Pax Christi members in Coventry held their first Ash Wednesday Prayer Vigil, in solidarity with those in London, Liverpool and Faslane.
We carried with us a Lampedusa Cross as sign of hope, solidarity and love for all those who suffer the effects of war. We each carried two small, olive wood crosses from Bethlehem, one we later laid on the altar of the Ruins and one we continue to carry for our Lenten Journey.
Our Ash Wednesday journey was in silence, with stops on the way at our Prayer Stations, to remind ourselves of their significance, to listen to short scripture readings, to reflect and pray.
The Ruins: Coventry Cathedral was destroyed in WW11 by German Bombs. It was targeted because Coventry was a centre for the making of weapons and war machinery.
Gathering in the Ruins we remembered the appalling acts of war, all the hatred that leads to them, the weapons that make them possible, the devastating effects on people in conflicts and the parts that we, our city and country plays in them. The Ruins stand as a memorial to all civilians killed, injured or traumatised by war and violent conflict world-wide.
We were gathering because Coventry, the City of Peace and Reconciliation, invests our money in warfare.
As citizens we have responsibilities - to name policies of violence - to repent of them - and challenge the authorities to repent and turn away from military security, which is based on threat, fear and the destruction of our planet.
We blessed ashes to be a sign of repentance and a mark of turning away from all violence, towards nonviolence, peace and justice for all people and our planet. At each stop we marked a Sign of the Cross in ashes.
The Memorial to Civilians Stone commemorates all civilians who have been killed in wars and the Choir of Survivors Sculpture, donated by Dresden, reminds us of the horrific retaliation of the bombing of Dresden in 1945 and of the immediate efforts of both cities to be reconciled at the end of the war. The sculpture is dedicated to civilians killed or injured during wars past and present.
We remembered all those who have died in wars, those who grieve their loss, those forced from their homes to flee to safety and those who suffer now in refugee camps.
Our prayer was a commitment to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry and to give shelter to the homeless and a commitment to work for an end to all wars and an end to the arms trade that feeds them.
Ecce Homo, carved by Epstein, shows Christ before Pilate, with hands bound and a crown of thorns. This powerful image, unlike many showing a helpless Jesus being led, like a sheep to the slaughter, is one of the implacable Christ, the one who will not be deflected from his purpose. This is an undefeated Christ.
Jesus was stripped of all human dignity and exposed to ridicule by his torturers before being led to an agonising death. We remembered all those who are persecuted, bound and undergoing unjust interrogation; those who are tortured and killed. We marked each other with a Sign of the Cross and prayed that we will see the Humanity and Light in each person we meet and especially in those who are ill-used, dehumanized and deprived of all dignity.
Oak Trees for Peace: overlooking Unity Lawn and the Old Cathedral Graveyard, we remembered that Yoko Ono and John Lennon planted acorns for peace here. They symbolised the union of their two cultures and although the trees are no longer there, the relationship between Coventry and Hiroshima flourishes. We recalled the horrors of nuclear war, the present day nuclear weapons, the vast amounts of money spent on them and that Coventry City invests in arms companies that make nuclear weapons.
We listened to the words of Pope Francis: ' Nuclear deterrence cannot be the basis for an ethics of solidarity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states. Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations. Resources would be better invested in education, health and the fight against extreme poverty.'
We called on Coventry, the City of Peace and Reconciliation, to divest from nuclear weapons and to invest our money in the things that people need.
We walked from the Cathedral Ruins to the Council House, where we laid our hands on the walls and marked them with Signs of the Cross. We expressed our shame that the Council invests money in the West Midlands Pension Fund, which includes Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, who continue to make war possible and cause the death and destruction of homes and infrastructure.
We also faced across the road, towards Coventry University because they rent premises on their campus to Leidos, a substantial subsidiary of Lockheed Martin. All these Arms Companies make huge profits from war, at the expense of people's lives.
In the Council House we handed in a letter for the Leader of the Council, reminding them of our six year divestment campaign and asking that Coventry remove all monies from the Arms Trade and truly be the City of Peace and Reconciliation.
Encircling the Council House building we returned to the Cathedral Ruins, stopping at the High Altar with its two enduring symbols of the Charred Cross and the Cross of Nails. The wooden beams, having fallen in the shape of a cross in the bombing, were bound and placed on the altar. Three mediaeval nails were also formed into a cross, which became the original Cross of Nails and is now the symbol of an international network of communities, dedicated to reconciliation. The words, 'Father Forgive', deliberately neutral in content, were inscribed on the wall and a commitment was made not to seek revenge but to work for forgiveness and reconciliation.
This place reminds us of our human capacity both to destroy and to reach out to our enemies in friendship and reconciliation . We each placed one of our small, Palestinian crosses on the altar before praying the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation.
Our final stop was at the Statue of Reconciliation. A work by Josephine Vasconcellos, which represents the reconciliation of those divided by war. There are identical statues in the Peace Garden in Hiroshima, the Gardens of Stormont and in Berlin.
Reflecting on this image we listened to scripture, 'Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.' Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.'
We prayed: 'Give us the courage to strive for peace in ourselves and to be peacemakers in our daily lives; help us to refuse to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence; help us to build a world where warfare and conflict are no more and our conflicts and differences are solved, not by taking up arms, but by listening to one another and solving our differences together.'
'We go in peace to build a better world.'
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