Remembrance through peacemaking

19th October 2018 - by Ellen Teague

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The commemoration of the centenary of the end of World War 1 (WW1) is being marked by the Columban missionaries in the latest issue of their Vocation for Justice newsletter, which is devoted to remembrance through peacemaking.

Yet, serious remembrance of wars calls for serious work for peace. The book and film ‘Testament of Youth’, a true story by Vera Brittain, documents how she lost her fiancé Roland, her brother Edward, and close friend Victor to WW1. She lamented that “our youth has been stolen from us” and became a life-long pacifist. She said, “the pacifist’s task today is to find a method of helping and healing which provides a revolutionary constructive substitute for war.”


Assumption Sister Jessica Gatty, a niece of WW1 poet Siegfried Sassoon, says, his poems “still speak to us today in an increasingly violent and militarised world, where “there is bitterness at the collusion of society around the talk of heroism, glory and suchlike”.

Christian peace organisations such as Pax Christi promote peace education and alternatives to war. They celebrate the witness of conscientious objectors, criticise arms trading and highlight that dead civilians comprise at least 80 per cent of the casualties of modern warfare. In August, they hosted survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, calling on the government to endorse the international nuclear ban treaty.

Wars are not inevitable, says the Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW). They happen as a result of the decisions of a few powerful people, require vast sums of money, and the obedience of troops. MAW says the $1,000 billion per year military expenditure could be used instead to feed, house and educate the world’s peoples. Wars carry massive social, economic and environmental costs. An escalating nuclear conflagration could destroy life on the planet. One of its vice-presidents, Bruce Kent, writes in the issue that “war is not an inevitable fact of life – there are better ways of settling disputes”.

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The centrespread highlights stories of peace activists. It shows the stained glass window of St Columban at Bobbio, where the white dove on his shoulder represents love of nature and of peace.

Summer 2018 saw climate crisis realities hitting home. ‘Hothouse Earth’ media stories marked record high temperatures, droughts and wildfires globally. Climate change is a real security threat, and indeed a weapon of mass destruction. We may be close to a tipping point that will drive the planet into an irreversible hothouse state. Poor communities in the global south are already suffering terribly.

Environmental crises and social justice cannot be addressed by conflict. They need the resources currently devoted to war. Too many young people are still having their youth stolen from them.

Read the latest issue of Vocation for Justice