UN Secretary General calls for Global Ceasefire

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres is calling for an immediate Global Ceasefire. He points out the utter futility of continuing conflict and violent loss of life at a time when people of every nation around the world are trying to protect and preserve life threatened by the pandemic.

To read the full text visit the UN website

The online action group Avaaz have started a petition in support of the UN call. To sign go to Avaaz.org

No Faith in War prayers outside DSEI Arms Fair

Pat Gaffney, general secretary of Pax Christi quoted the words of Pope Francis during prayers for peace outside the Excel Centre in east London on Tuesday – where the DSEI Arms Fair is due to open next Tuesday:

“It is an absurd contradiction to speak of peace, to negotiate peace, and at the same time, promote or permit the arms trade.

Is this war or that war really a war to solve problems or is it a commercial war for selling weapons in illegal trade and so that the merchants of death get rich?

Let us put an end to this situation. Let us pray all together that national leaders may firmly commit themselves to ending the arms trade which victimises so many innocent people.”

There were also prayers and testimonies from several faith leaders – among them an Anglican pastor, who called on everyone present to pray for the police who work so hard to keep our country safe. A Muslim speaker from Bahrain lamented the fact that the vast amounts of money being spent on weapons could be so much better used in medical research and care for the sick. Buddhists present were a reminder of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In line with the ‘No Faith in War’ theme, the afternoon saw prayer services led by the Quakers, Taize community and Pax Christi with around 100 people participating. The backdrop was peace banners: ‘Bristol Peace’, ‘Brummers for Peace’, Pax Christi, Christian CND, CND and Campaign Against Arms Trade.

The Quakers led a series of refrains, including “Choose life not death” and “We will love even our enemies”. Those who made money out of arms trading were warning not to be “barn-building fools”, a reference to the warnings of Luke 12:18. The Taize-led liturgy included their most popular sung refrains such as ‘Ubi Caritas’ and prayers for victims of war. There was a prayer for those displaced by severe weather and the hope that governments would seriously address one of the causes – Climate Change. All this carried on during heavy rain showers.

The final liturgy of the day was led by Pat Gaffney, the General Secretary of Pax Christi. Pax Chirsti members were there in force, including Bruce Kent, Valerie Flessati and Patricia and Michael Pulham of Christian CND. Fr Joe Ryan represented Westminster Justice and Peace, and Fr Aodh O’Halpin and Ellen Teague the Columban missionaries. Sr Margaret Healy, a Sister of St Louis was amongst the religious sisters. Arms trading companies were named and asked to repent – BAE Systems (the world’s third largest arms producer, whose weapons and equipment are deployed across the world, including in Iraq and Yemen), Lockheed Martin and Rolls Royce amongst them.

This report from the DSEI Arms Fair came from Independent Catholic News

Archbishop Romero, his people and Pope Francis – a new film

New film previews in London: ‘Archbishop Romero, his people and Pope Francis’

July 2nd, 2017

Q&A  after screening with director Gianni Beretta (centre)  Julian Filochowski  left,  Clare Dixon on right

Q&A after screening with director Gianni Beretta (centre) Julian Filochowski left, Clare Dixon on right

By: Ellen Teague

A quarter of a million people attended the beatification ceremony in El Salvador for Archbishop Oscar Romero on 23 May 2015. A huge crowd chanted songs and carried banners as a procession moved from the cathedral, where Archbishop Romero’s tomb lies in the crypt, to Salvador del Mundo (Saviour of the World) Square in the centre of San Salvador. Here the Vatican envoy Cardinal Angelo Amato presided over the beatification ceremony.

These were the opening images in a new film about Romero, subtitled ‘Archbishop Romero, his people and Pope Francis’, which had its first UK viewing in London on 1 July. It will probably be entitled ‘Making Amends’ in its English version, suggesting that Romero is finally being recognised as a martyr, after Pope Francis declared two years ago that he was killed “in hatred of the faith” and not, as some contended, for political reasons.

Beatification is the penultimate step before Archbishop Romero is, hopefully, declared a saint. He was shot dead by a marksman as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador on the evening of 24 March 1980. The film contained much new footage of Romero, particularly from the last three years of his life when he challenged the violence going on in El Salvador. He regularly visited poor communities and affirmed young people who were growing up amidst poverty and repression. The film showed spontaneous clapping as he walked among people, standing close to them and entering their homes. A real love between Romero and the Salvadorean people was evident. “The Church is trying to give them a little hope” he said.

His homilies in these years were a dynamic challenge to the military-backed government, especially since they were broadcast nationwide on the Church’s radio station. When the US-backed Salvadorean army used death squads and torture to silence leftist movements demanding change, he was not afraid to speak out in his weekly sermons. “The law of God which says thou shalt not kill must come before any human order to kill; it is high time you recovered your conscience,” he said in his last homily in 1980, calling upon the national guard and police to stop the violence. “I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression” he urged. That sermon, interpreted as calling for insubordination, cost him his life. A day later, while saying Mass, he was shot through the heart by a single bullet.

The film records those who knew him well, giving insight into his character. Monsignor Ricardo Urioste, who died last year, told us that that when Romero was chosen as archbishop he did not attend his swearing in. “I thought he was not a good choice for archbishop” he said “and that he was appointed to control the priests who were interested in Medellin”, a reference to the 1968 meeting of the Conference of Latin American Bishops which stated that the Church should make a “preferential option for the poor” and tackle “the institutionalised violence of poverty”. Theologian Jon Sobrino reported on the change evident in Romero just a month after his appointment, following the murder of his friend, the Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande, on 12 March 1977. “He was shocked at what was happening to poor people, catechists and priests” reported Fr Sobrino, “and was outraged at the bumper stickers put out by the military, ‘Be a patriot, kill a priest’”.

But Romero’s adversaries were not just in the military and the affluent families who controlled El Salvador. His focus on social justice, condemning the concentration of power and wealth in El Salvador, and speaking out against structural violence, attracted criticism from his fellow bishops who complained to Rome that he had Marxist leanings. Roberto Cuellar, a lawyer who was hired by Romero to run a free legal-assistance office in San Salvador, reported on Romero’s sadness when his fellow bishops mocked him and laughed in his face “like hyenas”, and he was so upset he asked Romero’s permission to leave the meeting. When Romero travelled to Rome in 1979, with copious documentation regarding victims of repression to show to Pope John Paul II, the latter told him, “you should not have come to Rome with so many documents”. In a difficult meeting, the pope expressed concern that the priests killed were linked to the guerrilla movement and that Romero was not making enough effort to get along with the Salvadorean government. Romero not only continued his challenge but wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter begging the United States to stop sending weapons to the Salvadorean military government which were used to repress the people. Pope John Paul II clearly had a change of heart when he visited El Salvador in 1983 and 1996 and both times asked to visit Romero’s tomb and pray before it. Thereafter he gave his full support to Romero’s beatification. Unfortunately, many senior officials in the Curia did not.

Archbishop Romero comes across as a brave man of whom the Church can rightly be proud for his defence of the poor, and his call for justice and peace. Was he ever fearful that he too would die a violent death? The film contains an interview where he says: “I am mildly fearful, but not in a paralysing way that affects my work.” He was one of over 70,000 people who died during El Salvador’s Civil War, and a UN report records that approximately 85% of all killings of civilians were committed by the Salvadorean armed forces and death squads.

The film highlighted things that were new to me – for example, Romero consulted widely before delivering his explosive sermons, and he spent the final morning of his life on a trip to the beach with some of his priests and a packed lunch!

Several Latin American cardinals in the Vatican had blocked his beatification for years because they were concerned his death was prompted more by his politics than by his preaching. But with Pope Francis the process has been “unblocked”, as he himself put it.

Now that Romero is beatified the next stage is canonisation. However, he has been a saint by popular acclaim in Latin America ever since his killing. Roberto Cuellar told of walking down a street in San Salvador on the evening Romero died and finding a group of beggars who said, “they have killed the saint”. He reports that as being “the first time I heard him called a saint”. At his beatification Pope Francis said: “In this day of joy for El Salvador and also for other Latin American countries, we thank God for giving the martyr archbishop the ability to see and feel the suffering of his people”.

The film was introduced by Julian Filochowski, the chair of the Archbishop Romero Trust, who has lobbied tirelessly for the canonisation of Romero. He knew the archbishop and worked with him in the late 1970s. He was present at the beatification two years ago, just as he had been at his funeral in 1980 – where the military dropped smoke bombs on mourners leading to around 40 deaths. In the 1980s, during his visits to El Salvador as Director of CAFOD, he made a photographic record of the mutilated corpses left out on the streets of San Salvador daily by death squads. Julian is one of many who have long regarded Romero as an extraordinarily meaningful figure far beyond El Salvador, and an important witness from the Church to the world for the 21st century. When Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez was recently elevated to become El Salvador’s first cardinal, one of the first things he did was to say Mass at the tomb of Blessed Oscar Romero and say, “I dedicate this appointment to Archbishop Romero”.

Taking questions after Saturday’s preview from assembled Catholic journalists and friends of the Archbishop Romero Trust, filmmaker Gianni Beretta explained that the likely title, ‘Making Amends’ refers to the “moral reparation” of recognising Romero, nearly four decades after his death, as a champion of the common good, of the same standing as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. It was pointed out that the date of his killing – 24 March – is now the United Nations ‘Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims’. The day is explicitly linked to Archbishop Romero and could be described as a secular canonisation.
Look out for details of the film’s availability on the website of the Archbishop Romero Trust www.romerotrust.org.uk

As part of celebrating the centenary of Archbishop Romero’s birth in 1917, the Archbishop Romero Trust has organised a Centenary Pilgrimage to El Salvador in November. Places are still available:


FCO Reply to Postcards for Palestine Campaign

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued a reply to our Postcards for Palestine Campaign, which is appended in full below.

Reflecting on the FCO’s response, the Israel-Palestine Subcommittee would note that while the Government’s position appears very strong, there is no evidence that their position has had any meaningful effect to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people. It is beyond understanding that human rights can be so blatantly denied, and that nothing further, apparently, can be done in the way of international pressure.

To quote the FCO’s letter:

“We have regular dialogue with the Government of Israel with regard to the implementation of their obligations under international law, and regularly and robustly raise our serious concerns on issues relating to Israeli actions in the [Occupied Palestinian Territories].”

Dialogue is welcome and necessary, but some serious action is needed. The situation is not so complex that a solution is obscure. Put simply, there is an oppressor, and despite many attempts at peace talks, nothing has substantially changed. In fact, as the FCO admits, in spite of rulings from the international community and from Israel’s own court system, Israeli demolitions and wall construction has accelerated. The FCO expresses “concern” over demolitions, but again, it does not advance any action beyond “raising concern” with Israeli authorities.

The FCO also extends support for a two-state solution.We did not propose a two-state solution in our campaign, and while this may well be a way of supporting the rights of Palestinians in the region, our present interest is with the State of Israel’s responsibility to advocate for everyone within their current borders, regardless of their race, culture, or creed. It is very possible, even likely, given the current positions of the Israeli government, that the rights of Arab Christians and Muslims living in Israel would remain tenuous if Israel’s borders were changed. If the principles behind a two-state solution are not carefully assessed, this may also give tacit support to the exclusion walls which have divided Palestinian communities and families, including the Christian community in Cremisan.

We are grateful to the FCO and to Her Majesty’s Government for their support in holding Israel to account, and for their funding of key humanitarian and advocacy groups in the region. But as the horizon of the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Agreement dawns, we must also hold ourselves to account for our own complicity, and our ultimate failure to prevent the rights of Palestinians from being upheld.

The FCO letter is available to download here.

Postcards for Palestine

Please join our postcard campaign for Palestine by requesting these postcards from your Parish J&P Contact (you can find your parish contact on your parish website, or e-mail justice@rcdow.org.uk ).

By signing our short statement and posting the postcard back to us, you lend your voice to millions across the world advocating for Palestinians and other persecuted groups in the Middle East – many of them Catholic Christians.

Also, lookout for awareness campaigns from Aid to the Church in Need and others in this season of the feasts of martyrs.

May we have a blessed and mindful All Souls Day!

A World Free from Nuclear Weapons, or renewal of Trident?

The statement below expresses our view on the Trident nuclear weapons system. The climate good we are trying to work for is not helped in any way by renewing this weapon which, when used, is so pervasively destructive of humanity and the environment. We add our voices to all those who campaign for an end to our nuclear deterrent. We think Trident should be scrapped. Our statement explains why.

As Labour attempt to resolve their defence policy in relation to nuclear weapons, we look at the arguments for and against retaining the UK Trident system in the light of our Faith, and call for an unequivocal refusal to renew Trident, this costly and deadly weapons system. Pope Francis called for an end to nuclear weapons in October last year, saying:  ‘There is an urgent need to work for a world free from nuclear weapons, in full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in letter and spirit with a goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons’.   How is this to be achieved? There are vital questions of security, economics and the very purpose of nuclear weapons to be considered.

How did it start?          Some remember the devastating destruction caused by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and were horrified to read and see, soon after,  pictures of a bomb that could vaporise human flesh for a half mile radius and burn thousands of men, women and children, who were miles away from the epicentre. Perhaps we were made aware of the horrors through the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament founded in the 1950s, and Ban the Bomb marches to Aldermaston, which went on for decades.   Yet, not only do the tragic consequences continue 70 years later, but there are now 9 countries in possession of nuclear weapons, some  not even signed up to nuclear armaments limitation treaties (Israel denied it had them) –  hardly a sign that the issue has ‘gone off the boil’.

The UK’s nuclear capacity today
“The UK’s nuclear deterrent force currently consists of an operational system known as Trident:  four Vanguard-class submarines each capable of carrying up to 1611 D-5 ballistic nuclear missiles.  At least one submarine constantly is on patrol, while one undergoes maintenance; and the other two carry out manoeuvres” Wikipedia

This is operated by the Royal Navy and based at Clyde Naval Base on Scotland’s West Coast – Faslane and Coulport are the two key locations.  Each of the submarines can be armed with eight missiles and 40 warheads: so a total of 160 warheads.  Frighteningly, each of the 160 warheads has eight times the explosive power of the bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945.  It is very hard to contemplate the capability of destroying over 1,200 Hiroshimas!  It is estimated that 75,000 people died in that blast; another 140,000 died some days/weeks later.  The death toll reached 200,000 by the end of 1950.  There are still health problems for the people of Hiroshima today.

The Modern Potential of Nuclear Weapons
Most of us have no idea of the tragedy, suffering and devastation caused by a nuclear bomb; Trident replacement is discussed like a play-station game.  The consequences of using these weapons would far outstrip those of the World War II bombs.   One image of the stupidity and insanity of even a single warhead, for instance, is, two men in a large tank of petrol up to their shoulders; one has a lighter which he is threatening to strike to destroy his enemy!  The fact  is, both will be incinerated by the strike!

The arguments

1          Deter or Use   Politicians frequently argue that atomic weapons are a deterrent never to be used.  But this had been argued right up to when politicians and generals had them dropped on Japan in 1945, almost as soon as they were available.  Ever since, there have been plans for nuclear wars.  US bombers planned for and practised small and large scale nuclear bombing runs against North Korea with live nuclear bombs in the early 1950s.  President Eisenhower also threatened China with nuclear bombs, saying “I see no reason why they shouldn’t be used just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else”.  The threat of a nuclear war between the US and Soviet Union escalated in the 1960s.  The Soviet Union put medium range nuclear missiles on Cuba, from where they could reach the US West Coast within minutes.  The US had placed similar missiles in Turkey.  Fear spread across the globe as it became clear that a false alarm could trigger a missile attack.  Generals now discussed a “first strike” policy.  Rather than risk missiles being destroyed before hitting their targets, they prepared to hit first and discussed ways to “win” a nuclear war.  To these ends, the US first put nuclear bomber planes on permanent flight.  By the 1980s, following a near-disastrous crash, both NATO and the Eastern Bloc began siting short range missiles across Europe.  US President Ronald Regan even talked of a “limited nuclear war” in Germany.  After the fall of the Soviet Union these dangers began to feel like ancient history.
Current tensions   But tensions between superpowers are rising again.  NATO ally Turkey shot down a Russian jet bombing Syria last November.  There are regular standoffs between the US, its allies and China over control of the South China Sea.  The only way to make sure nuclear bombs are never fired is surely to get rid of them.  The danger is exacerbated by the number of countries which possess nuclear weapons and yet are not signed up to nuclear armaments limitation treaties. Israel denied it even had them – it took Mordechai Vanunu to expose them. He served 18 years in an Israeli jail and was released in 2004.  He is still victimised for the stand he took.

2          Shield or Target?       Supporters of Trident and nuclear weapons generally try to convince us that having atomic weapons will keep us safe and deter wars.  Britain has had nuclear armed submarines on patrol since the 1960s.  Yet, they did not deter war, conflict or terrorists.  ISIS gunmen or any other terrorist will not be prevented from launching an attack on Britain because the state has nuclear weapons.  The many attacks or atrocities or suicide bombers and so on, in recent years, have not been resolved by possessing nuclear weapons.

3          Job losses or new opportunities?                    In the nuclear debate, the idea of job losses is thrown in as a final salvo.  Surely £160 billion could be put to better use – to save lives; to fight diseases; to educate our young people, to develop renewable energy.

Spend on Peace, not War      If some of the hundreds of billions of pounds due to be spent on quickly out-of-date nuclear weapons, were directed, along with humanity’s energy, skills, wisdom, cash, and peace negotiating abilities, towards work for peace, then we might succeed. Yesterday’s enemies can become today’s friends.  Many peace workers, such as Mordechai Vanunu, have struggled and suffered to rid the world of these weapons of mass destruction.  We should not let their stand be in vain.

A Will for Peace            As individuals, groups and nations, we need a new ‘way of thinking’ about how nations should relate to one another.   We endorse the Pax Christi vision on nuclear weapons:

‘Integrity will bring peace, justice give everlasting security’ (Is 32:17)
The peace we seek cannot come from weaponry, but from a commitment to justice and nonviolent actions which recognise the dignity of every human person and all creation. We reject models of security that rely on fear, the demonisation of others or on the strength of arms – conventional and nuclear.

We need to support and listen to those who have been on the Peace Trail for years and years.  We need to believe that international peace is possible.  We need work for peace and to dialogue with our so-called enemies.  We need to scrap Trident.
It is ridiculous to make efforts to save our planet on the one hand, and to build up nuclear weapon systems on the other.  Our world is too small and precious to have it destroyed.
Westminster Commission for Justice and Peace
February 2016