Pax Christi AGM – Columbans support Peace Movement

Ellen Teague writes about how Archbishop McMahon encouraged members at the Pax Christi AGM to stay faithful to Christ's teachings and the peace movement.

Pax Christi AGM 2023
Pax Christi AGM 2023

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool, President of Pax Christi England and Wales, told 50 members at its AGM in London on 17 June to “Remain faithful to Christ’s teaching and the peace movement.” He complimented the staff and executive for work on such issues as the war in Ukraine and added that “It’s so important that we keep going and don’t give up.” Representatives of the National Justice and Peace Network, Christian CND, and Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace joined individual members hearing him remember Bruce Kent, who died a year ago and was “much loved” and dedicated to supporting Pax Christi’s work.

Fr. Eamonn O’Brien SSC and Ellen Teague joined online. The Columbans are members of both Pax Christi England and Wales and Pax Christi International. Peace is one of the key themes in Columban’s work for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). Columbans join Pax Christi at such events as the Ash Wednesday witness against nuclear weapons and arms fair protests.

In the Chair’s Report, Ann Farr lamented the refusal of the UK government to turn from nuclear weapons and indeed bring back US weapons to the UK. She highlighted speaking out against violations of international law in the Holy Land, and spotlighting arms trading. She called for new members to join Pax Christi at a time of its recovery from the impact of Covid, and welcomed Andrew Jackson, who became the new Chief Executive Officer in late 2022. A message from the secretary general of Pax Christi International, Martha Inés Romero, offered best wishes for a “fruitful assembly”.

Andrew Jackson and Joan Sharples reported on such events as the July 2022 National Justice and Peace Network Conference, which 23 Pax Christi members attended. Also, the commemorations of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks in August. On Peace Sunday 2023, not only did members promote Pope Francis’ message in parishes, but Masses for peace were celebrated at the cathedrals of Southwark, Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Lancaster and Liverpool. Ash Wednesday saw a national online witness with Christian CND. In Liverpool, members processed to the Town Hall, asking that Liverpool should become a Nuclear Ban City. Pax Christi joined colleagues in the Network of Christian Peace Organisations in signing and delivering a letter to the Foreign Secretary urging the UK Government to engage more effectively with the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The 60th anniversary of ‘Pacem in Terris’ was marked, alongside CAFOD.

The Administration and Finance Manager, Fausta Valentine, reported that 12 per cent of Pax Christi’s income is from January’s Peace Sunday and 20 dioceses out of 22 in England and Wales contributed. Valerie Flessati was thanked for producing Peace Sunday materials. Further income is from legacy gifts, grants and other donations. It was much appreciated that some schools and parishes purchased crosses from Bethlehem for their leavers and Confirmation groups. Non-violence prayer cards have also been popular as gifts for young people.

Aisling Griffin, Pax Christi’s Schools and Youth Education Officer visited 15 schools across seven dioceses during the year, reaching around 1,500 young people, often working with the Columban Education Worker, James Trewby. There was a Faith in Action Day with schools in Northampton Diocese, a Peace Day with an academy in Birmingham and a Confirmation Retreat in a London parish. She joined the Columbans, Religious of the Assumption and Million Minutes to run a lunchtime activity at the Flame Conference of the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation in March and produced four Peace Education e-bulletins. In April, AIsling joined colleagues from Quakers in Britain and ForcesWatch to represent the Peace Education Network on a stall at the National Education Union’s annual conference in Harrogate. Pax Christi also took part with other faith organisations, including the Columbans, in ‘The Big One’ climate protest weekend in London, raising the inter-connectedness of climate change and conflict. The Pax Christi website offers expensive resources on peace education.

After the formalities of the AGM, Archbishop McMahon presented Pax Christi Peace Awards 2023 to four UK peacemakers. Each received a medal created by Natasha Ratcliffe and is called the P.E.A.C.E. (Please Engage All Communities on Earth) medal. On one side it has the image of a person’s face with a bird carrying a sprig of foliage. On the reverse is the Tree of Life. Ellen Teague of Columban JPIC was given the award two years ago.

This year, awards went to Sally Reynolds, a founder member of the Abingdon Peace Group in the 1980s who has organised events and campaigning actions over four decades. She said, “Thank you for thinking of me and for all your work to encourage a culture of peace.” Jennifer Rowlands is currently Head of Religious Studies at Bellerive Catholic College, Liverpool and is a longstanding member of Pax Christi. She said, “I see peace education as an incredibly important part of my work as a teacher.” Janette Harper is active with Pax Christi Liverpool, organising speakers, film nights, petitions and letters to MPs and running stalls. She has campaigned for Liverpool to become a nuclear-free zone and ensures the Liverpool group works with Liverpool Friends of Palestine to send cards to Palestinian Parishes as an act of solidarity. Martin Birdseye is a longstanding member of Pax Christi and a dedicated campaigner with Christian CND. He created and disseminated ‘The Nuclear Morality Flowchart’ which helps people decide where they stand on nuclear weapons and to make national decision-makers more accountable.

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