Pacifism in the face of aggression – the Christian response?

By Maggie Beirne, West London Justice and Peace Network Co-ordinator

We have all watched our TV screens with horror since the 24th February when Ukraine was invaded.  Russia’s unprovoked attack, and the nature of its assault – indiscriminate bombing and killing of civilians leading to the internal displacement and mass exodus of refugees, and the apparent threat to use biological/chemical and even nuclear weapons – has left most of us shocked.  And who has not felt a strong sense of solidarity with the plight of the Ukrainians?  We empathise with their plight; we pray as individuals or in community for their survival; and we try to help practically with financial or other donations.  We feel one with their cause. 

The West London Justice and Peace Network reflected at a recent meeting on the challenge of pacifism in times like this. How would we as individuals respond in similar circumstances?  Would we start training to use Kalashnikovs or insist on suing for peace at whatever cost?  When we experience a sense almost of pride in seeing these ‘plucky’ Ukrainians giving their all to defend their freedom, do we become part of the problem; and what is the Christian response to these challenges?   

Martin Birdseye, member of the Network and long-time peace activist, helped us reflect on some of the difficult issues involved. 

We were reminded of the fact that history is full of examples where in time of conflict, pacifism gets swept away on a tide of solidarity.  We have certainly seen our own elected politicians rush to bolster arms supplies, talking up the importance of ‘hard power’’ and the strength of our military alliances, while unsaid but very apparent, is the increased risk of nuclear war.  Our very human instinct for personal and human security can lead us into an aggressive response, but is this so different from the desire of Russians for security following their terrible experience of WW2 and their fears of NATO ‘expansionism’?

In Britain, our taxes are spent on maintaining a nuclear arsenal, supposedly for our defence.  But is this arsenal keeping us safe, or does it not lend a false justification for both NATO and Russia to vie for control of their respective ‘spheres of influence’?  Instead of nuclear weapons strengthening our security, have they rendered the world a more unsafe place?  Would our taxes have been much better spent on tackling injustices in our own society and actively building peace globally – via aid, tackling government corruption, support for refugees, or fighting climate insecurity.

In the longer term, we also need as Christian peacemakers to examine the role of Britain as probably the world’s second largest arms exporter.  Arms companies and suppliers may be the only ones to gain from the current tragedy in Ukraine.  Most local West London residents were unaware of the international arms fair that was recently held this year in Twickenham, yet such gatherings feed and fuel the violence that we then subsequently deplore around the world (whether in Ukraine, Yemen, or the Horn of Africa). This trade is taking place in our name as the UK government provides export licenses for ‘suitable’ arms manufacturers but claims to bear no responsibility for the resultant human rights abuses.

The network noted that the Ukrainians, like all of us, have a right to self-defence and that pacifism is not ‘passivity’.  But nor can we ignore the fact that the violence perpetrated by one side tends only to beget violence from the opposition, in a never-ending cycle of retribution.  Or, as better said by Mahatma Gandhi, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.  So, the real challenge is to find out how we can turn to God and help others do so in these times of turmoil.

In our discussion, the network noted that concepts such as ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ can at times like this appear to be in tension but are instead totally inter-dependent.  “No justice, no peace”, albeit a slogan, is accurate. As Christians we have to be active peace makers.  Peace groups have organised zoom prayer meetings; had a spontaneous turn-out of people on the day of the invasion to a prayer gathering; and Religions for Peace UK have submitted a letter to the Chiswick-based Bishop of the Russian Orthodox church, to be sent to the Moscow Patriarch asking him directly to appeal to Putin.  What should we be doing practically all year around to promote the educational efforts of groups such as Pax Christi and the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament?

When time permits, events in Ukraine may also encourage more reflection on the Catholic teaching around the ‘just war theory’.  This theory sets out some of the principles that will determine if the cause of any war be ‘just’, and if the tactics used in warfare can also be considered ‘just’.  But there is now much debate as to whether the idea of a ‘just war’ has become an obsolete concept given that the massive predominance of civilian casualties in modern warfare undercuts the moral ground for conceiving of almost any war as just. 

So, whilst we need to focus over the longer term on eliminating the underlying causes of violence and war and re-introduce the power of non-violent action, what can be done in the short term?  Right now, Ukraine is being destroyed and its people scattered.   Alongside all the practicalities (of sending humanitarian assistance and being welcoming to refugees), Pope Francis, pleaded: “Let the weapons fall silent. God is with those who seek peace, not those resorting to violence.”

As Christians, we have to join him in condemning those who “trust in the diabolic and perverse logic of weapons” and pray for guidance on how to engage ever more effectively in the search for peace.


Pax Christi:

Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament:

Westminster Catholics represented in Trafalgar Square at Rally for Ukraine

l-r: Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, Archbishop Anba Angaelos

l-r: Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, Archbishop Anba Angaelos

An estimated 2,000 people, gathered in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, 5 March, for a peace rally organised by the main Ukrainian community groups in the UK.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, told those gathered: “Today we are all Ukrainian.” He brought a message from Pope Francis assuring everyone present and all those who have family and friends in Ukraine that the Holy Father is remembering them in his prayers.

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, Bishop for Ukrainian, Belarusian and Slovak Eastern Catholics in Great Britain also attended with Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Anba Angaelos, the Archbishop of Birmingham, Most Rev Bernard Longley, Mgr Keith Newton from the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, head of Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission, who represented Cardinal Vincent Nichols and a group of priests and seminarians from the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family.

There were calls from several speakers for the EU to provide a ‘no fly zone’ over Ukraine.

In a speech, journalist and author Paul Mason appealed for the British parliament to pass emergency legislation confiscating property and fortunes of the billionaire Russian oligarchs living in the UK. “They made their fortunes by stealing from the Russian people” he said. Mason proposed that this money could be used to help provide medical care, food and shelter for the more than one million refugees who have been forced to flee their homes by invading Russian forces.

A Russian couple attending the rally, Anna and George from Moscow, told ICN: “We came here to show our support for the Ukrainian people. Our family and friends do not support Putin. We feel this invasion was a savage act. We are concerned for the safety of our own families and very worried about the situation in Ukraine. This is a tragedy.” Anna said: “I have hardly slept since this began..”

Two Ukrainian sisters from a town near Lviv who are working as nurses here, said: “We have family near the Russian border. On the first day of the invasion we were able to speak with our parents. Our mother has diabetes so she needs regular medication. They said if things looked dangerous they would go to another place but since then we have heard nothing. We are desperately worried and praying for their safety.”

The day was organised by Euro-Maidan, The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, the Ukrainian Women’s Organisations in Great Britain, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches in Great Britain, among others.

If you would like to support organisations working with Ukrainian refugees see:

Watch a clip from the day:

Ukrainian Churches in the Time of War; Round Table Discussion. Friday March 4th, 4-5.30pm

Organised by Institute of Ecumenical Studies of the Ukrainian Catholic University in partnership with the Libertas Centre for Interreligious Dialogue

The war in Ukraine is heavily affecting the entire population of the country, churches included. We gathered an ecumenical cohort of representatives from Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as religious observers to examine how Ukrainian churches are reacting to the Russian military invasion and assisting the population. We will also examine the religious narratives being formulated and how religious organizations abroad can help in this critical moment.

Friday, March 4, 4-5.30pm GMT
18:00-19:30 Kyiv time
[17:00-18:30 CET; 11:00am-12.30pm EST]

Registration is required

For additional information contact Rev. Roman Fihas at

Justice and Peace Europe calls for peace and an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine

After the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops on 24 February 2022, the Executive Committee of Justice and Peace Europe has condemned the Russian aggression as “a serious violation to international law and as a threat to peace in Europe.”

In a statement, Justice and Peace Europe made the following points:

  • We express our support and solidarity with Ukraine and its suffering people, we request all European governments to support the neighbouring countries of Ukraine in their efforts to welcome and accommodate refugees.
  • We ask the European Union, its member states and all European governments to stay united and to put in place an even harsher sanctions regime against the Russian authorities.
  • We admire the courage of Russian citizens who despite all sorts of repressions bravely take to the streets to protest against their government in the name of peace.
  • We implore His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and all Orthodox authorities in Russia to intervene with the political leadership in order to obtain an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all Russian troops from the Ukraine territory.
  • We support the call of Pope Francis for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Ukraine on Ash Wednesday (2 March).
  • We hope and work for a new culture of peace in Europe, remembering in our prayers all civilian and military victims and their families.

Friday, 25 February 2022

The Executive Committee of Justice and Peace Europe

Contact: Stefan Lunte, General Secretary of Justice and Peace Europe,
tel: 0033680179422, e-mail: ,

An Appeal for Prayer for Peace in Ukraine – Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, Duke Street, London, 26 January 2022, 4.30pm

His Holiness Pope Francis and His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, have appealed to everyone of good will to participate in prayer for peace in Ukraine on Wednesday 26 January. 

Holy Family Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral on Duke Street and Weighhouse Street in London W1K 5BQ will be holding a special prayer service for peace in Ukraine at 4:30 pm on 26 January. 

Everyone is welcome to join us.  It is part of a 12-hour marathon of prayer in Ukrainian Catholic Cathedrals and parishes throughout the world.  The marathon of prayer for peace in Ukraine will be live broadcast beginning at 07:00 – on the Ukrainian Catholic TV YouTube channel (above).

Crisis in Yemen – International Day of Action 25th January 2021

BBC Documentary

The BBC has highlighted the on-going disaster in Yemen in a programme on 18 January 2021 which is now available on iPlayer

BBC iPlayer – Yemen: Coronavirus in a War Zone

Justice & Peace Scotland – Crisis in Yemen Event – Sunday 24th January 4.30pm

The conflict in Yemen is one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, their suffering driven by UK made weapons.

Ahead of the International Day of Action for Yemen (Monday 25th January) Justice and Peace Scotland invites you to hear more about the devastating links between arms manufactures here and the devastating conflict in Yemen on Sunday 24 January 2021 at 4.30pm.

Speakers include:

Emma Cockburn is the Scotland Coordinator at Campaign Against Arms Trade and is responsible for highlighting Scotland’s contribution to the UK’s arms trade. Emma is currently working on supporting defence diversification projects and arms divestment opportunities across the country. Coming from an anti-nuclear and trade union background, Emma is passionate about empowering activists to create lasting change and is currently involved in creating a reporting detailing the arms industry’s influence in Scotland.”

Rev Daniel Woodhouse a Methodist minister currently serving in the Brighton and Hove Methodist Circuit. Over the past 15 years has been involved in many different forms of anti-arms activism, including a break in at BAE-Systems Warton over the sale of Jets to Saudi Arabia and their use in Yemen.

To book tickets to attend Crisis in Yemen click here:

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 –

Article from Independent Catholic News