Seeking a just peace


A justice and peace activist reports on the visit to Scotland of Pax Christi co-ordinator Pat Gaffney who reminded her audiences that the price of nuclear weapons is paid by the poor.


There’s nothing new in recognising the interconnectivity of poverty, climate change, social injustice and war.  In his message celebrating the traditional January 1 Day of Peace in 1972, Pope Paul VI said ‘If you want peace, work for justiceand linked together national, social, cultural and economic injustices.

But sometimes an idea must be articulated many times and in many ways before it is recognised as an incontrovertible truth.

In 2008, sexual violence and rape were recognised as weapons of war in the United Nations Resolution 1820 and we wondered why it could ever have been viewed otherwise.

Likewise, in April of this year, an official statement submitted to Pope Francis by the delegates to the Peace Conference held in Rome included in its definition of ‘violence’ the suffering, trauma and fear linked to militarisation, economic injustice and climate change.  How could it be otherwise?

And yet, we have some distance to travel before we can convince our allegedly sophisticated society that we can no longer take the word ‘violence’ at face value.  The dictionary definition of ‘physical force’ or ‘illegal force’ and its synonyms of ‘aggression’ and ‘forcefulness’ are not precise enough in the 21st century (and probably never have been).

To assist us on that journey, Pat Gaffney, national coordinator of Pax Christi – an organisation that has to date billed itself as the International Catholic Movement for Peace – wants a new vocabulary to engage 21st century peacemakers.

Gaffney delivered a strong message in Scotland this September, declaring that it is time for a change of approach to peace making, and a change of language that will enable a more understanding engagement with the issue.

She spoke of Pope Francis’s response to delegates at that conference in April, which had been organised by Pax Christi International, the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to explore the theme Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence.

He had called the current global situation a ‘world war in instalments’ and said ‘…humanity needs to refurbish all the best available tools to help the men and women of today fulfil their aspirations for justice and peace’.  He spoke of a tangible ‘wall of indifference’ and admitted that it is a ‘formidable’ task ‘…to work for peace by living the practice of non-violence’.

Pat Gaffney confirmed one very specific outcome of the conference – that the ancient concept of a ‘just war’ is one we must leave behind.  Instead, we must divert resources to create peace workers.

To engage a new generation in working for a just peace, the scaremongering and fear have to go.  Instead, Gaffney says ‘A shift in language is important.’  She wants ‘social justice’ to replace ‘peace movement’ because there is a need to ‘be aware that we are working for a much bigger picture’.

Pax Christi continues, of course, to campaign with the Network of Christian Peace Organisations against Trident and asks for our support for a conference in 2017 to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons.  It also seeks backing for its campaign against military spending, stressing that we must shift our priorities to offer sustainable security by redistributing the UK’s £45bn military budget in health care, renewable energy, a greener transport system, and economic expansion.

Gaffney agrees that the interconnectedness of the arms trade, the banking system, the effects of austerity and of climate change have created what she calls ‘today’s mess’.  As individuals and as a Church, Gaffney suggests, issues of ethical investment have to be prioritised.

We can’t, of course, get rid of arms of any sort as long as the trade in them is so valuable to their manufacturers and the shareholders who invest in their manufacture.  Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that more than £3bn of British-made weaponry was licensed for export in 2015 to 21 countries ‘listed by the Foreign Office as having dubious human rights records’.  These included Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Burundi.

As individuals, we must be aware that banks and insurance companies make us complicit by investing our money in companies that create weapons of war.  If, for example, we bank with RBS, Barclays, HSBC, Old Mutual or Lloyds Banking Group, our money goes into an investment pot that cannot by any stretch be described as ‘ethical’ (around £15.5bn between them is invested in the arms trade).

Gaffney suggests that as individuals, we can shop around and look towards ethical bankers such as Triodos and the socially focused Unity Trust Bank, but also warns that churches shouldn’t hide behind any requirement to make money out of existing investments.

‘We need to reflect on the role of money in our lives and the ethics of making money out of money and money out of arms and fossil fuels,’ Gaffney said.

Pope Francis called for the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons a year ago, having already stated unequivocally that ‘Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations’.  That interconnectedness that makes the stance against nuclear weapons an issue of social justice again came into play when he insisted that ‘…to prioritise such spending is a mistake and a misallocation of resources which would be far better invested in the areas of integral human development, education, health and the fight against extreme poverty.  When these resources are squandered, the poor and the weak living on the margins of society pay the price’.

For some, the campaign to remove Trident from Scotland may have become little more than a political football.  These words from Pope Francis underpin the emphasis on the social justice aspect of the argument – and take us back to Pope Paul VI’s argument that if we want peace, we must work for justice.

The Prophet Amos tells us that the Lord will never forget a thing done by those who ‘trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land’, those who wheel and deal and fiddle the exchange rates.

Gaffney makes it clear that if we don’t question how our money is used, if we don’t challenge the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons and the profiteering on arms of all kinds, and if we don’t explore all aspects of our lives that impact violently on vulnerable communities, then we are surely helping to ‘trample upon the needy and destroy the poor’ – and we cannot consider ourselves to be taking part in the social justice movement that Gaffney says must replace the more simplistic concept of a ‘peace movement’.


Marian Pallister is a writer and journalist.  She is also Just Faith Coordinator, Justice & Peace Commissioner, and SCIAF Ambassador for the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles.




Feb/Mar 2020

In June 2019 Open House held a conference exploring possible new directions for the Catholic Church in Scotland. See conference papers.

Open House also held a conference on the role of lay people in the governance of the Catholic Church in November 2013. See conference papers.