Page 8, 23rd February 1990

23rd February 1990
Page 8
Page 8, 23rd February 1990 — Taking an option for peace

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Taking an option for peace


PAT Gaffney, the new general secretary of the Catholic peace organisation Pax Christi, is an ex-con. She's been to prison three times, ironically for "behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace" like the "liturgy of light" she organised for Catholic Peace Action outside the Ministry of Defence in honour of Martin Luther King.

On each occasion, Pat a petite woman in her early 30s with a warm sense of humour has conducted her own defence. "It gives you direct contact with the magistrates, and a forum for debate in court about your understanding of peace. Sometimes they are very sympathetic to your point of view: but they still have to convict you on a technicality. These opportunities for dialogue are very important because you are engaging the legal system."

Pat believes the whole church has a major role to play in promoting peace in our society. Does she think the bishops do enough to put over their views on the subject? "Maybe as an institution the church can't. The church is tied into a hierarchical/patriarchal model. It hasn't got the mechanism or vision to do the more prophetic, community-orientated things."

Comfortable isn't the word you'd use to describe Pat's new job at Fax Christi. At CAFOD, where she's been schools' education officer for the last nine years, she's been part of a secure organisation with an annual income of around £12 million. Pax Christi, on the other hand, is fortunate when it makes enough to pay its three employees.

But, says Pat, being free to take less-than-secure choices about one's lifestyle is what it's all about. "In the peace movement we need to look at the life choices we ask people to make. Peace-making is about choosing life and quality of life for people. The deterrent threat, for example, with its profound

psychological and physical effects, is not a pro-life stance. Deterrence in real terms is lifedenying because of the way it ties up resources and people and expertise these are not lifegiving choices. More than anything, we must look at what it does to one's psyche you have the knowledge that as a group or society you can control another group or society, by using this awful threat. But one cannot live life to the full when controlled by fear."

These ideas have given Pat the freedom not only to accept her new post at Pax Christi, but also the challenge of facing jail sentences for her beliefs. "At one time, I would have been very worried at the idea of going to prison," she admits. "But now I feel free to do those things, because it all depends on one's yardstick of what is acceptable. It depends on whether or not you are contained by what the state tries to do to you."

Like many people with radical and visionary ideas about life, Pat Gaffney was inspired in her beliefs and opinions by the two months she spent travelling in India. The poverty there, she says, opened her eyes to another way of life, one in which security meant not a comfortable salary, but somewhere safe to sleep on a city pavement.

After this experience, she decided to abandon her aim of following a career in business, and gave up her business studies course. "I couldn't have gone into the business and commercial world. Its values and orientation did not suit my personality or my way of life," she says now.

Instead Pat, who had earlier trained as a biology and RE teacher, joined the Catholic Third World charity CAFOD. Her work there has convinced her that Catholic schools are in an ideal position to tackle issues of peace, human rights and world poverty. "We can challenge Catholic schools about the values they are witnessing to, both in what they teach and how they teach," she says.

"Unfortunately peace issues have been marginalised in many parishes because they are seen as threatening to people. The social teaching of the church and of the gospel isn't being spread and talked about at parish level.

"Whereas CAFOD is about tangible projects people can relate to, peace and security are more difficult: people realise these cannot be tackled just by an appeal to human generosity. They are inherently political.

"Of course, CAFOD also analyses the causes of poverty, and that gets you into controversial political and economic arguments. Ultimately, I see no division in my mind between peace-making and development or human rights work."

At CAFOD, Pat has worked with determination and commitment to help develop the education side of the organisation, which helps alert people to the real causes of world hunger. It's a job with a huge and complex agenda.

But life at Pax Christi, Pat reckons, is going to be far from plain sailing. "Now is a very testing time for the peace movement," she explains. "Because many people think it isn't needed any more. But our government's military budget is going up from £20bn to £23bn in the next three years. That doesn't suggest much positive thinking about what is happening.

"But Christians have some advantages when it comes to talking about peace. We have something to say about how people need to relate to each other and to the created world, positively inviting people to engage in creating better lifeconditions, where fear and violence don't have to exist, and people can live more justly in economic and social terms."

Brian Wicker

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