More than 100 Christian peace campaigners began Lent on Ash Wednesday by holding their 30th annual prayer vigil outside the Ministry of Defence in London’s Whitehall yesterday.
Undeterred by light rainfall, they spelt out the word ‘Repent’ in ashes outside the main entrance, deploring the British Government’s nuclear weapons policy and praying for a change of heart.
Some of the group wrote the words, ‘Repent’, ‘Choose life’ and ‘No Trident’ in ash on the building itself. A cross was held high in the centre of the gathering, covered with purple ribbons in memory of places and people in need of peace.
In introducing the liturgy, Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi, the UK branch of the International Catholic Movement for Peace, reported that messages of support had been received from Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton Diocese. She herself has attended every Ash Wednesday witness since 1982.
“For many people the issue of nuclear weapons is not in their minds because it is rarely in the news, yet it is very much at the core of our government’s security policy” she said, “and in our small way we remind the government that this is not acceptable to us”.
Various religious orders, Christian CND, the National Justice and Peace Network, the London Catholic Worker, the Movement for the Abolition of War and Pax Christi in several regions were represented this year.
Well known peace campaigners such as Bruce Kent and Valerie Flessati were present. All called for Britain to turn away from our dependence on nuclear weapons.
Pax Christi literature pointed out that there are still 22,000 nuclear weapons located at 111 sites in 14 countries. Each year nations spend $1000 billion on maintaining and modernising their nuclear arsenals.
The UK Ministry of Defence is spending £2 billion on new nuclear weapons plants before a formal decision has been taken over whether to replace Trident warheads. The Royal Navy boasts a proud record of over 40 years of uninterrupted nuclear deterrence, as at least one of the four Vanguard-class submarines is on patrol at any time.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien said in his message: "like so many people of good will, I share those thoughts and words of Pope Benedict XVI when he indicated that we should be replacing Trident, not with further weapons of mass destruction, but rather 'with projects which bring life to the poor'”.
Justice and Peace Scotland reflected that, “as part of the human family we reject nuclear weapons as having any place in conflict resolution, not least for their indiscriminate destructiveness, but also for the necessary suspension of morality by those who operate them and the universal anxiety caused by their existence”.
For more information and photos see: www.paxchristi.org.uk