The first in-person Pax Christi Advent Service in three years was held at the Holy Apostles, Pimlico, London, on Saturday. While the church was full, many more people watched online from around the world - including friends in Bethlehem, the USA and Europe.
Pastoral musician Julie McCann led the music. Singers and instrumentalists came from across London and beyond. Michelle Roca from Westminster Deaf Service provided the signing.
Reflections and prayers focussed particularly on refugees and asylum seekers, peace in Palestine and Israel, women, and peacemaking in the world. While Taize chants were sung, the congregation filed up to place candles on the altar rail.
One reading was from Pope Francis on the Feast of All Saints 1 November 2022:
Let us take, for example, a very topical beatitude: "Blessed are the peacemakers" (v. 9), and we see how Jesus' peace is very different from what we imagine. We all long for peace, but often what we want is not really peace, it is to be at peace, to be left in peace, to have no problems but rather tranquillity. Jesus, instead, does not call the calm blessed, those who are in peace, but those who make peace and strive to make peace, the builders, the peacemakers. Indeed, peace must be built, and like any construction, it requires effort, collaboration, patience. We would like peace to rain down from above, but instead the Bible speaks of a "sowing of peace" (Zc 8:12), because it germinates from the soil of life, from the seed of our heart. It grows in silence, day after day, through works of justice and mercy, as the luminous witnesses we are celebrating today show us. Again, we are led to believe that peace comes by force and power: for Jesus it is the opposite. His life and that of the saints tell us that, in order to grow and bear fruit, the seed of peace must first die. Peace is not achieved by conquering or defeating someone, it is never violent, it is never armed.
The final reflection was beautifully sung by a group from St Leonard's CoE Church in Streatham, based on Psalm 121 Lift Thine Eyes by Mendelssohn.
At the end of the service, the congregation processed out of the church down to the Christmas Market and social in the hall, accompanied by a rousing South African hymn Bambelela - (Never Give Up) and Soon and Very Soon. Stalls in the hall offered Fair Trade goods, gifts from the Holy Land, Columban and Jesuit Refugee Services. Many people wrote messages to send to the Comboni Sisters Projects in Palestine and Israel.
Former CEOs of Pax Christi, Valerie Flessati and Pat Gaffney, were there. Many people mentioned how much they missed veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent, vice-president of Pax Christi England and Wales, who died in June this year - he used to run a raffle during the Christmas market. Many also commented on what a relief it was to be able to gather in person once again. The day was an opportunity to meet Andrew Jackson who becomes CEO of Pax Christi in the New Year. We will be publishing an interview with him soon.
Watching from Bethlehem, Zoughbi Alzoughbi, Director of the Wi'am Conflict Resolution Centre, said: "It has been uplifting service ..We are all blessed by your prayers. Thanks and appreciation."
A Pax Christi member in America said: "I so enjoyed watching the Advent service. It was absolutely lovely. The music was different from what I know. Loved the last song Don't Give Up!!! So joyful and upbeat. If you can I would love a copy of the program. The reading of Pope Francis' message was especially poignant."
Another commented: "The service was really lovely. Every word had meaning and did more for me than I can say. I miss praying with friends and concentrating on what means most in my life. Refugees and seekers of asylum, peace MAKERS, not just followers…"
Watch a recording of the service at Holy Apostles here: www.churchservices.tv/pimlico/archive/recordings/gSbH1wTvJVMGjUK
See more pictures the ICN Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Independent-Catholic-News-ICN-195368037167900/?ref=bookmarks