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Carmelites in London Walk Peace Trail
14 August 2012

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On 4th August 2012 members of 'Carmel in the City', the Carmelite Spirituality Group in London, met in the spirit of the Olympic Games and the '100 Days of Peace' to walk through the centre of the capital visiting places which commemorate peace heroes. It was an opportunity to exercise bodies, minds and hearts whilst reflecting on the Carmelite commitment to justice, peace and the integrity of Creation.

The day began with a very warm welcome and hospitality at The Friends’ Meeting House on Euston Road which is the headquarters of The British Quakers (Society of Friends), renowned and respected for their work for peace and justice.

Before setting off on the walk, two of the staff at the Meeting House invited the Lay Carmelites to join them in the prayer space for a time of silent prayer for peace in the city and in the world.


Carmelites and Quakers at prayer in the Friends Meeting House.
Left-right: Austin Winkley, Martin Pendergast, Maureen Sampson, Julie Marchant, Rosemary Warner, Simon Abrahams and (out of shot) Sue Abrahams.


The first stop on the trail was in nearby Tavistock Square, site of the bombing of the number 30 bus which took place on 7th July 2005, the day after it was announced that London would host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. A statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the centre of the Square reminded us of the use of the non-violent tactics in confronting discrimination in South Africa and colonial rule in India during the struggle for independence.


The statue of Gandhi in Tavistock Square.

In Tavistock Square there is a monuments too, to Conscientious Objectors all over the world and in every age.


The monument commemorating Conscientious Objectors.

Also in the Square a cherry tree commemorates the victims of the atomic bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima in 1945. A ceremony is held here by peace activists every 6th August, Feast of the Transfiguration.


The tree commemorating the victims of Hiroshima.

In Red Lion Square the group stopped outside the Conway Hall, the headquarters of the South Place Ethical Society, the world’s oldest association of free thinkers who promote humanist and ethical principles.


Conway Hall.

The statues in the Square are of Bertrand Russell, the rationalist philosopher who became President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1958, and nearby, the politician Lord Fenner Brockway, who worked all his life for disarmament, racial equality and human rights.


The statue of Lord Brockway.

Walking through Covent Garden the Carmelites stopped outside The Africa Centre in King Street, a place to meet for Africans coming to London post-independence. Here the group remembered the founder, Margaret Feeny, MBE, who died recently, and also Mildred Neville, a friend of 'Carmel in the City' who worked with her and who is very ill. The centre has been newly refurbished and the young African woman who greeted the group would have liked the Carmelites to stop but they needed to move on and promised to return another time.


The Africa Centre on King Street.

At the end of the street is the Anne Frank Tree which was planted by The Anne Frank Trust to remind us of all the children who had died in war and persecution, and to inspire us to work for a world free from bigotry.


The plaque marking Anne Frank's Tree.

As the Carmelites approached Trafalgar Square they stopped at the statue of Edith Cavell, the British nurse who helped establish a hospital in Brussels during the First World War where she treated the wounded of all nationalities. She was executed by the Germans as a traitor for helping escaping prisoners. Edith trained originally as a nurse in a hospital in Shoreditch, the area of London where 'Carmel in the City' meets, and several streets and buildings in the area bear her name.


The statue of Edith Cavell in central London.

The church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields is a meeting place for many Londoners as well as visitors to the city, many obviously here for the Olympic Games. It was here that Carmelites joined others for the launch of the '100 Days of Peace' ahead of the Games. The Spirituality Group took advantage of the welcoming cafe in the crypt for rest and refreshment. A colourful exhibition of embroidered postcards illustrating all the countires participating in the Olympics caught the attention, and a visit to the Dick Sheppard Chapel beneath the church provided the Carmelites with a few minutes of quiet prayer before setting out for the second part of the day. Here they saw the plaque in memory of the writer Vera Brittain, who described the effects of the First World War on the lives of herself and her friends in her book Testament of Youth, and who went on to make peace her life’s mission.

Crossing Trafalgar Square and walking down Whitehall, bypassing Horse Guards, made the walkers aware - if they had missed it before! - that London was hosting the Olympics (for a record third time). The group succeeded in getting through the crowds to Parliament Square, dodging the Italian contingent housed in the QE2 centre for the duration of the Games, to visit Methodist Central Hall where a plaque records the first session of the United Nations which was held here from 10th January - 14th February 1946 before setting up its permanent headquarters in New York.

 
Central Methodist Hall and its UN commemorative plaque.

Across the road, at Westminster Abbey, the group had permission to go inside the gate to the West Door to see the stone set in the pavement dedicated to ‘all innocent victims of oppression and war’.


Westminster Abbey contains the tomb of 'The Unknown Soldier'. Outside the Abbey all innocent victims of oppression, violence and war are commemorated.

At the Abbey the group also saw at close quarters the statues of the twentieth-century martyrs in the niches above the west door, which includes Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador who was murdered in 1980. By wearing the Carmelite brown scapular and promoting the Order's spirituality Archbishop Romero is considered a member of the wider Carmelite Family, and a number of Carmelites promote his memory through The Archbishop Romero Trust. The Carmelite walkers recalled how the Dean of the Abbey specially pointed out the statue to Pope Benedict XVI when he attended Evensong there during his visit to Britain in 2010.

 
(left) The Dean of Westminster Abbey showing the Pope the statues of
(right) Oscar Romero and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.


The Victoria Tower Gardens, just past the Houses of Parliament, were a quiet, green space after the crowds. Here the Carmelites saw the statue of Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, the most famous campaigner for women’s suffrage, and a medallion to one of her daughters, Dame Christabel Pankhurst, whose struggle for women's rights were recognised at the Olympic Opening Ceremony.


The statue of Emmeline Pankhurst.

One of the casts of Rodin’s famous sculpture of 'The Burghers of Calais' is close by, recalling the hostages demanded by King Edward III of England after the Siege of Calais in 1347.


The Burghers of Calais.

A little further away, the Buxton Memorial Fountain was built in memory of Sir Thomas Buxton who was a prominent member of the movement to abolish slavery.


The Buxton Memorial Fountain.

From the Gardens, the Carmelite group took a bus to its final destination, The Imperial War Museum London, which - contrary to what many people think - does not glorify war but is widely described as sobering and informative about the horrors of armed conflict. Group convenor Sylvia Lucas recalls: "Austin Winkley, one of our group, led us to the piece of the Berlin Wall just outside the Museum and told us of his experiences in Berlin during the Cold War."


  Austin (left) at the Berlin Wall section outside the Imperial War Museum London.

"Austin then took us to the Tibetan Peace Garden where he was present at its dedication by the Dalai Lama in 1999. The pillar is inscribed with his message in Tibetan, English, Hindi and Chinese."


The Tibetan Peace Garden.


Members of the Carmelite group admiring the pillar.


Outside the Imperial War Museum London.

"The peace of the Garden contrasted with the crowds we had met on our walk, and which we would soon be joining again. As we made our way to our various train and bus stops to return to our homes, we agreed that we had shared a very enjoyable and thought-provoking time together."

The route followed was that proposed by Valerie Flessati in the pamphlet Peace Trails Through London, produced in 2012, and promoted by (amongst others) the Catholic peace charity Pax Christi. For details on how to order the pamphlet please click here.