Days before the United Nations in New York passed a resolution on Monday supporting an Olympic truce for next year’s London 2012 Games, the Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster launched its own peace initiative for parishes linked to the Games.
'Building Peace with the 2012 Games', was the theme of the annual Westminster Justice and Peace Day held at Westminster Cathedral Hall last Saturday and was attended by around 80 parish representatives.
“The need for peace in our city has never been greater if we are to host a successful Olympic and Paralympic Games," said Barbara Kentish, Justice and Peace fieldworker, pointing out that the Olympic Bid was won in July 2005 amidst great rejoicing across London but the following day the London bombings took place.
More recently London has experienced dramatic outbreaks of rioting and looting. She hoped that each parish will hold a peace event before, during or after the Games, to promote peace. New project worker, Colette Joyce, will support parish activities.
Westminster Justice and Peace Commission Chair Fr Joe Ryan, of St John Vianney Parish in West Green, pointed out that the Commission, with the help of Pax Christi, has produced an ‘Event Planning and Resource Book’ called ‘100 days of Peace’.
The 100 days runs from 8 June – 28 October 2012, which includes the Olympic period in July and August. Suggestions include making a peace garden or a peace exhibition, holding ‘peace games’ with other churches or holding peace walks or services.
Pat Gaffney, Director of Pax Christi UK, outlined the ‘Culture of Peace’ necessary in the world today and urged that Peace Sunday on 15 January 2012 is widely celebrated in Westminster parishes. Its theme is ‘Educating young people in justice and peace’ and Pax Christi will be producing resources for it.
The need for peace for young people was underlined by Margaret Mizen whose son Jimmy was tragically murdered in 2008 in an incident of random violence in South London.
James Parker, of the Catholic Bishops' 2012 committee, explained the role of sport in contributing to peace, and the contribution the Christian Churches are making to enhance the London 2012 Games. He pointed out that Olympic events will be hosted across 10 Catholic dioceses and “we can help use the power of the Games to inspire changes in the direction of peace”.
Initiatives range from 600 people currently being trained as Games Pastors to ‘Places of Hospitality’, such as St Francis Church in Stratford, to peace education. He was asked from the floor by Bruce Kent, vice-chair of Pax Christi, to ensure that overtly challenging war would feature, including Britain’s expenditure on arms trading and bombing other countries, such as Libya.
The liturgy to conclude the day involved processing around the corner to the statue of St. Francis on a former Franciscan building which used to house the Catholic Central Library, and then singing the Peace Prayer of St. Francis. This was symbolic of bringing the message of peace out onto the streets and was very moving on a sunny and mild Saturday afternoon in October.
The peace legacy is based on the notion of the ancient Olympic Truce which permitted safe-conduct to Olympic athletes in Greece, but it has been revived in recent decades of Olympic Games. Monday’s resolution in New York was agreed by all 193 member states. London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe addressed the UN General Assembly along with Amber Charles, the aspiring basketball player who delivered London's bid documents to the International Olympic Committee in 2004, and Ali Mohamed, the young mayor of Olympic host borough Newham. All talked about how Britain would be working for peace leading up to and after the Games. Westminster Archdiocese will be playing its part in that.