LAST WEEKEND’S edition of the Catholic newspaper The Tablet included an interview with Pat Gaffney, who for 29 years has been Secretary General of Pax Christi and is about to retire from this post at Easter. In this time Pat has done a great deal to raise the profile of our Catholic peace organization in this country and help our teachings about war and peace to develop and become better known – part of how she has done this has been by being arrested from time to time. You can find out more about the organisation’s work on www.paxchristi.org.uk which includes special material for Peace Sunday.

This Sunday is kept in England and Wales as the world day of prayer for peace in the world, observed in Rome and elsewhere on New Year’s day, and we also mark it in this parish with a second collection for the work of Pax Christi. The observance has also been marked for the last fifty years by an annual message from the pope, and this year Pope Francis’ message is entitled Good Politics is at the service of Peace. The message is on the porch notice board and you can read it  HERE   on the Vatican Website. The Holy Father challenges politicians to look at how they carry out their responsibilities, and is critical of those who fail to do so and he lists political ‘vices, which undermine the ideal of an authentic democracy, [and] bring disgrace to public life and threaten social harmony. We think of corruption in its varied forms: the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal to raison d’état and the refusal to relinquish power. To which we can add xenophobia, racism, lack of concern for the natural environment, the plundering of natural resources for the sake of quick profit and contempt for those forced into exile.’

The message, like all our moral teaching, shows eloquently how our faith has to engage with the whole life of the world and help us to challenge what is wicked and sinful. Earlier this month the Holy Father, as he does every year, gave a long address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See in which he strongly attacked populist and nationalistic tendencies in international relations. Recalling the foundation a hundred years ago of the League of Nations, after the First World War, the pope points out that a lot of what we are seeing now is reminiscent of the 1930s: ‘Some of these attitudes go back to the period between the two World Wars, when populist and nationalist demands proved more forceful than the activity of the League of Nations. The re-appearance of these impulses today is progressively weakening the multilateral system, resulting in a general lack of trust, a crisis of credibility in international political life, and a gradual marginalization of the most vulnerable members of the family of nations.’ (again, you can read the whole address on the Vatican website HERE).

The Church has repeatedly insisted on the importance of international co-operation and solidarity, over and against the self-seeking culture which is promoted now by so many nations. This is a moral issue, and we can see all the time the effects of what is happening. If policies are flawed and sinful, they will always bear a fruit which is poisonous. This means that Catholics must redouble their support for international institutions set up to foster sharing and co-operation to overcome the rivalry which leads to war. Pope Francis in his speech reminds his hearers of the historic address made to the United Nations General Assembly in 1965, and quotes this passage: ‘You sanction the great principle that relationships between nations must be regulated by reason, justice, law, by negotiation, not by force, nor by violence, force, war, nor indeed by fear and deceit’.

These teachings of both popes are at the heart of what this special Sunday is about. We will only build peace in the world if we realise that our attitudes have to change. This is what Pax Christi has tried to do over the years, and it is thanks to the leadership of Pat Gaffney that our teachings are better known than in the 1980s – when, for example, the witness of the Catholic community against nuclear weapons was much more hesitant than it is now. But there is still a lot to be done: many parishes don’t have a special collection today for Pax Christi, and moreover one still gets the impression that many people in our churches care more about Remembrance Sunday in November than this Day of prayer for peace sanctioned by our bishops and the whole Church. What we try to do this weekend, if we make the effort to listen to what the Church is saying, is much more costly.

This Sunday please pray for and give thanks for the work of Pax Christi and give generously in the second collection.