Being Open to the Many Calls of Justice and Peace can Lead to Unexpected Outcomes

Father Joe, Chair of the Diocese of Westminster Justice & Peace Commission, writes about being open to the calls of justice and peace, and the need for flexibility.

Responding to Justice and Peace even in my own parish has taken me on some astonishing journeys. For example on February 14th, in over two weeks’ time I will go to Istanbul, Turkey. I have been invited to be part of an International Delegation to Imrali. This is the island prison where Abdullah Ocalan had been in solitary confinement since 1999, over 16 years. In the minds of many Kurdish people, he is their “Nelson Mandela”. Arrested in Nairobi, Kenya, on his way to South Africa to meet up with Nelson Mandela, he was arrested and bas been in prison since. He is one of the founding members of PKK, Kurdistan Workers Party; a resistance movement seeking to resolve the denial of human rights of the Kurdish people, by the Turkish state. The guns had been silent for many years, but some months ago conflict has broken out again. Abdullah Ocalan has been writing from prison, asking his followers to cease violence and setting out a Peace Plan in the form of three books published on his behalf.

My involvement was instigated by the fact that there is a Kurdish Centre in St John Vianney Parish. Being Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission I was invited over five years ago to join an International Delegation to attend court trials of 150 Kurdish prisoners in Diyarbakir, Eastern Turkey and the give a report at the House of Commons.

Following that, some three years ago a group of four of us signed an International Campaign in Brussels for the release of Abdullah Ocalan from prison. Two and a half years later, we presented to the Council of Europe in Strasburg, 10.3 million signatures demanding his release. So in two weeks’ time, a further delegation will be seeking permission from the Turkish Government that we visit Mr Ocalan in his prison in Imrali Island. It is doubtful if we will succeed, but we have to keep trying. Maybe one day his freedom will be achieved. Nelson Mandela was in prison for 28 years. I have also attended some of the Turkish elections as an International observer.

I have quoted this example at length to show the different calls on our witness, and to show the importance of staying with an issue. For instance, it is abundantly clear that we must walk with our Muslim neighbours in their struggles for identity and peace. I have grasped other opportunities to understand and show solidarity with people who have struggled with injustice and persecution i.e., Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Palestine and El Salvador. Why all this? Jesus said, “I was in prison, a stranger – in trouble and you came to my help”. Where there are denials of Human Rights, we who represents the Catholic Church, should be there to give a voice to the voiceless! This is also the case for refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, hungry and so on, at home and abroad.