With a critical UK parliamentary vote due in March 2007 on the issue of the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system, Christians marked Ash Wednesday (the beginning of the annual Lenten season of repentance) by gathering in Central London today to make known their opposition to Britain's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
"For twenty-three years Christian activists and church representatives have come together at the Ministry of Defence in this way on Ash Wednesday to call the Government to repent and reject nuclear weapons and nuclear war preparations, through a powerful liturgical witness and acts of nonviolent civil disobedience which use the traditional symbols of the day - blessed ash and charcoal," explained Pax Christ general secretary Patricia Gaffney.
As in previous years, the Ministry of Defence building was symbolically marked during the process of the liturgy. The action was supported by Pax Christi (an international Catholic peace movment), Catholic Peace Action and Christian CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). It was also backed by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, whose English leader Chris Cole was recently released from a short spell in prison for an anti-war protest.
With messages including 'Choose Life not Death: Christians say No to nuclear weapons' and 'Replace Trident with projects that bring life to the poor' the protestors added their voices to those of many church leaders from different Christian denominations in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, who have all spoken out strongly against Trident replacement.
In January 2006 Pope Benedict XVI called government policies that rely on nuclear weapons "baneful and also completely fallacious". In July 2006, some twenty Anglican Bishops wrote in a national newspaper that "nuclear weapons are a direct denial of the Christian concept of peace and reconciliation".
Similar messages have been delivered by Methodists, Baptists, United Reformed Church, Quakers and other traditions in a series of letters, petitions and deminstrations.
Following the witness at the Ministry of Defence, postcards, addressed to Prime Minister Tony Blair and bearing messages that challenge the replacement of Trident, were presented at Downing Street by members of Pax Christi, Christian CND and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Pax Christi has distributed 10,000 such postcards in just three weeks to those wanting to make their views known to the UK government. The Methodist Church has also put together peace messages for a booklet delivered to clubs and youth venues.
Both Chancellor Gordon Brown and PM Tony Blair, active church-goers, have given their backing to a new generation of nuclear weapons for Britain. But opponents of Trident replacement, who come from all faith backgrounds as well as humanists and those of no religious persuasion, say that such weapons are a waste of money and make the world a less rather than a more secure place.
They also claim that the weapons are under the effective veto of the US and are contrary to international law. With the Conservatives backing Labour on the issue, the Trident vote should pass in March, but campaigners say that politicians can still be made to listen to tyhe views of the majority in Britain - and across the world - who oppose WMDs.