Acts of Witness for Peace on Ash Wednesday

This year Columban Mission supported a national Zoom prayer for peace, organised by Pax Christi England and Wales and Christian CND, which attracted around 100 participants on the evening of Ash Wednesday. It linked with the call from Pope Francis for a Day of Prayer for Peace, particularly for the crisis in Ukraine. Ellen Teague and James Trewby of the Columban Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation team, joined in.

Participants came from the dioceses of Birmingham, Hallam, Leeds, Middlesbrough, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Shrewsbury and Westminster, plus Assumption Sisters and other religious orders. Pax Christi members from Bosnia, Germany, Uruguay and Kenya brought international insights.

The prayer focused on a call to Repentance, with the image on screens of a peace banner ‘No Faith in Trident’ and an acknowledgment that humanity “is destroying and squandering the resources of the Earth.” Romans 12 was read out, with the lines, “‘Never pay back evil with more evil….. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.”

There was also a call to Lamentation, where participants held up images and names of people and places they wanted to pray for. These included children living in the shadow of war in Ukraine and the West Bank, and the destruction of the beauty of a number of countries, including Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. There was a reminder of the cost to life of the UK’s commitment to war and death through military spending.

Change of Heart was the third theme, urging moves away from a culture of death towards a culture of life. Special prayers for Ukraine were spurred by words of Pope Francis in recent days as he lobbies for peace as well as praying for it. Bruce Kent, who handed a letter from CND into the Russian Embassy two days earlier opposing all military action, feared hearing politicians speak about the possible use of nuclear weapons. “That would catastrophic,” he warned.

Then a focus on Thanksgiving where Sr Wamuyu Teresia Wachira, Co-President of Pax Christi International, spoke from Kenya about Pax Christi being “a sign of hope in the world” even though members can often feel like they are “crying in the wilderness”. She was proud that Pax Christi is showing a different path to that of violence; instead, choosing a path of peace, justice, equality and respect for the natural world.

The service followed a full day of in person Pax Christi witness events – usually in the rain – in Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool and London. Pax Christi Scotland prayed for peace at the South Gate of Faslane nuclear base in Scotland.

Ellen Teague joined around 30 people outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, where military violence is planned. They stood before the front entrance of the building and repented, “the moral blindness of our nuclear intentions.” Fr Rob Esdaile, read a passage from the writings of Archbishop John Wester who said, “we are heading towards total destruction unless we learn the things that make for peace.”

Ann Farr reported that after a very “meaningful” service in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, a group presented a letter to city officials urging divestment of pension funds from companies involved in arms trading or nuclear weapons.

Nan Saeki from York reported that thousands of school children in the city demonstrated solidarity with the people of Ukraine on Ash Wednesday by creating a human prayer chain for peace between the Bar Convent and York Minster. The event was thought up by pupils at All Saints RC School in South Bank and staff there helped coordinate efforts with schools across the city.

The online service suggested that Christians have responsibilities to repent war policies, to name them as challenges to the Gospel, and to invite the government to turn away from a military security which is based on threat and fear towards a security based on cooperation, understanding and human rights. Participants were reminded that Ash Wednesday is a serious call to conversion and nonviolence.

“We share the anguish of people around the globe who have already suffered from the use of nuclear weapons and experience the despair of many who see their hope for a dignified life frustrated by the misappropriation of the world’s resources. As Christians, and people of goodwill, we must be actively involved with those who raise their voices in protest on this crucial issue of our times because it is at the heart of what it means to defend life and protect creation, now and for future generations.”

From a Columban statement in 2021

Read the Columban Peace Statement

Columbans choose to promote a culture of peace and nonviolence that reflects an inner well-being, just social and economic structures, active non-violence in the face of oppression, and a cosmic Christ-like peace that fosters a sense of inter-connectedness and solidarity with all living things and with the Earth.

Columban Peace Statement