Pax Christi gather in Bethlehem for Pilgrims on the Path to Peace event

By agency reporter
May 22, 2015

Resolving disputes with cattle herders in Uganda, creating a peace museum in Germany, nonviolent resistance to the Separation Wall in Palestine and peace education in the Philippines were just some of the topics shared among members of Pax Christi International at the 70th anniversary World Assembly gathering in Bethlehem, Palestine last week.

One hundred and sixty members gathered for a four day event entitled Pilgrims on the Path to Peace to celebrate 70 years of Pax Christi International and the on-going peace work of those members around the world. Six members of the British section of Pax Christi took part including General Secretary Pat Gaffney and Executive Committee members Chris Cole, Holly Ball and Ann Farr.

The gathering was rooted in the search for peace in the Middle East, particularly in Israel and Palestine. In the opening ceremony HB Michel Sabbah, former International President of Pax Christi, criticised political leaders who abuse their power: “ …the quest of peace in the Middle East is also a fight against the political powers of the world, who are making new plans for a new Middle East, and are exploiting this religious extremism to be one of their means to achieve their new planning for a new Middle East. So those who kill today in the Middle East are two: religious extremism, or extremist Islam, and the world powers who pretend to fight this extremism, and in reality they use it and give it space to kill."

The outreach programme to enable participants to better understand the impact of the illegal occupation of Palestine included visits to Bedouin communities under constant threat of eviction; meetings with Christian Peacemaker Teams and the Israeli group of former IDF soldiers, 'Breaking the Silence', working in the divided city of Hebron and projects aimed at protecting people and the environment in the Jordan Valley.

The participants reflected on these visits, sharing their analysis of what was seen and comparing and contrasting the underlying causes of violence and responses to it from their own working perspective.

One great sadness of the Assembly was that the General Secretary of Pax Christi, Jose Henrique, had been refused entry into Israel. He spent his time in Amman, Jordan and send a video message in which he said, “ I am living this experience in deep solidarity with the Palestinian people. This is only a small part of what they have to experience when they are denied access to East Jerusalem for medical care, family reunions and even for religious celebrations”.

During the Assembly, the Pax Christi International Peace Award 2015 was given to a women’s group from Columbia: Women, Peace and Security Collective for Reflection and Action. The award was accepted by Rosa Emilia Salamanca from the Association who spoke passionately about building links of friendship and solidarity between women peacemakers. The Association works in difficult and often violent environments with the aim of humanising dialogue between those who rarely meet as a step in the process of confidence-building.

On 15 May, NAKBA day, when Palestinians remember the 750,000 Palestinians who were driven out or who fled in 1947/1948, members of the Assembly gathered in Manger Square Bethlehem for a vigil of prayer and song, naming many of the villages that were ‘lost’ to Palestine at the time. The Assembly welcomed the Vatican’s recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state and urged all UN-member states to ban Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine.

* More on the Assembly here:

* Pax Christi


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