Theresa Alessandro, the new Director of Pax Christi UK, visited the Leeds Diocese on 10 June. Pax Christi UK is the UK part of an international Catholic peace movement.Theresa had agreed to time her visit so that it coincided with the quarterly meeting of the full J&P Commission. John Battle, Chair of the Commission had sent out a more general invite to our supporter base and about 25 people turned out at Hinsley Hall to listen to Theresa and join in the conversation about peace and nonviolence.Bishop Marcus was unable to attend the meeting due to a prior engagement but came along beforehand to introduce himself to Theresa.
Theresa opened her talk with a reminder about what Pax Christi is and what it does. It is a membership organisation made up of people who are concerned about peace built on justice, reconciliation and nonviolence. In the UK it produces resources and opportunities for witness, deepening our understanding and praying about issues like arms, nuclear weapons and Israel/Palestine (amongst a number of peace-related issues). It encompasses a broad range of approaches to peacemaking- ranging from some regular events (Ministry of Defence protests on Ash Wednesday), using the Liturgical seasons (the Annual Advent Pax Christi service), providing speaker resources to all sorts of events, as well as work related to ethical investments (for example, to get pension funds to disinvest from companies associated with the production of cluster bombs).
Pax Christi has a full time education worker who goes into schools by invitation and creates resources around peace issues – including lesson plans relating to parts of the national Curriculum. It is a key member of several ecumenical UK peace organisations.
It is also a member organisation of Pax Christi International (PCI). The international arm is an active member of ICAN (The international Campaign to Abolition Nuclear Weapons) which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. It operates in over 50 countries and has representation at both the United Nations and the EU.
A key strand of the International work in the last couple of years has been to develop Catholic thought about nonviolence – instead of thinking about what a ‘Just War’ looks like what would a ‘Just Peace’ approach be like? This was kicked off with a Vatican-led conference in 2016. Since then the International arm of Pax Christi has led working groups on this composed of people from across the world – many of them living in countries where there are serious ongoing violent conflicts. You can explore some of their work on a
dedicated website https://nonviolencejustpeace.net/
Theresa explored how nonviolence is the thread that pulls together all the activity of Pax Christi UK. It is so much more than ‘not violence’. The nonviolence of Jesus is an active, creative struggle against injustice – to love our enemies, to believe that they can be transformed, to rob the oppressor of their power to humiliate – and not to humiliate them back.
This latter point was brought into sharp focus for Theresa because of the service at Westminster Abbey on May 3rd to “celebrate 50 years of peace because of the possession of a nuclear deterrent”! Pax Christi was well-represented at a demonstration and vigil held outside the abbey to counter the assumption underlying this service. The Catholic Church is unequivocal in its condemnation of the possession of nuclear weapons – let alone their use. As people filed out of the abbey at the end of the service it was clear that many of the participants were members of the armed services. A few people starting shouting at them – things like ‘Shame on you’.
Theresa reflected that she felt uncomfortable with this element of the protest. Will shouting at people change their mindsets? – or do we need to engage with them in a more constructive manner? One of Theresa’s three sons is in the Royal Marines. She knows that his motivations stem from good motives although she struggles with this. The same will be true of many in the military. To get to a situation where nonviolence is the normal response to conflict issues, we have to move a long way from where we are today. Total non-engagement (perhaps there are situations where it might be the appropriate response not to engage?) will not move all of us from our current entrenched positions.
Basically, Theresa was reflecting on the waves of populism that are seemingly so pervasive at the present time. There is little room for nuance, it seems, in our civil society debates.
With further examples like this, Theresa created a lively discussion amongst those present and the Commission looks forward to reflecting on what she had to say and trying to discern what more we could do as a Commission.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT PAX CHRISTI
Pax Christi UK has a comprehensive website where you can become a member, download some resources and shop for others – as well as finding out about the activities of Pax Christi and its members across the country.
Coming up in August will the anniversaries of the dropping of the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Aug 06 and Aug 09). Is this something that could be mentioned in liturgies in your church??