Participants in the first Catholic People’s Week (Winter weekend) of 2016 will be writing to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to urge it to take a stronger stance over government plans to renew the Trident nuclear missile system. “After listening to a presentation by Pat Gaffney, the General Secretary of Pax Christi, on the theme of, ‘The things that make for peace when the world prepares for war’, and her report on Saturday’s anti-Trident rally in London, around 30 participants from around the country unanimously asked that a letter be sent” said Ellen Teague, chair of the weekend. “The letter will ask the bishops to reaffirm their 2006 statement and update it to include Trident,” she said. That statement did call on the Government to decommission nuclear weapons, but it did not mention Trident specifically.
Meeting over the last weekend in February at the Boars Hill Carmelite Priory, just outside Oxford, the group looked at the theme, ‘Lord, make me a means of your peace’. Pat Gaffney underlined that 2016 is an important year to make an impact on the disarmament process, since this is a crunch year for decisions which will take the Trident renewal program forward.
“It is time to comply with our obligation under international law to accomplish the total elimination of our nuclear arsenal” she said; “and by doing so we would send a message to the world that spending for peace and development and meeting people’s real needs is our priority, not spending on weapons of mass destruction”. The huge faith component of Saturday’s anti-Trident rally was described as “tremendous”. She also noted that one of the three founders of Catholic People’s Weeks just after WW2, John Todd, a founder Director of publishers Darton Longman and Todd, was a conscientious objector.
Trident is Britain’s nuclear weapons system. It’s made up of four submarines – one of which is on patrol at all times – carrying up to 40 nuclear warheads on board. Each of these warheads is eight times more powerful than the atomic bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima.
Another speaker at the weekend was Fr Martin Poulsom SDB, Head of Theology at Heythrop College and Chair of the LiveSimply coordinating group. Exploring the theme of ‘Making peace with the planet’ he quoted extensively from the 2015 papal encyclical, Laudato Si’, underlining its call for more sustainable lifestyles, education in creation care, and a “break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness”. He picked out the quote in the encyclical: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”
Eight more weeks and weekends are planned by CPW for 2016 on various themes. The next – on 11-13 March at Hyning Hall, nr Carnford – will focus on ‘Celebrating Laudato Si’. Around 360 Catholic People’s Weeks have been run since 1945, providing the opportunity for lay Catholics to study theology and deepen their understanding of faith and wider issues affecting our world. The weeks are open to anyone.
Details of the 2016 Catholic People’s Weeks events can be found at: www.catholicpeoplesweeks.org.uk