2020 will include a commitment to develop a theology and practice of active nonviolence; the strengthening of peacemaking communities around the country and a deepening of Pax Christi's work with teachers, chaplains and schools. 2,130 students attended workshops in 10 dioceses over the past year and youth worker Aisling Griffin reported work on conscientious objection, Christian peacemakers, and the story of Franz Jägerstätter. She has worked with teachers at inset days, alongside Columban and Salesian education workers. Packs are available for schools who want to become Pax Christi members and Aisling is building up a network of volunteers to go into schools on behalf of Pax Christi.
An enjoyable day included a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Malcolm, a fabulous shared lunch, and musical interludes from King Toadfish and the All-Weather Riders!
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