“Turning swords into ploughshares is creative work that demands new approaches and insights in an ever changing world.” Pax Christi explain how they amongst other Catholic organisations have worked to expose the ethics around the arms trade in Catholic Social Teaching. This is done in the hope of exposing how military technology fuels wars and conflict.
Pax Christi has never been afraid of putting words into action. If we have something of value to say about our vision of peace in our world it is worth sharing with others and inviting a response!
Our Government’s involvement in the global arms trade is one way in which the Gospel of vision of peace is shattered. Fuelling wars and conflicts by trading in arms and military technology is something that needs to be exposed. The ethics surrounding the arms trade are presented time and again in Catholic Social Teaching.
In 2003, together with other Christian peace groups, we launched a project, Called to Conversion. The core message was that as Christians we are called to be peacemakers yet as a nation we sow the seeds of war. Christian communities around the world remind us that fundamentally we are all sisters and brothers. They urge us to do what we can to stop the flooding of their countries with weapons. Such pleas, we believe, amount to a call to conversion, to radically review our Governments role in the arms trade.
We developed a prayer – study- action approach to this project, producing liturgy and prayer resources, background material on the arms trade and actions ideas ranging from local meetings to letter writing and public actions. The Call to Conversion statement drew the support of Church leaders from all denominations and at the launch Bishop Thomas McMahon spoke of the horrors of the arms trade and we made the links between militarism and poverty by having speakers from the Jesuit Refugee Service and CAFOD. Then we ‘took to the streets’, on a day when it was ‘business as usual’ for the arms export industry – the Farnborough Air Show. More than 150 people, members of religious orders, human rights and peace groups came to central London for a pilgrimage with a difference. #
The Call to Conversion statement was delivered to the Department of Trade and Industry, the Treasury, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Downing Street and at each building we stopped for a time of prayer, reading and reflection and handed in a copy of our Call to Conversion with our practical demands. This coincided with a letter to The Times by church-leader signatories of the Call to Conversion in which they stated “Christian communities around the world urge us to do what we can to stop the flooding of their countries with weapons and to end the exploitation of political differences and conflicts that make financial profit.” The specific political demands were for the Government to tighten its export controls and keep to those guidelines already in place; to end subsidies to arms export companies and to help companies involved in the arms trade reorientate from military to civil production by creating a National Conversion Fund.
The Call to Conversion statement became a focus for local action and gathering of signatures. The following year we gathered again, this time 4th June, International Day for Children as Victims of War. We wanted to make the link between the arms trade and its tragic impact on the world’s most vulnerable: children. According to UNICEF, 2 million children have died as a result of armed conflict in the past decade. Prayers began at Westminster Abbey Memorial for the Victims of War where the group were welcomed by the Dean. From here we processed to the DTI, to The Treasury, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to Downing Street, presenting petitions bearing more than 4,000 signatures calling on the Government to tighten arms export controls and to end subsidies to the arms industry. Again our pilgrimage was very graphic, we carried images of children as victims of war – in particular Iraq and Afghanistan. Passing hundreds of tourists and holiday makers, the very visual pilgrimage attracted much attention in Whitehall. Many keenly took leaflets and nodded in support of our witness.
Hundreds of people around the country became aware of the link between UK arms production and sale and conflict and poverty in the Global South and began to write letters, look at their investments, see if they had arms-producing factories or arms fairs in their local areas – and to expose these for what they are. In 2007 the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), a Government unit which promotes sales for private arms companies, was closed down. Perhaps years of campaigning by many groups helped in this process. Unfortunately another agency was opened in 2008. The UK Trade & Investment opened a new arm, Defence & Security Organisation, to promote arms exports! So we have to keep on.
Pax Christi members continue to support and work with Campaign Against Arms Trade and Pax Christi is a member of a number of arms-related coalitions such as the Cluster Munition Coalition. Turning swords into ploughshares is creative work that demands new approaches and insights in an ever changing world. But where there is a vision, there is a way.
Pax Christi is an international Catholic movement for peace, active in more than 50 countries. The work of Pax Christi – the Peace of Christ – is based on the gospel and inspired by faith. Our vision is of a world where people can live in peace, without fear of violence in all its forms.
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