Celebrating Women: Pat Gaffney on 30 Years with Pax Christi UK

From Pax Christi Peace Stories (March 1, 2019)

Pat Gaffney, Pax Christi UK

Pat Gaffney is graduating/retiring as the General Secretary of Pax Christi UK this year. She wrote the reflection below on her nearly 30 years in that role. I have had the honor of working with Pat since 2016 on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative–though, after meeting we quickly found lots of connections, including that she’s the godmother of the children of my highschool ceramics teacher! Pat and I have spent hours on Skype and even spent a week in London together, Pat’s home town. She is a phenomenal woman and friend. Sharing these stories of women doing gospel work over the long haul is how we extend God’s circle of hospitality and justice. Sign up for more Pax Christi Stories.Rose Berger

FROM PAT GAFFNEY:

1 April 1990: the day my contract with Pax Christi began. 29 years on, I am still here (how did that happen?) but preparing to move on and create space for some new thought and energy. This article takes a long view of our work over this period, of changes within the global and domestic arenas, and in technology. Our movement has undertaken so many challenges with a spirit of ingenuity, flexibility and faithful persistence to Gospel peacemaking.

1990 was a good time to come on board. Talk was of a Peace Dividend. With the Cold War behind us, new opportunities were unfolding for economic and social growth. Spending on defence would decline and investment in arms conversion would follow. The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp had helped to get rid of cruise missiles. Pax Christi’s valiant East-West group, coordinated by Peggy Attlee, having worked towards one Europe, was prepared for the new challenges of creating a common home. In the summer of 1990 our British section of Pax Christi hosted in Clifton Diocese an international ‘route’ for young people, with the theme, Let’s build a Europe of Peace.  Sadly, many of those hopes crashed on 2 August when Iraq invaded Kuwait and what was to become protracted war in the Gulf and Middle East began. Goodbye peace dividend.

patgaffney

As a ‘new’ person four months into the job, the prospect of sliding into war was daunting! Thankfully, friends in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Christian CND, the National Peace Council (NPC) and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) were ready to create common plans. Could we de-escalate the tension by urging our Government to prevent a full military response from the USA? Setting up communication systems was key. Pax Christi at that time had one temperamental computer, an old but sturdy Adler   typewriter, and a photocopier. My first big purchase was a FAX machine – essential for getting out press  notices, sharing drafts of leaflets, sending letters to Government and so forth. By Spring 1991 we had established the Christian Coalition for Peace in the Gulf and a ‘Call for Action’ supported by church leaders, religious communities and groups around the country. In response to military attacks and then years of sanctions against Iraq, weekly vigils were held nationwide. The NPC ran a conference that became a springboard for much joint work, including the creation of the Peace Education Network (PEN) and a more focused response to the UK’s arms trade to the region – in particular that of British Aerospace.

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Vera Brittain: ‘Human Mercy Turns Alike to Friend or Foe’

Vera Brittain
My summer reading includes Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs novels set in England during and after World War I. Maisie is an intriguing character is an age when much is changing for women–as suffragettes they are taking to the Parliament their fight for the right to vote; at the same time, the war with Germany is bringing many women to a very different “front line.”

Winspear’s novels prompted me to re-read some of the WWI “war poets,” whose description of war’s realities make them anything but jingoistic. Below is a poem by Vera Brittain who served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse and requested to be sent to France in 1917. She was stationed at 24 General Hospital at Étaples, where she nursed German prisoners of war. The poem below reflects her experience:

THE GERMAN WARD by VERA BRITTAIN

When the years of strife are over and my
recollection fades
Of the wards wherein I worked the weeks
away,
I shall still see, as a visions rising ‘mid the War-
time shades,
The ward in France where German wounded
lay.

I shall see the pallid faces and the half-sus-
picious eyes,
I shall hear the bitter groans and laboured
breath,
And recall the loud complaining and the weary
tedious cries,
And the sights and smells of blood and wounds
and death.

I shall see the convoy cases, blanket-covered
on the floor,
And watch the heavy stretcher-work begin,
And the gleam of knives and bottles through
the open theatre door,
And the operation patients carried in.

I shall see the Sister standing, with her form
of youthful grace,
And the humour and the wisdom of her
smile,
And the tale of three years’ warfare on her thin
expressive face-
The weariness of many a toil-filled while.

I shall think of how I worked for her with
nerve and heart and mind,
And marvelled at her courage and her skill,
And how the dying enemy her tenderness
would find
Beneath her scornful energy of will.

And I learnt that human mercy turns alike to
friend or foe
When the darkest hour of all is creeping
nigh,
And those who slew our dearest, when their
lamps were burning low,
Found help and pity ere they came to die.

So, though much will be forgotton when the
sound of War’s alarms
And the days of death and strife have passed
away,
I shall always see the vision of Love working
amidst arms
In the ward wherein the wounded prisoners
lay.

From Verses of a V. A. D. (August 1918)

For more on Vera Brittain, read Vera Brittain: A Feminist Life by Deborah Gorham

Mary Ward: A Prophet Honored in Her Own Country

MaryWardJo Siedlecka wrote a nice piece on the Mary Ward celebration at Westminster Cathedral in Sunday’s U.K.-based Independent Catholic News. Ward, foundress of the Institute for the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) community of Catholic nuns, was a leader in social justice in 17th-century Protestant England. Her community marks it’s 400th anniversary this month.

As a side note, I was taught by IBVM sisters and was given the Mary Ward social justice award as a senior in high school. (I’m still working up to actually earning it.)

Here’s an excerpt from Siedlecka’s article:

History was made on Saturday, when a woman who risked her life to practice her  Catholic faith in 17th century Protestant England and was then imprisoned for being a heretic by the Catholic Church, was honored by Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams at a special Mass in Westminster Cathedral. …

During his homily, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said Mary Ward “was truly a woman of Europe”  equally at home in Austria, Italy and France.

Mary Ward walked to Rome three times. “Picture her shoes” Archbishop Vincent said. “You can tell a good deal about a woman from her shoes. Hers were tough and durable, in soft leather which fitted her individuality,” Archbishop Vincent said. …

Dr Rowan Williams  also paid tribute to Mary Ward. In his address, he said: “Mary Ward’s stubborn courage in following her calling through the most difficult of circumstances has, over the centuries, made a massive difference to the lives of countless people throughout the world, especially women.

“At a time when so many pressures combined to encourage the Church to retrench and to avoid risks, she kept a door open for a gospel-based vision for the renewal of religious life. Critical, loyal, brave and imaginative, she is a figure for all Christians to celebrate with gratitude.”

Read more here.

Cardboard City Catholics

cardboardcityorigThirty-two teens from a west London Catholic parish became homeless for a day as part of their preparation for being “confirmed” (making an adult commitment) in the Catholic Church. I LOVE this as a way of practicing living out the gospel and embodying the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

Some find it easy to dismiss this kind of symbolic action, but I have to say that it’s this kind of experience that shapes and forms the individual conscience. It’s not that this particular action will be effective in ending homelessness (though they did raise £1000 for the local shelter), but it will convert a whole generation of Catholics sensitive to the issues.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Annette Brazier, who leads the catachetical programme at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Acton, explained: “our young people have a real concern for social issues. They often challenge us to look after the environment, speak out for the poor and needy and challenge racism. The project started with a reflection on the gospels and the call to reach out to the marginalized in our society. A number of the sessions focused on social justice and how as Christians we are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. The group responded well to the challenge presented to them and after a talk from Ian Breen, the director of the local charity Acton Homeless Concern, they decided to go homeless for a day and to do a sponsored fast during this time.”

One of the local schools, St. Vincent Catholic Primary, offered their grounds on a Saturday and the group of 32 confirmation candidates, plus their catechists gave up their usual comforts and lived on the school grounds for the day.

Many of the young people found bits of cardboard to sit on or make temporary shelters so that they could gain a better understanding of what it must be like to be homeless.

Parish Priest, Fr. John Leahy, said he was really impressed by their efforts. He said: “the group have really thought about those who are marginalised in our society.”

The project, which was called, Cardboard City, raised over £1000 for Acton Homeless Concern.

Read the whole article here.