The Bishops’ Conference has backed a week-long peaceful protest that disrupted the start of the world’s largest international arms fair at the ExCel Centre in London’s Docklands.
Bishop Declan Lang, Chair of the Department for International Affairs, speaking after Christians - including Passionist priest and peace campaigner Fr Martin Newall - were arrested for blocking entry to the DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment International) arms fair, quoted Pope Francis as saying that it was an “absurd contradiction to speak of peace while promoting or allowing the arms trade”.
He offered his prayers and best wishes to all Catholics peacefully campaigning against the indiscriminate sale of arms.
“It is a contradiction for our government to speak of promoting human rights while inviting authoritarian regimes to the UK for one of the world’s largest arms fairs,” he said. “As a nation, we claim to support refugees and oppose persecution, while simultaneously selling weapons to those responsible for killing innocent civilians and driving families from their homes. The government has a moral duty to observe and strengthen its arms control regulations and international obligations, rather than arming the same regimes that it vocally criticises for human rights abuses.”
More than 400 people of faith, including representatives from Pax Christi, Christian CND, Justice and Peace Westminster and the London Catholic Worker, held services in roads to the east and west gates of the ExCel Centre last Tuesday, impeding set-up of the arms fair. Pax Christi Director Theresa Alessandro led an adapted Stations of the Cross liturgy in a procession to the East Gate.
Protests continued on into this week, forcing organisers to delay the start of the fair. Speaking to The Tablet after a prayer vigil on Monday night, that marked the eve of the start of the fair, Ms Alessandro said: “Our peaceful protests are challenging those who trade in arms to recognise that their business is not acceptable to people of goodwill. They are behind the times. We can see through the thin veneer of respectability to the truth of why they sell arms: they are not interested in peace, they are not interested in helping people, they just want to make money. “The skills and experience of those who work in the arms industry can be redirected to life-giving purposes. Let us instead produce and sell goods used for good purposes, which help to build up communities, not destroy them leaving death, rubble and deeply-traumatised survivors behind.”
She paid tribute to the protestors who had obstructed the fair, and thanked Bishop Lang for his encouraging statement.