Peace Groups tell government: We need medical supplies not weapons

First we pause… we stop… so that we can think…and judge properly… what will keep us safe from harm?

Justice & Peace in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster also welcomes this pause of the government’s Integrated Review and urges them to listen to the voices of peace campaigners before they establish new national priorities for Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) and Pax Christi are among the organisations approving this decision and urging the government to change track completely. Read full report on Independent Catholic News

Pax Christi International joins Pope Francis and UN in call for global ceasefire

“We are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples … so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.” Pope Francis, 27 March 2020

Responding to the words of Pope Francis, Pax Christi International has joined the United Nations in calling for a Global Ceasefire. More…

An international peace-building process is now in place to arrange truces in every conflict zone.

A notable milestone was reached on 9th April 2020 when Pax Christi and 59 other organisations issued a statement in response to the announcement of a temporary ceasefire in Yemen. The cessation of hostilities is only a first step and the statement called for an immediate end to restrictions and interference to humanitarian aid to provide urgent medical care and measures to prevent the spread of COVID19.

The Westminster Justice & Peace Commission encourage you to add your voice by signing the Avaaz petition for a Global Ceasefire

UN Global Ceasefire Update

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres last month issued an appeal for a global ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In a new update, he reports progress in a number of areas. Warning that gains are fragile, he pledges a strong diplomatic push for combatants to lay down their arms. The Secretary-General’s call has been endorsed by all United Nations Messengers of Peace and Advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals as well as more than a million other people around the world.

Well worth clicking on the video – it takes just 1 minute, 40 seconds of your time and is a stirring tribute to the possibility of ending armed conflict while we turn our resources to eradicating our invisible viral enemy.

Time to wash our hands of nuclear weapons

Christian CND writes:

The UK, like the rest of the world, is in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Health threats like this have been listed as ‘Tier 1’ threats to national security for some time, as the government acknowledged it is a genuine threat to our way of life. Despite this fact, funding for nuclear weapons has vastly outstripping funding given to preparing for a pandemic.

The threat of nuclear weapons from other states has not been listed as a top priority threat by the government. So why are we continuing to press ahead with the plans to replace Trident with a new generation of nuclear weapons as a cost of at least £205 billion.

The government must listen to the evidence regarding the threats we face. Their own assessment continually show that it is pandemic health outbreaks, cyber attacks, climate change and terrorism which threaten us. None of these can be tackled with nuclear weapons.

Our friends at CND have launched a new action for you to contact your MP and highlight these inconsistencies, calling for Trident to be scrapped and the money to be diverted to fighting real threats.

See also: Network of Christian Peace Organisations, which includes Pax Christi and Christian CND statement on Coronavirus ceasefire calls –

https://christiancnd.org.uk/2020/03/30/ncpo-statement-on-coronavirus-ceasefire-calls/

Article from Independent Catholic News

UN Secretary General calls for Global Ceasefire

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres is calling for an immediate Global Ceasefire. He points out the utter futility of continuing conflict and violent loss of life at a time when people of every nation around the world are trying to protect and preserve life threatened by the pandemic.

To read the full text visit the UN website

The online action group Avaaz have started a petition in support of the UN call. To sign go to Avaaz.org

No Faith in War prayers outside DSEI Arms Fair

Pat Gaffney, general secretary of Pax Christi quoted the words of Pope Francis during prayers for peace outside the Excel Centre in east London on Tuesday – where the DSEI Arms Fair is due to open next Tuesday:

“It is an absurd contradiction to speak of peace, to negotiate peace, and at the same time, promote or permit the arms trade.

Is this war or that war really a war to solve problems or is it a commercial war for selling weapons in illegal trade and so that the merchants of death get rich?

Let us put an end to this situation. Let us pray all together that national leaders may firmly commit themselves to ending the arms trade which victimises so many innocent people.”

There were also prayers and testimonies from several faith leaders – among them an Anglican pastor, who called on everyone present to pray for the police who work so hard to keep our country safe. A Muslim speaker from Bahrain lamented the fact that the vast amounts of money being spent on weapons could be so much better used in medical research and care for the sick. Buddhists present were a reminder of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In line with the ‘No Faith in War’ theme, the afternoon saw prayer services led by the Quakers, Taize community and Pax Christi with around 100 people participating. The backdrop was peace banners: ‘Bristol Peace’, ‘Brummers for Peace’, Pax Christi, Christian CND, CND and Campaign Against Arms Trade.

The Quakers led a series of refrains, including “Choose life not death” and “We will love even our enemies”. Those who made money out of arms trading were warning not to be “barn-building fools”, a reference to the warnings of Luke 12:18. The Taize-led liturgy included their most popular sung refrains such as ‘Ubi Caritas’ and prayers for victims of war. There was a prayer for those displaced by severe weather and the hope that governments would seriously address one of the causes – Climate Change. All this carried on during heavy rain showers.

The final liturgy of the day was led by Pat Gaffney, the General Secretary of Pax Christi. Pax Chirsti members were there in force, including Bruce Kent, Valerie Flessati and Patricia and Michael Pulham of Christian CND. Fr Joe Ryan represented Westminster Justice and Peace, and Fr Aodh O’Halpin and Ellen Teague the Columban missionaries. Sr Margaret Healy, a Sister of St Louis was amongst the religious sisters. Arms trading companies were named and asked to repent – BAE Systems (the world’s third largest arms producer, whose weapons and equipment are deployed across the world, including in Iraq and Yemen), Lockheed Martin and Rolls Royce amongst them.

This report from the DSEI Arms Fair came from Independent Catholic News

Archbishop Romero, his people and Pope Francis – a new film

New film previews in London: ‘Archbishop Romero, his people and Pope Francis’

July 2nd, 2017

Q&A  after screening with director Gianni Beretta (centre)  Julian Filochowski  left,  Clare Dixon on right

Q&A after screening with director Gianni Beretta (centre) Julian Filochowski left, Clare Dixon on right

By: Ellen Teague

A quarter of a million people attended the beatification ceremony in El Salvador for Archbishop Oscar Romero on 23 May 2015. A huge crowd chanted songs and carried banners as a procession moved from the cathedral, where Archbishop Romero’s tomb lies in the crypt, to Salvador del Mundo (Saviour of the World) Square in the centre of San Salvador. Here the Vatican envoy Cardinal Angelo Amato presided over the beatification ceremony.

These were the opening images in a new film about Romero, subtitled ‘Archbishop Romero, his people and Pope Francis’, which had its first UK viewing in London on 1 July. It will probably be entitled ‘Making Amends’ in its English version, suggesting that Romero is finally being recognised as a martyr, after Pope Francis declared two years ago that he was killed “in hatred of the faith” and not, as some contended, for political reasons.

Beatification is the penultimate step before Archbishop Romero is, hopefully, declared a saint. He was shot dead by a marksman as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador on the evening of 24 March 1980. The film contained much new footage of Romero, particularly from the last three years of his life when he challenged the violence going on in El Salvador. He regularly visited poor communities and affirmed young people who were growing up amidst poverty and repression. The film showed spontaneous clapping as he walked among people, standing close to them and entering their homes. A real love between Romero and the Salvadorean people was evident. “The Church is trying to give them a little hope” he said.

His homilies in these years were a dynamic challenge to the military-backed government, especially since they were broadcast nationwide on the Church’s radio station. When the US-backed Salvadorean army used death squads and torture to silence leftist movements demanding change, he was not afraid to speak out in his weekly sermons. “The law of God which says thou shalt not kill must come before any human order to kill; it is high time you recovered your conscience,” he said in his last homily in 1980, calling upon the national guard and police to stop the violence. “I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression” he urged. That sermon, interpreted as calling for insubordination, cost him his life. A day later, while saying Mass, he was shot through the heart by a single bullet.

The film records those who knew him well, giving insight into his character. Monsignor Ricardo Urioste, who died last year, told us that that when Romero was chosen as archbishop he did not attend his swearing in. “I thought he was not a good choice for archbishop” he said “and that he was appointed to control the priests who were interested in Medellin”, a reference to the 1968 meeting of the Conference of Latin American Bishops which stated that the Church should make a “preferential option for the poor” and tackle “the institutionalised violence of poverty”. Theologian Jon Sobrino reported on the change evident in Romero just a month after his appointment, following the murder of his friend, the Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande, on 12 March 1977. “He was shocked at what was happening to poor people, catechists and priests” reported Fr Sobrino, “and was outraged at the bumper stickers put out by the military, ‘Be a patriot, kill a priest’”.

But Romero’s adversaries were not just in the military and the affluent families who controlled El Salvador. His focus on social justice, condemning the concentration of power and wealth in El Salvador, and speaking out against structural violence, attracted criticism from his fellow bishops who complained to Rome that he had Marxist leanings. Roberto Cuellar, a lawyer who was hired by Romero to run a free legal-assistance office in San Salvador, reported on Romero’s sadness when his fellow bishops mocked him and laughed in his face “like hyenas”, and he was so upset he asked Romero’s permission to leave the meeting. When Romero travelled to Rome in 1979, with copious documentation regarding victims of repression to show to Pope John Paul II, the latter told him, “you should not have come to Rome with so many documents”. In a difficult meeting, the pope expressed concern that the priests killed were linked to the guerrilla movement and that Romero was not making enough effort to get along with the Salvadorean government. Romero not only continued his challenge but wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter begging the United States to stop sending weapons to the Salvadorean military government which were used to repress the people. Pope John Paul II clearly had a change of heart when he visited El Salvador in 1983 and 1996 and both times asked to visit Romero’s tomb and pray before it. Thereafter he gave his full support to Romero’s beatification. Unfortunately, many senior officials in the Curia did not.

Archbishop Romero comes across as a brave man of whom the Church can rightly be proud for his defence of the poor, and his call for justice and peace. Was he ever fearful that he too would die a violent death? The film contains an interview where he says: “I am mildly fearful, but not in a paralysing way that affects my work.” He was one of over 70,000 people who died during El Salvador’s Civil War, and a UN report records that approximately 85% of all killings of civilians were committed by the Salvadorean armed forces and death squads.

The film highlighted things that were new to me – for example, Romero consulted widely before delivering his explosive sermons, and he spent the final morning of his life on a trip to the beach with some of his priests and a packed lunch!

Several Latin American cardinals in the Vatican had blocked his beatification for years because they were concerned his death was prompted more by his politics than by his preaching. But with Pope Francis the process has been “unblocked”, as he himself put it.

Now that Romero is beatified the next stage is canonisation. However, he has been a saint by popular acclaim in Latin America ever since his killing. Roberto Cuellar told of walking down a street in San Salvador on the evening Romero died and finding a group of beggars who said, “they have killed the saint”. He reports that as being “the first time I heard him called a saint”. At his beatification Pope Francis said: “In this day of joy for El Salvador and also for other Latin American countries, we thank God for giving the martyr archbishop the ability to see and feel the suffering of his people”.

The film was introduced by Julian Filochowski, the chair of the Archbishop Romero Trust, who has lobbied tirelessly for the canonisation of Romero. He knew the archbishop and worked with him in the late 1970s. He was present at the beatification two years ago, just as he had been at his funeral in 1980 – where the military dropped smoke bombs on mourners leading to around 40 deaths. In the 1980s, during his visits to El Salvador as Director of CAFOD, he made a photographic record of the mutilated corpses left out on the streets of San Salvador daily by death squads. Julian is one of many who have long regarded Romero as an extraordinarily meaningful figure far beyond El Salvador, and an important witness from the Church to the world for the 21st century. When Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez was recently elevated to become El Salvador’s first cardinal, one of the first things he did was to say Mass at the tomb of Blessed Oscar Romero and say, “I dedicate this appointment to Archbishop Romero”.

Taking questions after Saturday’s preview from assembled Catholic journalists and friends of the Archbishop Romero Trust, filmmaker Gianni Beretta explained that the likely title, ‘Making Amends’ refers to the “moral reparation” of recognising Romero, nearly four decades after his death, as a champion of the common good, of the same standing as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. It was pointed out that the date of his killing – 24 March – is now the United Nations ‘Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims’. The day is explicitly linked to Archbishop Romero and could be described as a secular canonisation.
Look out for details of the film’s availability on the website of the Archbishop Romero Trust www.romerotrust.org.uk

As part of celebrating the centenary of Archbishop Romero’s birth in 1917, the Archbishop Romero Trust has organised a Centenary Pilgrimage to El Salvador in November. Places are still available:
www.romerotrust.org.uk/news/romero-centenary-pilgrimage-el-salvador-2017

 

FCO Reply to Postcards for Palestine Campaign

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued a reply to our Postcards for Palestine Campaign, which is appended in full below.

Reflecting on the FCO’s response, the Israel-Palestine Subcommittee would note that while the Government’s position appears very strong, there is no evidence that their position has had any meaningful effect to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people. It is beyond understanding that human rights can be so blatantly denied, and that nothing further, apparently, can be done in the way of international pressure.

To quote the FCO’s letter:

“We have regular dialogue with the Government of Israel with regard to the implementation of their obligations under international law, and regularly and robustly raise our serious concerns on issues relating to Israeli actions in the [Occupied Palestinian Territories].”

Dialogue is welcome and necessary, but some serious action is needed. The situation is not so complex that a solution is obscure. Put simply, there is an oppressor, and despite many attempts at peace talks, nothing has substantially changed. In fact, as the FCO admits, in spite of rulings from the international community and from Israel’s own court system, Israeli demolitions and wall construction has accelerated. The FCO expresses “concern” over demolitions, but again, it does not advance any action beyond “raising concern” with Israeli authorities.

The FCO also extends support for a two-state solution.We did not propose a two-state solution in our campaign, and while this may well be a way of supporting the rights of Palestinians in the region, our present interest is with the State of Israel’s responsibility to advocate for everyone within their current borders, regardless of their race, culture, or creed. It is very possible, even likely, given the current positions of the Israeli government, that the rights of Arab Christians and Muslims living in Israel would remain tenuous if Israel’s borders were changed. If the principles behind a two-state solution are not carefully assessed, this may also give tacit support to the exclusion walls which have divided Palestinian communities and families, including the Christian community in Cremisan.

We are grateful to the FCO and to Her Majesty’s Government for their support in holding Israel to account, and for their funding of key humanitarian and advocacy groups in the region. But as the horizon of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Agreement dawns, we must also hold ourselves to account for our own complicity, and our ultimate failure to prevent the rights of Palestinians from being upheld.

The FCO letter is available to download here.

Postcards for Palestine

Please join our postcard campaign for Palestine by requesting these postcards from your Parish J&P Contact (you can find your parish contact on your parish website, or e-mail justice@rcdow.org.uk ).

By signing our short statement and posting the postcard back to us, you lend your voice to millions across the world advocating for Palestinians and other persecuted groups in the Middle East – many of them Catholic Christians.

Also, lookout for awareness campaigns from Aid to the Church in Need and others in this season of the feasts of martyrs.

May we have a blessed and mindful All Souls Day!