Christians to hold Ash Wednesday peace vigil at Ministry of Defence

By staff writers
February 5, 2008

Christian activists will make symbolic acts of commitment at the Ministry of Defence in London and at other venues in Scotland and the north of England tomorrow, urging a shift from waging war to waging peace in a divided world.

Since 1984, Christians have gathered annually at the Ministry of Defence 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.

These actions employ the traditional symbols of the day - symbolically blessed ash and charcoal. During the course of the liturgy, the Ministry of Defence will be marked with charcoal and signed with the cross.

In 2007, the government voted in favour of a programme to replace and up-grade the existing British nuclear weapons programme, Trident. The act of witness and call on 6 February will be for the Government to cancel these plans to renew Trident and encourage the Government to take a moral lead in the global elimination of nuclear weapons.

In his World Peace Day message 2008, Pope Benedict, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, noted: "In difficult times such as these, it is truly necessary for all persons of good will to come together to reach concrete agreements aimed at an effective demilitarization, especially in the area of nuclear arms. I feel bound to entreat those in authority to resume with greater determination negotiations for a progressive and mutually agreed dismantling of existing nuclear weapons."

Though the Roman Catholic church's actions on some issues - such as its response to HIV-AIDS and the ministry of women - has produced disagreement and anger among Christians at the grassroots, the move toward an explicit peace position by successive Pope's has been a source of inspiration for many.

Other Ash Wednesday actions and vigils will be taking place in Edinburgh and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. They are supported by Pax Christi, Christian CND and Catholic Peace Action - and backed by Quakers, Mennonites and other associates of the 'historic peace churches'.

The gathering in London will begin in Embankment Gardens at 3pm for the start of the liturgy which will then take the form of a procession with several stopping-points around the Ministry of Defence in Horseguards Avenue.

Lent is a traditional time of radical reappraisal of life in the Christian tradition. It is inspired by the Gospel story of Jesus' 40 days spent in the wilderness, during which time he was confronted with the temptation to grasp wrldly power for himself and resisted.

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