Marian Pallister: Nuclear weapons prohibition is a step closer – but we have to keep going to reach the summit

Marian Pallister: Nuclear weapons prohibition is a step closer – but we have to keep going to reach the summit

Marian Pallister, chair of Pax Christi Scotland, says the 50th ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is an important milestone for the global anti-nukes movement, but they have not yet reached the summit.

I think that being a hill walker helps. When you climb a Munro  – those Scottish hills over 3000 feet high (or 914.4 metres, in new money) – you know that what looks promisingly like the summit is in fact merely a ridge to be negotiated on the way up.

That, in truth, is how the 50th ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) must be viewed. We are a long way up, but the summit is still to be reached, and there is still some tough climbing to be done.

There is no denying that this is a milestone worth getting very excited about. In 90 days from that lodging on 24 October of the Honduras ratification, the manufacture and possession of nuclear weapons will become illegal.

There will be more signatories to the treaty (122 countries adopted the treaty at the UN in 2017); more ratifications in the coming days and weeks. But as the chair of Pax Christi Scotland, I have to say that the top of the Munro feels only a few metres closer, rather than that we’re bounding towards the home stretch.

Scotland is in an odd position. Its government stated its opposition to nuclear weapons in 2017. The Scottish Catholic Bishops’ Conference condemned the possession and use of nuclear weapons as far back as 1982. Pax Christi International welcomed Pax Christi Scotland as a member country working for a nonviolent society. And yet, we can’t appear on that list of signatories to the treaty; can’t be feted as another country to ratify it. 

Scotland has nuclear weapons imposed on its soil (so near the most populated area of the country as to make the central belt a target). It hosts a number of companies that manufacture component parts for these weapons of mass destruction. A number of Scotland’s councils, companies and organisations have pension funds invested in the production of nuclear weapons. And of course, the Westminster government has long insisted that not only will it not sign the nuclear ban treaty, but it will also go ahead and renew its lease on the Trident nuclear submarine base and all that’s in it at a cost estimated by Scottish CND at £205 billion. 

Where is the top of this mountain?

First of all, let’s acknowledge that we just host nuclear weapons. If we look at the list of states that have ratified the treaty, there are a number in the South Pacific. That’s because after dropping the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US, UK, the Soviet Union, France, et al, used the islands of the South Pacific as a testing ground for the development of bigger and better nuclear weapons. The fallout devastated populations, environments, and economies.

Gerry MacPherson lived in Argyll. I got to know him towards the end of his foreshortened life. He was an interesting man on a mission. As a young man, he was one of the last in the UK to do National Service. He was posted to Christmas Island – Kiritimati to give its indigenous name – where he soon discovered that the British army’s Operation Grapple Y H-bomb test on April 28 1958 had left the island and its people poisoned by the fallout. 

This wasn’t initially obvious, but Gerry and his fellow young servicemen were made frighteningly aware of it – and of the effects it would have on them – when they joined some locals on the beach to picnic on fish straight from the ocean. Larking about, they ran a Geiger counter over someone who had eaten the fish. The reading was alarmingly high.

Gerry came back to Argyll with a damaged pituitary gland. That’s the gland that among other vital functions helps control growth, blood pressure, energy management, the performance of sex organs, thyroid glands and metabolism. Like so many of those who came back from doing their National Service in the South Pacific, Gerry was never able to prove that the damage was done while he was there. But he joined an organisation to fight for compensation for all those people who had returned with the kinds of illnesses seen in Japan after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. It was a lifelong campaign and his widow, Mary, says he vowed to give any compensation to the people of Christmas Island who had suffered so badly.

There was no compensation in his lifetime – but this treaty promises to change that. There is a clause in the TPNW that will now seek to compensate and care for those who have been affected by such tests and to restore environments. Those effects are far reaching and by rights should stretch far beyond the damaged islands of the South Pacific to those who still survive from their time posted there.

So we keep on campaigning. These 50 ratifications are a joyful staging post, but to get the full benefit of every bit of the Treaty, we have work to do.

Pax Christi Scotland has joined with Don’t Bank On The Bomb Scotland and has been accepted as a partner of the Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons). We will challenge the Scottish financial institutions and public bodies with over £6 billion invested in companies that make nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Divestment will starve those companies of the cash needed to carry on their deadly business, and Covid-19 has shown they have the capacity to diversify, thus safeguarding jobs. 

Innovative thinking will move us all to the top of the mountain and perhaps even bring the Westminster government into a 21st century where peace is paramount.

“I have seen the Lord!”

“I have seen the Lord!”

Mary of Magdala loved the Lord, she was grateful for the good she had received from him. When Jesus dies, it is her who, “early in the morning,” on that first day of the week, “goes to the grave while it was still dark.” In this woman’s readiness, we see the deep desire residing in her heart: she wants to see the body of Jesus. But she cannot find it. In her desperate and somewhat confused search, it is eventually Jesus who comes to her calling her by name: “Mary!

When she returns to the disciples, Mary of Magdala sums up all that she has experienced in a small sentence: “I have seen the Lord!” Well, our Christian faith begins from and is based on these simple words. We believe in the Lord Jesus because a woman, Mary of Magdala, had first experienced the resurrection of the Lord.

In these days when we celebrate the central event of our faith, the Easter mystery, the kerygma, we remember that faith in Jesus is a gift, as it was for Mary of Magdala. A gift that must be desired from the depths of our hearts and sought with all our might. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Mt 7,7-8). “Those who put their hope in you, oh God, will never be disappointed; those who abandon you for no reason, they will be disappointed” (Sal 25,3).

We celebrate this Easter 2020 in the very special and completely unexpected world context of the Covid-19 pandemic. So many people have been directly affected, so much suffering all around us, so many victims everywhere, so much uncertainty! We too have been badly hit, particularly in the Community of the Mother House. For this reason, in these days it is our duty to remember in a special way the brothers who left us. We thank the Lord for having had them as members of the same family here on earth, knowing that one day we will be together in our eternal home. Let us pray for their perpetual rest.

Easter tells us that the last word is not death but life. We are its witnesses. What we need today is to be people who look to the future with God’s eyes. The missionary disciple, each of us, knows how to say the word that is appropriate at the appropriate time. He can read the reality we live in with the wisdom of the Spirit. He can employ always-new keys to interpret what is happening. Being filled with the Life of God, he is capable of implanting hope in whatever place or situation he finds himself in. The night, its darkness is behind us. In front, we have only God’s promise.

I then wish to thank each of you for the closeness and fraternity you have manifested, in different ways, towards me. This last week, in fact, my mother left us physically and began her journey to eternity. She was a woman of great faith. “I want my soul for God,” she used to say in particular moments when it was necessary to be honest and tell the truth. This phrase certainly expresses well the attitude that accompanied my mother throughout her life. For her, there were no half-truths. She always spoke what she thought and believed was right and true. All through her life, she had a particular concern for being honest and true, while having, at the same time, a great sense of God’s presence in her life. It was precisely this felt presence of God, which led her to live in that way. May she rest in the peace the Lord gives to the good and faithful servants.

I really wish each of you, and all friends and acquaintances, a very happy Easter! May the joy of the Lord’s living presence accompany you every day and fill your hearts with the gifts of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22).

Fraternally Yours,

Fernando García Rodríguez, sx

Covid-19 Resources

Covid-19 Resources

Letter calling on U.S. President to lift sanctions during COVID-19 pandemic

Letter calling on U.S. President to lift sanctions during COVID-19 pandemic

Dear President Trump,

We write to you out of deep concern for the people of the Middle East during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. As an international Catholic network with 120 member organizations around the world, we are hearing directly from our partners that daily life for people was already tenuous for many in places such as Iran, Syria, and Gaza and these realities have only become more difficult as a result of COVID-19. We urge you to ease and suspend sanctions (1) that negatively impact civilian populations and other restrictions that impair governments’ abilities to respond to the health crisis. This includes financial sanctions that impact the ability of countries to import much-needed medical supplies and equipment.

  • Iran: COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on Iran. Long preceding the current crisis, sanctions have caused a shortage of medicines, medical supplies and equipment in Iran. We recognize that some steps have already been taken, including allowing humanitarian trade with the Central Bank of Iran (2). But U.S. sanctions are so sweeping that they impact Iran’s entire economy, have made banks unwilling to carry out humanitarian transactions, and make it difficult for other countries to carry out transactions without triggering secondary sanctions. The U.S. should lift sanctions on Iran that are impairing a response to this crisis.
  • Syria: The potential consequence of the virus in Syria is staggering. An estimated 11 million Syrians are already in need of humanitarian assistance, with 6.2 million displaced from their homes (3). Many lack adequate shelter and sanitation. Syria’s health care sector has been seriously weakened as a result of military attacks in the ongoing war and the imposition of sweeping sanctions make it difficult to purchase medicines and medical supplies. Rather than moving forward with implementing additional sanctions, the U.S. should ease sanctions that prohibit the import and purchase of badly-needed medicines and medical supplies and assure banks that such transactions will not trigger a reprisal.
  • Gaza: The strict Israeli blockade of Gaza has already made conditions “unlivable” for the residents of Gaza, apart from COVID-19. The UN and other international agencies have repeatedly called attention to shortages of key medicines and medical supplies, with up to 50% of basic medical supplies unavailable at any time (4). Population density, broken water and sanitation systems, and a under resourced medical system leave Gaza vulnerable to an uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreak that could also negatively impact Israel. Israel regularly denies permits to patients seeking medical care that is available only outside Gaza and when permission is granted, Israel often denies permits for accompanying family members, especially for parents of children. The U.S. should immediately press Israel to ensure that medical supplies and technology are provided to Gaza, that patients needing treatment outside of Gaza are given the permits necessary for extended periods of treatment, and that family members, especially parents accompanying children, are also granted permits to travel.

As people of faith, our concern is for the most vulnerable people around the world. At this precarious moment, we call on the U.S. government to extend help to those living in increasingly desperate situations in the Middle East by suspending sanctions that negatively impact civilian populations and other restrictions that impair governments’ abilities to respond to the current pandemic.

We pray for wisdom and compassion for you in these difficult times.


Bishop Marc Stenger, Co-President (GFrance)

Sr Teresia Wamuyu Wachira (IBVM), Co-President (Kenya)

Ms Greet Vanaerschot, Secretary General (Belgium)

International Board of Pax Christi International
Archbishop Anthony Ledesma (Philippines)
Nora Carmi (Palestine)
Fr. Paul Lansu (Belgium)
Fr. Godefroid Mombula Alekiabo (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Fr. Jan Peters, sj (The Netherlands)
Sr. Sister Patricia L. Ryan M. M. (Peru)
Norbert Richter (Germany)
Elena Vilenskaia (Russian Federation)
Mary Yelenick (USA)

Pax Christi Sections
Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand
Pax Christi Australia
Pax Christi Flanders
Pax Christi France
Pax Christi Germany
Pax Christi Italy
Pax Christi Korea
PAX Netherlands
Pax Christi Peru
Pax Christi Philippines
Pax Christi Scotland
Pax Christi UK
Pax Christi USA


(1) HTTPS://NEWS.UN.ORG/EN/STORY/2020/03/1060092
(3) Syria Emergency Fact Sheet

Random Thoughts at Random Times

Random Thoughts at Random Times

There is that old gag – “If priests went on strike…would anyone notice?” Now you don’t have to answer that…but it is now closer to being fact than being a funny. 

The announcement this week by the Episcopal Conferences of both Scotland and England/Wales to suspend all public worship brought home, to those of the Catholic faith, the seriousness of this pandemic. The Eucharist, “source and summit” of all we are is now being denied to the faithful. We can’t go to Communion nor be in communion with each other. This is true also in the other Christian traditions when similar announcements were made and to other faiths when Mosques, Synagogues, Temples, Gurdwaras…also closed their doors to the faithful. It starkly brought home to us what we take for granted.

It is true that we don’t fully appreciate things until we are denied them. We only think of water when we are thirsty, we long for light when we are plunged into the dark, we crave food when we realise that we are hungry. As human beings we too easily take things for granted and it is sadly when we don’t have them that we learn to appreciate them. Or when we see someone worse off than ourselves… “I complained because I had no moccasins until I saw a man with no feet.” (Native American Proverb)

And so to social distancing or self-isolation. I am sure this has been met with… “How will I cope?” or “I can’t do that.” or “I need to see them” – if you are an extravert! For those of the introversion preference it may come as a welcome relief to the rigours of socialising or a chance to get ‘time to myself’ or the opportunity to work away quietly at completing all those things needing to be done. We suddenly realise we have taken our need for others for granted.

The last time I self-isolated was when I did an 8 Day Silent Retreat before my final vows. By day two I was talking to myself in the mirror whilst shaving! We all find our ways to cope.

And it is in our coping that we display who we are. Some have gone into selfish mode, stockpiling things they will never need nor use! Others in denial that this is nothing more than something from a Dan Brown novel and it’s all been exaggerated. Some others are convinced they are invincible and that ‘it will never affect me!’ I hope these are just from a faction of humanity. For most of us there is a breadth of emotions ranging from caution to fear, from anxiety to concern, from common sense to contrived non-sense.

I think the underlying fear is of the unknown. Like the original sin of Genesis, we don’t like not knowing everything, we crave full knowledge. But, this is something we have never faced, it is new, it is unseen, it knows no boundaries. It also reminds us of the downside of globalisation, the adverse aspect of living in a global village. I believe our fear is compounded by our inability – our inability to give answers, to explain, to see the whole picture, to know what to do and, ultimately, our inability to be in control.

In the face of this, the last thing we can do is despair. Despair is the antithesis of being a Christian, the antagonist of or faith. There is never an opportune time for a pandemic but the trials of Lent leading to the triumph of Easter could indeed be deemed a fairly appropriate time. We are approaching the great feast of victory over evil, of the Divine authority over human frailty, of limitless over limited, of life over death. This is the feast where we acknowledge and celebrate that nothing can stand in the way of God’s all-powerful love, not even the tomb. However, before we get the balloons and the bubbly ready, we need to pass through the passion. The suffering of Jesus reminds us that our sins have consequences be it personal sin, social sin or ecological sin. Our present day sufferings may well be the result of our sins too, (and that demands due reflection and action) but we celebrate the fact that God’s love is omnipotent and it’s that belief that gets us through the “vale of tears.”

So, as we endure our present passion, let us not forget where it can lead us, if we but open our hearts to that transforming love of the Father. We can stand beating our breasts, tear-filled and petrified at the foot of the cross or run, hearts bursting, joy filled and glorified at the empty tomb.

The choice is ours. 

I pray that as we live these uncertain times, we take certainty from the Easter message, and place our hope in God’s unfathomable love. The angel Gabriel told Mary at the annunciation “Do not be afraid…Nothing is impossible to God.” This is our faith and as we move through these times may we be comforted from that phrase uttered many times by Jesus “Do not be afraid…your faith has saved you.”

May the Passion give strength to us and Easter pour blessings on us.

Jim Clarke, s.x.