UK: Thanking an inspiring Catholic peacemaker, Pat Gaffney

 

by Ellen Teague

13/4/19 - Pat Gaffney has stepped down as the General Secretary of Pax Christi in Britain after 29 years. I knew she was special when we first met as young teachers in a West London staffroom. She went out of her way to welcome me into the school, showing her customary kindness and generosity. When our paths crossed again at CAFOD's offices three years' later, the friendship was firmly established.

I hadn't really looked at peace issues much until Pat and I worked together in CAFOD's development education department in the 1980s. Pat was drawn to peacemaking work while there, saying "I became aware that many of the problems underlying poverty were often linked to conflict and the diversion of precious resources to arms expenditure". Yet when she joined a small but very active group called Catholic Peace Action, which undertook civil disobedience to challenge Britain's ownership and expenditure on nuclear weapons, I was surprised at her level of commitment. I felt very uncomfortable seeing a diminutive Pat driven off in a police van for the first time after witnessing for peace at the Ministry of Defence by blocking the front entrance. She was completely serious about trying to end the tolerance of weapons of mass destruction by the British government and public. Through the years since then she has remained the key organiser and leader of the annual Ash Wednesday peace vigil of repentance at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall.

In 1990 she moved to Pax Christi. I have seen Pat lobby the British Foreign Office against the sale of British Hawk planes to the Indonesian government which were used in East Timor, challenge corporate sponsorship in schools by arms producing companies, and protest the US-led 'war on terror', particularly the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Pat led the Pax Christi section of the million-strong march to Hyde Park in February that year and various 'Not in My Name' rallies. Pat has spoken at parliament for the 'Global Day of Action on Military Expenditure', and visited government departments in Whitehall to urge that military spending be shifted towards social and environmental needs. She acts on feedback and suggestions very quickly. I remember my son carrying an Italian peace banner around London at one protest and when Pat thanked him he asked, "but why am I carrying a banner that says 'Pace'". Pat soon had Pax Christi producing new 'Peace' banners which I have seen everywhere since then. She has developed Pax Christi's social media presence, linking with peace groups nationally and internationally...

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Pat Gaffney, UK, Ellen Teague, Pax Christi UK, Independent Catholic News