Since this article will appear just at the end of 2017 or early in 2018 – Happy New Year to all readers!
I’m going, as a diversion, to start the year with a joke. Not a brilliant one. It wasn’t a joke to the little boy who was trying to answer an exam question. The question on the paper was ‘What happened to the Egyptians in the Red Sea? His answer ‘They were all drowned in the dessert and afterwards Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the 10 Amendments’
Now that you have finished laughing, or groaning, I have a serious suggestion.
It might be an idea to do some forward planning for the task we all share: making this world a better and fairer place. Building the Kingdom of God, not just waiting for it to arrive, but working to make it happen. How many times have we all prayed ‘Thy Kingdom Come’?
Forward planning makes sense. It is too late if we just wake up to opportunities when they are nearly over. Peace and justice-building are not tasks only for the wise and worldly. We all have our own vocation as builders, with God, of the Kingdom. Sadly, the word ‘vocation’ is now almost exclusively applied to those in seminaries and ordained as priests. The Church is not a coach with a few drivers and a number of lay passengers. We all have our own vocations and responsibilities.
So what is coming up on the calendar in the first few months of 2018 that we can use to spread the word? On the 14 January comes our annual Peace Sunday. Late in the day to remind you about it now, but hopefully not too late. Pope Francis has chosen a powerful theme for Peace Sunday: ‘Migrants and refugees – seekers of peace’. Perhaps you could use some quotations from it, write them out on card and display in the Church porch. Pax Christi could certainly help you with leaflets, prayer cards, bidding prayers, and activities for children. See: www.paxchristi.org.uk
On Sunday 11 February, a fairly new organisation – Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence – will be having their annual fundraising party in London. It’s a good time for your parish to get-together with other parishes and organisations, especially the Prison Advice and Care Trust, and the St Vincent de Paul Society, to have some discussions, and perhaps a parish social and fundraiser to raise interest in the penal system. Is there some reason why Britain has one of the highest prison populations per capita in Europe? Yet only about a quarter of those in prison have ever been violent to others. Do other European countries deal with these problems more intelligently than we do?
A final date for your diary in the first three months of the New Year? Well 27 March would be a good place to start. On that day in 1988 Mordechai Vanunu , a junior technician, was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment by an Israeli court for revealing , for reasons of conscience, that Israel had a nuclear weapons’ programme. He served all that time in prison and is still unable to leave Israel. Before him, in 1944, the Polish physicist Joseph Rotblat refused to continue work on the atomic bomb when he learnt that it was to be used on two Japanese cities full of civilians. He was sent back to this country from Los Alamos, USA, in disgrace.
The courage to say No carries a price. Perhaps we should discuss when and in what situation a NO ought to be our response as well.
Bruce Kent is the vice chair of both Pax Christi and CND.