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Justice & Peace





Columbans mark Ash Wednesday with repentance at Ministry of Defence

Ellen Teague

Columbans joined Christian peace groups as they marked Ash Wednesday with their annual Liturgy of Resistance and Repentance for Nuclear War Preparations at the Ministry of Defence in Central London. Five members of the London Catholic Workers, including Passionist priest Martin Newall, marked the building with the words ‘Repent’ and ‘Trident is Sin’, using blessed ash. Columbans Peter Hughes, Aodh O’Halpin and Ellen Teague of Columban Justice and Peace joined the larger group praying at the other side of the road.

Around 100 people had gathered to make known their opposition to Britain's possession of weapons of mass destruction. It was the 29th consecutive year that a Lenten witness has been held at the building where preparations are made for the deployment of the weapons. Those present distanced themselves from British government plans to replace Trident – Britain’s submarine-launched nuclear missile programme - in contradiction of its obligations to the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The service this year was organised by Pax Christi, Christian CND and the London Catholic Workers.  Among those present with Columban Justice and Peace were representatives of Justice and Peace Links of the Conference of Religious and Westminster Justice and Peace. "For 29 years Christian activists and church representatives have come together at the Ministry of Defence in this way on Ash Wednesday to call the Government to repent and reject nuclear weapons and nuclear war preparations, through a powerful liturgical witness and acts of nonviolent civil disobedience which use the traditional symbols of the day - blessed ash and charcoal," explained Pax Christi general secretary Pat Gaffney.

Those present added their voices to those of many church leaders from different Christian denominations in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, who have all spoken out strongly against the replacement of Trident. The liturgy remembered the victims of war: the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Congo, Israel, Palestine;  and indigenous peoples whose land has been stolen and exploited for uranium mining and testing of nuclear weapons. Participants tied purple ribbons to a large cross, each one remembering a person or place affected by war. At the conclusion of the liturgy, three bulbs were planted while the following words were said by everyone:

From repentance to forgiveness

From despair to hope

From death to life.