By Chip Henriss
Pax Christi, an organisation that has for more than 40 years played a vital role in promoting issues of peace and disarmament, is looking to its future.
Its dedicated members, who have engaged with issues such as the Vietnam War, nuclear disarmament and conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East – are beginning to age.
So the ecumenical organisation has launched an imaginative drive to attract both older and younger members with new ideas and energies for the future.
Emeritus Professor Joseph Camilleri, a leading scholar in International Relations is the founder of Pax Christi in Australia.
Prof Camilleri said the organisation, whose name translates to “Peace of Christ”, had been able to use its international connections and its understanding of complex issues to develop a unique approach to peace education and peacebuilding.
A feature of its work, he explained, has been to widen the circle of groups and organisations interested in how the issues of peace play themselves out in Australian society.
“What we are trying to do now, given that Pax Christi has been around for 40 years, is to think about the period ahead – the way Australia will need to rethink its past and reshape its future.
“In the light of far-reaching change in all facets of social and political life, we need to strike a relationship with different and newer generations.
“We need to find new ways of communicating and we need to reach an audience that is ethnically, religiously and generationally diverse.”
While the organisation intends to recruit younger members, he said the emphasis would also be on attracting people in their thirties, forties and fifties. At the same time older people who have retired from full time paid work would be received with open arms. Pax Christi would like to draw on the wisdom and skills of different generations.
“People of all ages can take advantage of the information Pax Christi provides and the opportunities it offers for spiritual reflection. They can participate in educational activities and advocacy of various kinds – from letter writing and liaising with local churches, to making links with other organisations and engaging in dialogue with people of different faiths, viewpoints and backgrounds.
“What can prospective members offer? Some might have bookkeeping or other organisational skills. Others might have people, writing or public speaking skills or social media skills. Importantly, all members can be a presence deepening each other’s spirituality and enlivening a conversation that is simultaneously local, national and global.
“From regular churchgoers to the less regular, to those who perhaps are no longer attending church but who remain deeply Christian in their ethical outlook on life and society – they all have much to contribute,” Prof Camilleri said.
Pax Christi was formed in Europe at the end of World War II primarily as a Catholic organisation to promote the reconciliation of France and Germany.
In Australia it has always operated ecumenically, drawing on different Christian traditions. In Victoria, it has had an especially close relationship with the Uniting Church.
Unlike European branches of Pax Christi, it has had a strong focus on the Asia-Pacific region, and the challenges Australia faces as it seeks to engage with Asia and to rethink its past dependence on ‘great and powerful friends’, first Britain and more recently the United States.
This is precisely the significance of 2015, which will be the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. With this in mind Pax Christi has brought together a wide range of organisations to reflect on the collective memory of this event.
“We think the Anzac Centenary is a unique opportunity for us in Australia to rethink our past and reimagine our future,” Prof Camilleri said.
“We have already made the centenary a major focus of attention. As with the Palm Sunday rallies some 30 years ago, Pax Christi has taken the initiative and as a result a diverse coalition of groups has been formed, which importantly includes the Uniting Church, the Victorian Council of Churches as well as other faith and secular groups. The aim is to generate a national conversation about where Australia has come from, where it is now and where it is heading.
“This takes us immediately to the major questions of our time: Will we have peace or war? How will we handle conflict and injustice in Australia and around the world? How can our churches, our schools and universities, our media, and our parliaments become instruments of peace?”
Pax Christi offers its members rich, diverse and reliable sources of information and analysis about world events, about conflicts in the Middle East, the rising tensions between the United States and Russia and China, the troubled relationship between Islam and the West, terrorism and counter-terrorism.
“Through our 40-year history we’ve made a point of working closely with many national and international, governmental and non-governmental organisations, so that we can have the best information available,” Prof Camilleri said.
“It is our task to make that information widely accessible – electronically, in print, and though public forums, workshops, conferences and short courses. Our journal Disarming Times is published four times a year.”
Professor Camilleri will be giving a series of lectures on “Rethinking the future” at St Michael’s Church on Collins Street on four consecutive Tuesday evenings in October. He extended a warm invitation to all Crosslight readers to consider different ways in which they might connect with the work of Pax Christi, as members or as regular or irregular participants in Pax Christi projects and activities.
For further information:
P: 0424 950 852 or 9379 3889