Peace

Poverty and pandemics are just as deadly as war

Misery and trouble in the world does not just happen. Daily life remains human work. Conflicts, violent confrontations, world wars are also human work.

How many wars have not started because considerations of prestige prevailed over reasonable thinking and rationality? A well-known example of this is the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).

Thirty years of religious violence

The Thirty Years’ War was the longest, bloodiest and most devastating ever fought on German soil, and it maintained that reputation until the end of the twentieth century. Fear of death was accompanied by fear of life, which had become tainted by the constant misery of war, malnutrition and disease.

During that time period it was also extremely cold. Rivers and even ports on the Mediterranean were frozen until spring, allowing entire armies to move across the Danube during the Thirty Years’ War. Speaking of climate change! The harsh winters were unimpressed by the murderous religious drive, however. In this three-decade war between Catholics and Protestants, a third of Europe’s population would perish.

Peace was not achieved by a victory of one of the warring factions, but by exhaustion. It is not only the physical exhaustion of the extremely brutal war, but also the mental exhaustion of the spiritual worldview. The nation states will take over sovereignty themselves in 1648 (and no longer the churches or religion). The sovereign unit or nation / state is then the highest authority. Human rationality became more important.

The Peace of Münster (Westphalia) was concluded in 1648. End of the war and the nation states took control of their own hands based on sovereignty and rational or reasonable thinking.

The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) would later speak of the “disenchantment of the world”. That says that the moral basis of society rests more on rational arguments than on belief, more on an ethics of human rights and procedural agreements of democracy than on the ethics of the Bible, because the latter failed not only in the Thirty Years’ War but in so many other circumstances as well.

After the war the plague

In the wake of the war came the plague, one epidemic after another. People were so weakened by hunger and hardship that they became easy prey for the germs carried by the armies. The plague claimed more lives than the Thirty Years’ War itself. The painter Rembrandt van Rijn painted the mournful reality of death at the end of the plague epidemic in 1668.

The Spanish flu also broke out after a war (WW1). WW1 became the first truly industrial modern war. The infamous Spanish flu pandemic originated in Europe (1918/19), mostly in army units that had to spend the last months of the world conflict in particularly uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions. The number of fatalities was enormous and in many warring countries comparable to the number of people who died from the violence of war itself. Poverty and pandemics are just as deadly as war.

Some historians speak of a “second Thirty Years’ War” and that is the period from 1914 to 1945 of last century. From one world war to another. Millions of people died, cities and entire economies were in ruin, and countless lives were destroyed.

Pandemics, like wars, famines and natural disasters, have repeatedly affected human history throughout the ages. Due to increased globalisation and massive international air traffic, a global pandemic is one of the biggest security risks. Hunger and epidemics can only be tackled properly on a global scale. These are challenges that require an internationally coordinated approach.

One major trauma

A century ago, hundreds of thousands of young men went to war voluntarily or compulsorily, even though they knew they were risking their lives and their health without obtaining any economic benefit. At the time, people identified themselves in a strong social transcendence, in God and emperor and fatherland and decency and self-sacrifice.

How many people would still act like that today? How many people would seriously consider the prospect of being killed in the field of honour for even one moment? In addition, what does a society lose and what gains if its members are hardly willing to die and kill for an ideal?

To take the matters into one’s own hands

Countless people were victims of war, epidemics or famine in the last century. One big and collective trauma. Western societies responded to the murders of two world wars by attaching additional value to renewed cooperation, redistribution, peace and international solidarity.

Common stories and political projects arose based on common interests. Two examples of this are the United Nations and the European Union. Both would guarantee the functioning of the rule of law, international peace and security, human rights, development and sustainable ecological coexistence.

Brussels/Antwerp, September 2020

Fr Paul Lansu, Board Member of Pax Christi International and Pax Christi Flanders

Photo by Adam Axton via Flickr

Our Stories

The Assumption of Mary and the Birth of Pax Christi International

Bishop Marc Stenger, co-president of Pax Christi International, celebrates the 2020 feast of the Assumption of Mary in Kevelaer. In his sermons, he reflects on the importance of Kevelaer for the beginnings of the Pax Christi International movement. The town of Kevelaer’s special bond with the Pax Christi International movement has its origins in 1948, when the first Pax Christi congress on German soil took place in Kevelaer. The bridge-builder of peace was the Bishop of Lourdes, Pierre Marie Theas, who began his welcoming speech with the words: “I greet the whole of Germany and bring it the brotherly kiss of Christian France, a kiss that grants forgiveness and seeks such, that is: the kiss of reconciliation.” 

PREDIGT

Liebe Pilgerinnen,

Liebe Pilger,

Das Leitwort für die Wallfahrt 2020 ist gerade in der Zeit der Covidpandemie, die immer noch unseren Alltag prägt, ein Wort der Ermutigung : « Ich bin, da wo du bist », nach dem Philosoph, Martin Buber, der so die Worte Gottes an Mosè (Exodus 3, 14) übersetzt, also eine Zusage, die auch heute  Christen  Trost und Kraft schenkt. In diesem Jahre  kann die Wallfahrt zu der als « Trösterin der Betrübten » verehrten Gottesmutter nicht ganz wie sonst erlebt werden : weniger Leute,  berufliche Ängste,, schwierige menschliche Situationen, und auch strengere Regeln für das Sammeln. Aus diesem Grund wollen wir umso mehr unser Vertrauen auf die Gottesmutter legen und Ihr unsere Menschheit, die Hoffnung braucht, anvertrauen.

In einem seiner Bücher schrieb Martin Buber: « Zu jeder Zeit ruft Gott jedem Menschen zu : Wo bist du in deiner Welt ? Von denen, die dir zugeschrieben werden, sind so viele Tage vergangen und so viele Jahre. Wie weit bist du. Bis wo bist du in der Zwischenzeit in deiner Welt gekommen ?

Wenn Gott solche Fragen stellt, geht es ihm nicht darum dass der Mensch ihm etwas erzählt, das er noch nicht wissen würde. Er will im Menschen etwas provozieren, er möchte ihm in Herzen berühren und ihm bewusst machen, dass er den Austausch mit ihm sucht.

Schon im Garten Eden, im Buch des Genesis, fragt Gott Adam : Wo bist du ? Er weiss, dass  Adam sich versteckt, um die Entscheidung, die verbotene Frucht zu essen, nicht rechtfertigen zu müssen, um der Verantwortung für sein Leben zu entgehen. Er versteckt sich nicht nur vor Gott, , er versteckt sich vor* sich selbst. Mit anderen Worten, er sieht  seinem Leben nicht ins Gesicht, er rutscht weg, er bleibt stecken. Er berücksichtigt sein Leben, seine Geschichte nicht vollständig. Um das zu tun sollte er, wo er angekommen ist, die Stimme Gottes, die Gegenwart Gottes erkennen, die ihn befragt, der zu ihm sagt : Wo du bist, bin ich… um dich aus deiner Sackgasse herauszubringen.

So gross die Freude eines Menschen über beruflichen oder privaten Erfolg,  so bedeutend seine Macht, wie kolossal das Werk seines Lebens auch sein mag, all das  kann Ihn nicht auf den richtigen Weg bringen, wenn er in seinem Leben und in seinem Leisten die Stimme Gottes, die ihn ruft befragt und leitet, nicht erkennt. Adam steht vor der Stimme Gottes, er erkennt die Stagnation, er gibt zu : « Ich habe mich versteckt » und dort beginnt für ihn ein neuer Weg des Menschseins

Die Jungfrau Maria ist das genaue Gegenteil Adams. Sie weiss und nimmt mit Freude an,  dass Gott Teil Ihres Lebens ist, wie des Lebens eines jeden Menschen. Sie versucht nicht davon abzuweichen. Im Gegenteil, sie dankt für alle die Wunder, die er vollbringt, und wenn ihm durch die Vermittlung des Engels die aussergewöhnliche Mission anvertraut wird, Mutter des Sohnes Gottes zu werden, ist ihr Vertrauen in diesen Gott , der das Wohl jedes Mensch will und ihn auf seinem Weg begleitet, absolut.

In Maria können wir also entdecken, was der Mensch im Gottesplan ist. Die Menschen wissen nicht, was der Mensch ist, so verschieden sind die philosophischen und religiösen Vorstellungen. Wir Christen können es wissen. Gott sagt es uns. Was ist der Mensch ? Ecce Maria -seht Maria : das ist der Mensch, der Euch gegeben ist, damit ihr ihn  nachahmt. Liebe Pilgerinnen und Pilger, In Maria ist alles ausgedrückt, was Gott über den Menschen denkt und plant. Sie ist der vorbildlicher Mensch., weil überall da, wo Sie ist, Gott in Ihrem Leben ist. Gewiss ist auch schon Jesus Christus  in höchster Potenz das Vorbild aller Menschen, er ist aber mehr als Mensch. Er ist der Erlöser der Menschen. Aber Maria ist wie wir Erlöste. Wenn auch vor erlöst, weil Ihr ja die Erbsünde erspart blieb, aber sie ist eine Erlöste und deswegen steht Sie uns ganz nahe, sowie Gott Ihr anz nahe steht.  Und deswegen können wir bei Ihr Christus spüren.

So sehen wir die Wahrheit unseres Lebens in der Aufnahme Mariens in den Himmel ausgedrückt. Sie gibt uns Zuversicht und Mut, weil wir wissen dadurch, es ist nicht zu Ende , wenn unser Leib zerfällt. Es gibt ein anderes Leben und Gott hat uns eine Wohnung bereitet, in die wir eingehen dürfen. Das ist die Grösse und die Würde des Menschen. Was uns durch Maria gesagt wird ist, dass Gott den Dialog den er mit den Menschen einmal begonnen hat, nie mehr abbricht. Diese Würde hat der Mensch sich nicht selbst erobert, erworben, erarbeitetwird ihm geschenkt. In Maria heisst : ich bin, wo du bist, : « Grosses hat er an mir getan, der Allmächtige. » Und Grosses will er an uns tun, wenn wir nach dem Beispiel Mariens leben, wenn wir unser Leben in der Treue zu Gott und in der Ergebenheit gegenüber Gott verbringen. Weil Maria die demütig Empfangende war, wurde sie zur Vollendung geführt. Das  Beste, das Höchste,, das Unvergängliche wird uns nicht durch unserer Hände Arbeit erworben, wie Adam es meinte, sondern es wird uns von Gott geschenkt. Und der Mensch kann nur Mensch bleiben, wenn er sich  von der Gnade führen und über seinen eigenen Grenzen hinwegtragen lässt.

Ein wesentlicher Punkt des Dogmas der Aufnahme Mariens in den Himmel mit Leib und Seele, ist , dass « Ich bin wo du bist »,  nicht nur die Würde der Seele, sondern auch des Leibes bedeutet. Der Leib. mit allem was dazugehört hat seine Würde von Gott. Gott hat den Leib geschaffen, und er hat Ihn uns geliehen, damit wir in ihm unser Heil und das Heil der Menschheit wirken , und er will diesen Leib verherrlichen. Maria, Gottesmutter und Gottesgebärerin, hat auch leiblich reagiert.  In ihrem Leben hat sie auch vieles ertragen und gelitten. In Ihr begreifen wir auch besser, um was es geht mit dem Leib, der nicht nur die Hülle der Seele ist, sondern seine eigene Würde im Plan Gottes hat. Der Leib ist so zu sagen das Werkzeug, mit dem wir die Welt gestalten sollen.. Mit unserem Leib sollen wir wirken , Güter schaffen, Anderen helfen, die Erde bebauen und auf dieser Weise zur Verherrlichung Gottes beitragen. Der Leib ist auch ein Ort des Ausdrucks der Schönheit, zum Beispiel  der spörtlichen Entwicklung. Der Leib vermittelt auch die Begegnung  der Körper und die Vermehrung der Menschheit.  Abhängig von der Beziehung, die wir zum Körper haben können wir aber auch dem umgekehrten  Weg der Verherrlischung folgen. Mit Mariens Aufnahme im Himmel mit Leib und Seele lässt Gott uns die unendliche Würde  des menschlichen Leibes erkennen. Diese Würde wie keine anders ist nur richtig zu verstehen, wenn man sie mit der Lehre der unbefleckten Empfängnis verbindet. Der Leib Mariens, Gottesmutter, war von Anfang an vor Sünde bewahrt und dieser Leib, der nie in das Verhängnis der Erbsünde hineingezogen war, sollte nicht der Verwesung überliefert werden.

Maria spiegelt die Berufung unseres eigenen Leibes. In dieser Zeit der Covid-19 Pandemie haben wir  uns alle gewünscht, auf uns selbst aufzupassen . Dass gilt nicht nur für unsere Gesundheit ; es ist auch ein Aufruf diesen Leib zu respektieren und zu verehren.

Durch Maria verkündet die Kiche, dass der Mensch mit Leib und Seele fähig ist zur Aufnahme in der Herrlichkeit Gottes. Das kann aber nicht ohne Erkennung  des grossen Wertes des Leibes geschehen. Der Mensch hat  so tiefe Würde, das sie nicht zerstört werden kann, selbst wenn menschliche Bosheit das tut und immer wieder neu versucht. Die Botschaft der Aufnahme Marien in den Himmel ist das Gegenzeichen ! Ein grossen Zeichen gegen alle Grausamkeiten die bis zur Stunde  menschlichem Leben angetan werden. Übertragen wir das bis in unser Leben und in unserer Gegenwart hinein, dann dürfen wir fragen : « Bin ich mir selbst meiner Würde  als Mensch bewusst, welche Kosbarkeit mein Leib ist »

Danke der Gottesmutter, die uns den Preis unseres Menscseins  mit Leib und Seele gezeigt hat. Sie ist so zu sagen der Gotteswegweiser zur unsere Verherrlichung als Vermittlerin seines Rufes : Wo bis du ? heute in Kevelaer und jeden Tag.

Kevelaer, 15. August 2020

Marc Stenger

EINFUHRUNG

Es ist eine besondere Ehre und eine grosse Freude für mich, am 15. August, an diesem aussergewöhnlichen Ort der Basilika von Kevelaer die Eucharistie zu zelebrieren. Dieser Ort ist für mich, als Präsident von Präsident von Pax Christi Frankreich und jetzt Co-Präsident von Pax Christi International, ein Stammort, ein Quellort. Er verkörpert den Willen zweier Völker, das deutsche und das französische – und von da ab  noch viel mehr – einander zu vergeben, sich zu versöhnen, einander zu lieben, und für das Gemeinwohl der Menschheit zusammenzuarbeiten, wo Hass, Spaltung, Gewalt und Vernichtung der menschlichen Person solange vorherrschten.

In Kevelaer fand  1948, drei Jahre nach dem Ende des zweiten Weltkrieges, in dem so schrecklichen Vergehen erlebt worden sind, der erste internationale Kongress von Pax Christi statt, auf dem Bischof Theas, der Ursprung von Pax Christi war, diesen denkwürdigen Satz von grosser historischer Bedeutung sagte : « Ich grüsse das versammelte Deutschland und bringe ihr den brüderlichen Kuss aus dem christlichen Frankreich, ein Kuss der Vergebung gibt und um Vergebung bittet, der Kuss der Versöhnung genannt wird. »

In Erinnerung an diese für die Völkerverständigung so beteudende Begebenheit ligt in der Mitte dieses Wallfahrtortes eine Pax Christi Kapelle, deren Altar im 1982 geweiht wurde, und in derer Raum sich das Eigentum des Pax Christi Forum, Ort der Begegnung, des Gebetes und des Nachdenkens über die Zukunft unserer Gesellschart. Sie Könnent, vermute ich, gut verstehen, dass meine eigene Pilgerfahrt auch durch diese symbolischen und geistliche Orte hindurchgehen wird.

Sowieso hier in Kevelaer kommen wir, um zu Maria zu beten, die Trösterin der Betrübten. Maria liess sich im Dienst  von Gottes Pläne für die Menschheit. Noch immer wollte Er die Rettung der Menschen. Heute haben wir so sehr Gründe uns Sorgen zu machen, als wir immer noch in den unsicheren Zeiten einer anhaltenden Pandemie stehen, als Gewalt, Unterdrückung der Schwachen, Katastrophen, Rassismus und Ausgrenzung immer mehr zunehmen. In diesr Zeit sendet uns aber die Gottesmutter eine grossartige Botschaft von Ihm :

« Ich bin, wo du bist »

In deinen Situationen der Trostlosigkeit und des Zorns, in denen du lebst, bin ich da, um dich zu erheben und mit meiner Kraft zu füllen. Grosse, heute notwendige Ermutigung, die wir von Gott durch die Jungfrau Maria. Môge diese Botschaft das geistliche stichwort unseres gesamten Pilgerreise sein.

Marc Stenger

Photo: Gerard Stoke via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A picture of lush ferns in a dense forest
Our Stories, Peace Spirituality

Soil, Soul, Society: A new trinity – not for realists or pragmatists

The following is a reflection from Fr Claude Mostowik, president of Pax Christi Australia. It was originally published to the Edmund Rice Centre website

Soil, Soul, Society – A new trinity – not for realists or pragmatists

In the wake of increasing global climate catastrophes, the global population is progressively being forced into reforming the way that it functions. The need to create a new consciousness, focusing on our important relationship with the environment has become apparent. As people look to complex and intricate solutions to immediate problems, there are people who suggest a more wholistic yet simpler response, considering three things, our environment, ourselves, and our community.

The New Trinity

Historical movements have at times had their three key words or ideas to express the spirit of their movements1. The French had ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ and the Americans have ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’. Though relevant at the time, for the French revolution and the American War of Independence, these ‘mottos’ are outdated. They represented a human-centred view of the world where the human being is at the centre of the universe and all other life forms at its service.

In his book, Soil, Soul, Society: A New Trinity of Our Time, Satish Kumar refers to another trinity that reflects a comprehensive way of nonviolent living; soil represents the natural world; soul signifies the spiritual world, and society stands for the human world. This is a new trinity for our age of sustainability and nonviolent living by emphasising that we are all connected2.

Kumar argues that the spiritual aspect of the environment is what has been lost in the great debate about the way we live; and that the broad environment movement has not understood the power of concepts such as love and reverence. He insists that love and reverence are not to be confused with religion, ‘The environment movement here is very logical and analytical. But it is driven by doom, gloom and disaster.’

‘There are no unsacred places. There are only sacred places and desecrated places.’ (Wendell Berry)

People view nature from a very utilitarian point of view, and see what is good for them only, he says, and seek to manage it rather than protect it. ‘I want to move people to a more experiential philosophy of the natural world,’ he says. ‘That way you can protect it.’ He sees no reason why governments and authorities should not be driven by philosophies of reverence to nature rather than violence to nature.

Nonviolence

The basic principle for a harmonious relationship with creation, the spiritual world and the social world is nonviolence. This concept is not abstract but a guide for a new way of living. It informs how we live our everyday lives, how we work, and how we interact with others and our environment. It is important that we do not compartmentalise our relationship with the natural world, our personal spiritual world and our social world. This was the message of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’3, which coincided with the United Nations’ International Year of the Soil. We are all members of a one-earth society, and caring for the earth and soul is interrelated. Laudato si’ has been called a magna carta of integral ecology. It is a powerful reminder of the connections that we have, but do not always recognise, and a warning of humanity’s self-destructive course. It has parallels to the nuclear weapons crisis as well as a paradigm shift from people being rulers of the environment to be participants in the universal sister and brotherhood in our common home.

There is a need to create a new consciousness that reveres nature and explores how, as a global society, we need to embrace diversity and become pilgrims on this earth not tourists. To bring about change in the world we must be the change we wish to see. This is nothing other than a call to conversion called for by both Popes Benedict and Francis.

The Lost Connection with Soil

In our modern world the innate connection of earth and people has been lost, and as a result we have seen devastating effects on people’s spiritual and social health. For a majority of the community we receive food coated in plastic packaging, underneath artificial lights, at supermarkets. Never thinking about where they come from, we sit indoors talking to others through a screen, in our air-conditioned offices, while many even walk to work on concrete sidewalks. In essence we have lost our connection with nature, because it has become something not apparent in our day to day lives; which considering we live on earth is perplexing.

Earth is life; without it there is no food, no oxygen, no means of our society’s existence. Our ancestors revered and lived by this. Australia’s Indigenous peoples understood the land and their links to it formed their entire being. They lived out this ‘new’ trinity of soil, soul and society centuries before it was new, through their own connection to Land, The Dreaming and Kinship. There are many examples of how peoples of the past had a key understanding of the importance of soil, even down to the word human and its connection to the top layer of soil. “We are the earth. What we do to the soil, we do to ourselves. And it is no accident that the words “humus” and “humans” have the same roots.”4 Both Catholic and Buddhist teachings refer to the way the land provides and creates. The biblical passage, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”(Genesis 3:19)5 is reciprocated in the Buddhist teaching as Satish Kumar exclaims “You are earth, air, fire, water, imagination, creativity, consciousness, time and space – you have this all in your genes and in your cells. You are billions of years old. You have been recycled and recycled.  You are a beautiful example of the total recycling principle of the universe.”6

Nevertheless this message does not translate into any of our everyday being, rather than people feeling as part of the earth, we see ourselves as owners of it. Our policies, attitudes and actions speak of violence. “The trees have a right to exist. We have no right to cut them down without proper purpose.”1 We recognise our own rights yet not that of the creation around us, and this shows the way we have lost the connection our ancestors had recognised. “In our education systems, we have come to think that soil simply means dirt and that dirt means dirty. But dirt is not dirty; it is the source of life.”

Real World Implementation

Soil, soul, society as a new trinity provides a guide for our global community establishing the need for a transformation in the way we approach our lives. Society, the environment and individuals are calling for it. We are so removed in our humancentric views that we only ever put into action environmental initiatives when we are directly affected by the environment’s outcries for help. When our beaches suddenly disappear, and temperatures rises. Rather than this approach focusing on the impending catastrophe or inevitable doom and blame we need to look for solution 7. Integrating the environment into our social, political and environmental structures is how we will be able to establish this trinity to positive effect. Kumar explains how this can be:

‘Social systems can be changed,’ Kumar insists. ‘The ones we have now are not very old. The trouble is we are driven by fear and so we take panic decisions, like opting for nuclear power. At the moment, our culture is of violence – to nature, animals, people, ourselves. We are not protecting nature these days so much as managing it without knowing it. If you want to protect it, go out in it.’1

People need to return to their innate connection with land to be able to coexist in harmony with creation. Recognising the trinity of soil, soul, society into our global vocabulary and cultures could be for the benefit of all life.

With thanks to Beth Hansen for her contribution

REFERENCES:

1: Kumar, S., 2013. Satish Kumar: The Link Between Soil, Soul And Society. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/satish-kumar-soil-soul-society&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

2: Vidal, J., 2008. Soul Man. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/jan/16/activists&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

3: Francis, 2015. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis. 1st ed. [Vatican City]: [Vatican Web Site].

4: Shiva, V., 2014. We Are The Soil. [online] Seed Freedom. Available at: <https://seedfreedom.info/we-are-the-soil/&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

5: Genesis 3:19, The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version

6: TEDx Talks, 2012. Soil, Soul And Society: Satish Kumar At Tedxexeter. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSLUd0veioU&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

7: Eisenstien, C., 2019. CLIMATE — A NEW STORY. [S.l.]: READHOWYOUWANT COM LTD.

 

OTHER RESOURCES:

  1. Nonviolence And Quality Of Life: Soil, Soul And Society. [ebook] Available at: <https://www.cpp.edu/~ahimsacenter/files/conference_06_workshops.pdf&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Brogan, K., 2020. Climate: A New Story. [online] Kelly Brogan MD. Available at: <https://kellybroganmd.com/climate-a-new-story/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Brogan, K., 2020. Sacred Activism: Moving Beyond The Ego. [online] Kelly Brogan MD. Available at: <https://kellybroganmd.com/sacred-activism-moving-beyond-ego/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Eisenstein, C., 2017. The Age Of We Need Each Other. [online] Charles Eisenstein. Available at: <https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-age-of-we-need-each-other/?fbclid=IwAR1ZMyu9HoxqPgBOfVNF7c2rnll18JX65hn4_OtZOTa82mUPsDmFvgy_4_M&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Eisenstein, C., 2019. Why The Climate Change Message Isn’T Working. [online] Yes! Magazine. Available at: <https://www.yesmagazine.org/environment/2019/01/04/why-the-climate-change-message-isnt-working/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Findhorn New Story Hub. 2018. A New Story Of Climate Change – Charles Eisenstein At New Frontiers. [online] Available at: <http://newstoryhub.com/2018/06/a-new-story-of-climate-change-charles-eisenstein-at-new-frontiers/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Jensen, R., 2010. Soils And Souls: The Promise Of The Land. [online] The Texas Observer. Available at: <https://www.texasobserver.org/soils-and-souls-the-promise-of-the-land/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Kingsbury, D., 2019. Climate: A New Story | Suzuki Elders. [online] Suzuki Elders. Available at: <https://www.suzukielders.org/climate-a-new-story/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Kumar, S., 2012. Soil, Soul And Society. [online] Resurgence & Ecologist. Available at: <https://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article3877-soil-soul-and-society.html&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Kumar, S., 2012. Soil, Soul And Society. [online] The Ecologist. Available at: <https://theecologist.org/2012/dec/07/soil-soul-and-society&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Minami, K., 2009. Soil and humanity: Culture, civilization, livelihood and health. Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, [online] 55(5), pp.603-615. Available at: <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1747-0765.2009.00401.x&gt;.

Penniman, L., 2019. By Reconnecting With Soil, We Heal The Planet And Ourselves. [online] Yes! Magazine. Available at: <https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/dirt/2019/02/14/by-reconnecting-with-soil-we-heal-the-planet-and-ourselves/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=YTW_20180215&utm_content=YTW_20180215%20CID_b10737bb9c6465fc7638788aec3c6992&utm_source=CM&utm_term=By%20Reconnecting%20With%20Soil%20We%20Heal%20the%20Planet%20and%20Ourselves&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Spire, S., 2018. Review: Charles Eisenstein’s Climate—A New Story. [online] Simon Spire Emergent Inquiry. Available at: <https://www.simonspire.com/blog/climate-a-new-story&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Swennerfelt, R., 2020. A Story Of Interbeing: A Book Review Of Climate: A New Story By Charles Eisenstein. [online] Quaker Earthcare Witness. Available at: <https://www.quakerearthcare.org/article/story-interbeing-book-review-climate-new-story-charles-eisenstein&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

TEDx Talks, 2012. Soil, Soul And Society: Satish Kumar At Tedxexeter. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSLUd0veioU&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Transition Consciousness. 2014. Book Review: Satish Kumar – Soil Soul Society – A New Trinity For Our Time. [online] Available at: <https://transitionconsciousness.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/book-review-satish-kumar-soil-soul-society-a-new-trinity-for-our-time/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Photo: Matthew Paul Argall CC by 2.0 via Flickr.

 

 

Mushroom cloud from nuclear weapons test in the Pacific Ocean
I am Pax Christi, Nuclear Disarmament, Our Stories, Peace

Putting Hope to Work: The Pax Christi Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament

By Jonathan Frerichs, UN representative for disarmament, Geneva, Pax Christi International

Pax Christi’s working group on nuclear disarmament is an embodiment of hope born with Pax Christi 75 years ago—the hope for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The working group was formed at a propitious time, in 2016.  Three seminal conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons had changed the dynamics of disarmament.  A growing majority of the world’s governments and a broad range of civil society organizations were united behind a singular conviction: “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances”.  Pax Christi had the further good fortune that this new group was formed during the current papacy.  The Holy Father’s prophetic admonitions to free the world of nuclear weapons have encouraged and guided us from the start.

Here are some of the convictions and experiences, opportunities and challenges the group brings to a critical task.

Conviction.  In Japan’s symbolic cities last November, Pope Francis condemned not only the use of nuclear weapons, but also their possession.  His words inspired concerned citizens around the world.    Some of our group had heard him make the same point before 400 peace workers, diplomats and church leaders in 2017 when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which includes Pax Christi.  We also worked and prayed for his message to be heard in Japan.

At Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial, the Holy Father called nuclear weapons “a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home”.

At Nagasaki’s Atomic Bomb Hypo-Center Park, the pontiff said nuclear weapons breed “a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust”.  The pope challenged the theory of nuclear deterrence which has defined the nuclear era and continues to hold the entire planet at risk.

Before and after the papal visit, we took heart from actions of the Canadian and Japanese bishops’ conferences.  Both conferences urged their governments to sign and ratify the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  It will become international law when 12 more states ratify the agreement.

The bishops in Canada along with leaders of other churches urged the Canadian government “to work with allies and to engage would-be adversaries to formulate security arrangements that do not rely on the threat of nuclear annihilation.”

The Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan complemented the pope’s visit by calling on the leader of Japan, the only country to experience atomic warfare, to lead the international community in abolishing nuclear weapons.

These calls from the church have significant implications: Key nations must abandon the mutually assured destruction which has defined the 20th century and embrace the mutually assured security on which life in the 21st century already depends.

The working group’s members are familiar with such dilemmas.  They are mostly from countries which have, or rely on, nuclear weapons. But the language of “having” and “relying on” nuclear weapons can hide harsh realities.  For much of the past 75 years our countries have threatened humanity with indiscriminate destruction and practiced nuclear apartheid in international affairs.

In reality, today and every day, our leaders stand willing and able to destroy hundreds or even thousands of Hiroshimas and Nagasakis. Our governments insist they would use nuclear weapons only in extremis, but this does not alter the fact that they would be committing mass murder in other countries and mass suicide in their own countries at the same time.  What is more, they stand ready to take such actions with only a moment’s notice. This caveat alone makes a mockery of the entire nuclear regime and the doctrine of deterrence by which it justifies itself.

The work of peace requires conviction.  These are but a few examples.  Pax Christi’s diverse membership knows from experience that every true work of peace is much more than opposition to something evil.  It is also positive engagement for something of great good.  The case of nuclear weapons leads us to what Pax Christi’s Catholic Nonviolence Initiative calls a wider engagement with the suffering of our world, the forms of violence which spawn that suffering, and the love and determination to end it together.

Experience. The working group is blessed with the wide range of skills, vocations and commitments of its members.  One member, a national coordinator of Pax Christi, came from a career in teaching, speech therapy and clinic management.  She had always worked for justice and peace with the church.

Another member of the group practiced law for 35 years, specializing in civil litigation, before working with Pax Christi.

One member is a life-long advocate of nonviolent methods for dealing with conflicts. He became a foreign service officer during the Cold War and then helped establish the Nonviolent Peaceforce.  A toolkit he designed for Pax Christi provides faith communities with ways to address ethnic and racial conflict.

Another member was a mathematician in Germany’s Space Operation Center. His local Pax Christi section, which he joined 40 years ago, focuses on arms exports, Middle East peace and interreligious dialogue.  His priorities include removing the nuclear bombs based in Germany and opposing the growing threat of lethal autonomous weapons.

Members speak of milestones in their pursuits of peace. Theresa Alessandro of Pax Christi UK recalls: “As a teenager I read John Hersey’s book ‘Hiroshima’ and I have believed in getting rid of nuclear weapons ever since. Finding in Pax Christi others who feel the same has supported me and helped me channel my frustration over the continuing presence of nuclear weapons in the world.”

“A regional meeting in Jordan, followed by visits to members in Palestine and Lebanon, and to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, made a deep impression on me,” says Marie Dennis of Pax Christi USA and former co-president of Pax Christi International. She is connected to peacemakers around the world through the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative and has authored theological blogs against nuclear weapons.

“The work leading up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017 was highly gratifying—sessions at the UN, lobbying individual Missions and meeting creative, intelligent, passionate people from around the world, capped off by the Vatican conference on nuclear disarmament,” says Mary Yelenick of Pax Christi USA. Her work has led to new friendships with young peace-builders around the world.

Opportunities.  Working groups are a benefit to their members when opportunities in one place lead to new approaches in other places.  When one member shares their plans and purposes, it may help another member to see new options too.  Collaboration along these lines may even shape a kind of power map showing which actions work where.

For example, the new nuclear ban treaty is being signed and ratified at a healthy pace.  Only 12 more ratifications are needed before it enters into force.  But that process takes time.  The nuclear powers and various allies are going to considerable lengths to denounce, dismiss and ignore the accord.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will make nuclear weapons illegal.  Meanwhile, close at hand, are ways to make nuclear weapons even more illegitimate than they already are.  Thanks to the work of PAX Netherlands (formerly IKV Pax Christi), detailed information is available to the international community about which banks and investment funds are financing nuclear weapons and which corporations are involved in making them.  BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund are among the 77 financial institutions which have cut or ended their investments in nuclear arms.  Pax Christi UK is also advocating and facilitating responsible investments with an inter-faith project on Banks, Pensions and Nuclear Weapons: Investing In Change.

The most striking feature on our power map of Europe are the US nuclear weapons permanently stationed in five European countries.  Pax Christi’s nuclear disarmament working group has members in four of these countries—Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy.  Protests at the bases and lobbies of governments take place regularly.  A new project by Pax Christi Flanders would engage with parliamentarians opposed to nuclear weapons in each country and encourage inter-parliamentary initiatives for the weapons to be removed.

One of Pax Christi International’s other global priorities is to advocate with communities affected by mining, logging and other extractive industries in Latin America.  Pax Christi partners there and in Africa are aware that the economic and ecological injustices they face are also related to the nuclear threat.  The exploitation of strategic minerals is one example; the fact that virtually all nuclear weapons tests have taken place on the territory of indigenous peoples is another.  Pax Christi International is part of the worldwide effort by ICAN to have states sign and ratify the nuclear ban treaty.  This was explained to partners in Colombia and DR Congo.   They contacted their foreign ministries at home and worked through Pax Christi’s United Nations office to bring the same request to their missions in New York.

Challenges. The road to a nuclear-weapon-free world is paved with challenges.  Here are some current examples:

  • It is fitting that the members of Pax Christi’s nuclear disarmament working group are mostly from nuclear-weapon states and their allies. But since Pax Christi has 120 member organizations on five continents, it would also be fitting to welcome new members on the working group—especially from the global majority of countries which reject nuclear arms.
  • A new nuclear arms race has begun. Treaties which have limited nuclear arsenals for decades are expiring without being renewed. Nuclear-weapon states are modernising their arsenals.  The USA is spending more on its military than the next 10 military powers combined.  Such trends must be reversed.
  • Curiously, the nine states with the world’s most fearsome weapons have done a poor job of defending themselves against a microscopic coronavirus. New national priorities are needed— moving vast resources from threatening lives to saving lives.
  • The world is still at risk of nuclear annihilation 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pax Christi is still working for healing, reconciliation and peace.

The climax of Pax Christi’s anniversary year was to have been the movement’s World Assembly in Hiroshima, a much-anticipated opportunity for reflection, thanksgiving, fellowship and renewal.  There is reason to regret that the gathering was not possible but also to be grateful for the safety of foregoing it.

This 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings is a warning to a world newly reminded of its fragile, common fate.  Nuclear weapons have no place where security is truly shared.  Pax Christi’s anniversary motto – “Let’s build peace together” – is an invitation to the practice of hope.

Photo: US Government via the ICAN Flickr Stream CC BY-NC 2.0.

Social Issues

It’s OUR racism

The following is a post by Mary T. Yelenick a White member of the Pax Christi USA Anti-Racism Team. It was originally posted on the Pax Christi USA website on 16 June 2020.

Our nation is drowning in the blood of African Americans murdered by white people – often (though not always) by police officers; frequently with impunity.

In March of 2020, Breonna Taylor, a young emergency medical technician in Louisville, was killed in her bedroom when the police – who kicked in the door and burst into her apartment to execute a no-knock warrant, actually intended for another person, at another address – executed her instead. Several weeks earlier, on February 23, Ahmaud Arbery, an African-American man, was ambushed and murdered by gun-toting, racial-epithet-wielding white men in Glynn County, Georgia as he jogged through a residential neighborhood. And on Memorial Day, 2020, a videotape captured the agonizing death in Minnesota of George Floyd, whose desperate pleas (as with those of onlookers) to a white police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, preventing him from breathing, were ignored.

Most white people I know – holding a wide variety of political views – have condemned the murder of Mr. Floyd.  Presumably, such condemnation should accompany any callous murder. Yet the reality is that many white people have historically resisted denouncing the killings of People of Color by whites. Instead, in the aftermath of such murders, many whites have scrambled to concoct reasons why the victim should bear at least some responsibility for his or her death – reasoning that, after all, the person killed was not only Black (thereby posing an implicit risk to whites), but also:

  • Was overweight, or not otherwise in good health – like Eric Garner, killed in Staten Island in 2012, whose anguished last words were, as were Mr. Floyd’s, “I Can’t Breathe!”) – and therefore bore some responsibility for his own death;
  • Had, in response to a police order to stop and show his hands, pulled from his jacket his wallet – like Amadou Diallo, who was shot 19 times in the middle of the night, just outside his apartment in the Bronx, by four plain-clothed New York City police officers (all of whom, despite having fired at Mr. Diallo a total of 41 bullets collectively, were later acquitted at trial);
  • Was wearing a “hoodie,” partially obscuring his face – which, after all, might reasonably frighten people in a largely-white neighborhood (like 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, visiting the apartment complex of his father’s girlfriend, whose self-appointed neighborhood protector/vigilante killer was subsequently acquitted by a jury);  or
  • Owned a gun – like Philando Castile, who after explaining to the officer who had pulled over the car carrying Mr. Castile, his fiancé, and their four-year-old child that Mr. Castile was in possession of a registered gun in the car, was nonetheless shot point blank by the officer (who was subsequently acquitted).

This fixation by some white people upon “explaining” why the Black victim – “if only” he or she had acted more reasonably – could have avoided death, reframes the death as an unfortunate, but avoidable, mistake, instead of the predictable outcome of a racist system that deems Black bodies expendable. White people, in other words, look for an “out”:  a way to avoid responsibility for the deaths of Black people caused by white police officers, or by white citizens, traced to the social system from which all  whites benefit. It is a sleight-of-hand: blame the victim, not the system – and thus, by definition, don’t blame “me.”

I wonder now whether we might not be witnessing a variation on that theme. The murder of George Floyd – perhaps because it unfolded in all its brutality on television and computer screens all across the country – has prompted a nationwide outpouring of public protests. The large crowds gathering in the streets of major cities all across the country  – notable not only for their size and multi-racial character, but also for the willingness of the protesters, congregating in large groups, to risk contracting the potentially-fatal coronavirus [1] – are expressing deep-seated anger, pain, and outrage.

For the most part, the large crowds are, by all accounts, peaceful. Yet there are also reports of some individuals – including white people, as well as People of Color –  destroying property (though it is not clear whether those individuals truly come from the ranks of the protesters themselves, or are instead disrupters, opportunists, or outside provocateurs seeing to influence media coverage). And that is where white “if onlys” are being heard anew, albeit in a slightly different context. Most whites seem to agree that Mr. Floyd’s murder was wrong. But many whites then add a coda, or caveat, to their condemnation: the protesters’ actions (presumably, they mean the looters’ actions) are wrong, too, given that some people from those crowds have engaged in destroying property. Accordingly, there is “bad” on “both sides.”

But is that not a false equivalence? Do we really place the destruction of property on the same moral plane as we do the destruction of human beings?

And are we white people – who have perpetuated, and who continue to benefit daily from, a rigged system that persists, generation after generation, in inflicting deadly harm on People of Color – now also entitled to judge the appropriateness of how victims of that system react? Who appointed us whites the arbiters of what, and whose, conduct is appropriate, in response to our highly-violent system of white supremacy?

And how do I – as a white peace-activist – respond to the death of George Floyd, and to the reactions of others to the death of George Floyd?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew the imperative and efficacy of nonviolence. He preached it. He modeled it. He died for it. He knew that nonviolence was the only effective, long-term way to counter violence. Responding to an oppressor’s violence with violence only serves to justify, in the oppressor’s (and often the onlooker’s) mind, reciprocal violence. And so the parties commit to a death spiral. It is only when violence is returned with love that the destructive character of the oppressor comes into sharp contrast with the life-giving character of the nonviolent responder. [2]

As a member of Pax Christi, I am firmly committed to nonviolence. I believe it to be the only force capable of disarming the world. And because I care very deeply about my sisters and brothers of Color; desire that they have the fullness of opportunity and respect that I experience daily; and yearn for an end to our nation’s system of white supremacy, I pray for the struggle to be undertaken in the manner that history has shown to be most likely to be effective, successful, and sustainable long-term:  through active, creative nonviolence. [3]

To the extent that some people in the crowds on the streets of our cities may be unfamiliar with, or too impatient to explore the philosophy and historical basis for, proceeding nonviolently creates a tension between what I personally believe should be done, and the way that someone else may choose to act. It is a tension with which I, as a white person, and also a peacemaker, must struggle. On the one hand, it is my own core belief that only nonviolence can defeat violence. But I also know that nonviolence takes time. It takes patience. It takes experience. It requires suspending the cathartic experience (one that should not be underestimated, for anyone who has long borne unspoken and unacknowledged pain) of smashing something, and directing suppressed energy outward.

How can I condemn a young person for expressing the depths of a lifetime of anguish? How often has the system of white supremacy softened its response to People of Color? Are we whites somehow to be given a pass from reaping what we have sown, for generations? How much grief and pain can people take, before they explode?

It is not my role to determine or criticize, nor try to shape, the response by any Person of Color, or anyone else, to white supremacy. I have more than enough to worry about regarding my own response, as a white person, to white supremacy. My obligation as a white person is to work to stop the behavior of, and challenge the presumptions by, white people (including myself), and our nation’s vast white-favoring systems, that trigger the necessity of a response by People of Color in the first place.

My obligation as a white person is to work for the abolition of our racist system, and of white supremacy. That requires me actively to engage with and challenge other white people; it also means changing my own behavior as a white person. It means deeply and honestly examining and recognizing the many ways in which I benefit, daily, as a white person, from the system of white supremacy. It means being conscious of the opportunities, relationships, access to power, presumed competence and credibility, [4] freedom to live, work, speak, and travel wherever and however I choose – the “free passes” that I take for granted, and have never been called to account for, simply because I am white.

It also means honoring what People of Color themselves decide they need to do. And it means offering my presence, my heart, and my soul, as an ally in that work – and also asking People of Color to be my allies (though not my saviors, nor dispensers of absolution), as well, to help me recognize the many ways I have to unlearn, and repudiate, my unearned privilege.

A sign carried by a white woman at one of the demonstrations, replayed on national media, read simply: “Listen to Black People.” And indeed, that is what we whites need to do.

But we cannot rely on People of Color – from whose psyches, energies, futures, and lives we whites have already demanded and extracted so much –  to “teach” us about racism; or soothe or reassure us that we had no real choice in constructing a system devised long before we were born; or otherwise salve our consciences. [5]

Racism persists because it benefits whites. We may not have actively worked to institute policies or practices of white supremacy. But every day that we as whites benefit from them, without actively seeking to dismantle them, we remain complicit in them.

We whites need to honestly name and confront – and work actively to eradicate – the structures of white domination and unearned white privilege that touch every aspect of our lives.

We whites have plenty of things to do other than to criticize the response of any Person of Color to the deadly system and strictures of white supremacy. We have plenty of our own work to do.

And if we whites do our job properly, our sisters and brothers of Color will finally be able to breathe.

____________

Mary T. Yelenick is a member of the Pax Christi USA Anti-Racism Team (PCART). She is deeply grateful for the comments and suggestions generously shared by other members of PCART regarding earlier drafts of this article. As always, every insight gained about the system of white privilege from which she benefits reveals how much more work she needs to do to recognize and work to dismantle that privilege.

____________

[1] THIS DANGEROUS RISK IS EXACERBATED BY THE FACT THAT AFRICAN-AMERICANS ARE CONTINUING TO FALL VICTIM TO THE CORONAVIRUS IN NUMBERS FAR GREATER THAN THOSE OF THEIR WHITE FELLOW CITIZENS, DUE TO THE HARSH LEGACY OF RACISM –INCLUDING HIGHER LEVELS OF POVERTY, INADEQUATE HOUSING, POOR NUTRITION, ILL HEALTH, AND THE TRAUMA PEOPLE OF COLOR EXPERIENCE DAILY IN OUR WHITE-SUPREMACIST SOCIETY.
[2] IN THE WORDS OF DR. KING, “IN WINNING OUR FREEDOM WE WILL SO APPEAL TO YOUR  HEART AND CONSCIENCE THAT WE WILL WIN YOU IN THE PROCESS.” STRIDE TOWARD FREEDOM:  THE MONTGOMERY STORY  (HARPER & ROW 1957), P. 94.
[3] SEE, E.G., WHY CIVIL RESISTANCE WORKS:  THE STRATEGIC LOGIC OF NONVIOLENT CONFLICT BY ERICA CHENOWETH AND MARIA STEPHAN (COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS AUGUST 2011) (NOTING THAT NONVIOLENT CAMPAIGNS ATTRACT GREATER NUMBERS AND A MORE DIVERSE COMPOSITION OF PARTICIPANTS, AND HAVE GREATER LONG-TERM SUCCESS, THAN DO VIOLENT STRUGGLES).
[4] A POWERFUL ARTICLE BY FR. BRYAN MASSINGALE, “THE ASSUMPTIONS OF WHITE PRIVILEGE AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT,”  (NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER, JUNE 1, 2020), OBSERVES THAT THE ACCOUNTS OF WHITE PEOPLE REGARDING A GIVEN SITUATION WILL LIKELY BE GIVEN GREATER CREDIBILITY BY LAW-ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS THAN WILL THOSE OF PEOPLE OF COLOR – WITH OFTEN DEADLY RESULTS (WITNESS OUR NATION’S HORRIFIC HISTORY OF LYNCHING). 
[5] I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT EVERY WHITE PERSON READ “WHITE FRAGILITY: WHY IT’S SO HARD TO TALK FOR WHITE PEOPLE TO TALK ABOUT RACISM” BY A WHITE WOMAN, ROBIN DIANGELO (BEACON PRESS 2018).

 

Social Issues

LIBERATION AND RECONCILIATION, 75 YEARS LATER: The aftermath of World War II

Laurens Hogebrink is a former board member of the Dutch Interchurch Peace Council (IKV) which merged with Pax Christi Netherlands into PAX. The picture is the German War Cemetery of Maleme (Crete) with 4,500 people buried. An earlier version of this blog was published by the Orthodox Academy of Crete.

In Europe we have just commemorated the 75th anniversary of the German surrender in May 1945. For us World War II was over, though not yet in the Far East. In the Netherlands, Liberation Day is 5 May, when German capitulation became effective. That is: in the northern part. The south had been liberated already in the fall of 1944, but then the Allies were unable to cross the large rivers dividing the Netherlands.

In other countries it is hardly known that during the remaining months of occupation the north suffered terribly from what we call ‘the hunger winter’. Some 20,000 people died from hunger and cold. I have lived in a house where pieces of the wooden beams had been chopped off for heating.

Because of corona all large commemorations were cancelled, but our main news agency continues its daily news bulletins about events of 75 years ago as if they happened today. They will not stop until Japan’s capitulation in August. It is confronting. I am learning a lot more about the daily suffering in my country also after liberation. A grave has been discovered in the dunes with ten missing members of the resistance. A ship has arrived in Marseille coming from Odessa with survivors of Auschwitz. One of them is Otto Frank, the father of Anne. He hopes to be reunited with his two daughters. A few weeks ago, 120,000 German soldiers have marched back to Germany, leaving looted towns behind.

Of course, I knew about the German terror bombing of Rotterdam on 14 May 1940, about the crimes by the Germans during five years occupation, and about the destruction and victims during the liberation war in 1944/1945. The home of my grandparents was burned. There were also mistakes by the Allies, such as the bombing of Nijmegen which killed 400 people.

But these daily news bulletins add a new sense of how it must have been. And how it must have felt. They tell about village after village being conquered, often with very heavy civilian losses. Some look similar to German towns after the war. History books can only give a summary, but in these daily news bulletins it goes on, day after day, week after week. History becomes story after story.

For many people liberation meant ongoing suffering. Of course, I knew how strongly this applied to the few Jews who returned. Their homes were taken by other Dutch people, their relatives were gone. I also knew that on 5 May a huge crowd was celebrating liberation on the Dam Square in Amsterdam. Suddenly, German soldiers in a nearby building opened fire and killed 30 people. Similar things happened even in small villages. Liberation?

There was the mourning of the dead. And what about the uncertainty, not only among Jews, about the thousands who had been deported? How did this feel, day after day? In October 1944 a German officer was killed by the resistance near the village of Putten. The Germans revenged by setting more than 100 houses afire and deporting some 600 men to German concentration camps. Already on 14 April 1945 Putten was liberated by Canadian tanks, but the fate of the men remained unknown. People kept hoping. Then, on 10 May, five days after Liberation Day, there was news. In a packed church, in dead silence, the reformed minister read the names of 180 men who were now known to be dead. And the others? Eventually, it turned out that 550 of the 600 had been murdered or had died of hunger, disease and exhaustion. Liberation?

In these bulletins the war happens today. But how should we look at it 75 years later? For instance, I keep writing: ‘the Germans’. The Germans bombed, the Germans killed. But when I talk about the war with my German friends they often say ‘the Nazi’s’. The Nazi’s bombed Rotterdam. The Nazi’s executed hostages. I can fully respect this. They are a new generation – and a generation that has dealt with the war in a far more serious way than has been the case in many other countries. (Take France and the silence about the Vichy regime! Or take the Dutch inability to deal with our colonial past.) I admire this, it is impressive. Still, we will keep saying ‘the Germans’. Of course, we know that not all Germans were Nazi’s, that also many Germans died in concentration camps, that there were German resistance groups. Still, this is how we look at the war.

But – and this is my point – this is also how we look at what happened after the war. Very soon reconciliation processes started. They were not about reconciliation with ‘the Nazi’s’. They were about reconciliation with the Germans. The German people.

Some initiators of reconciliation had suffered in concentration camps. Then they saw in Germany the suffering there. The millions of refugees. The children without parents playing in the ruins of their homes. The hunger. The diaconal help they set up became crucial for post-war ecumenical work in Europe. Reconciliation started with recognizing the daily reality of suffering.

Parallel to this was the political work. Some of the ecumenical pioneers were also pioneers of European integration. Don’t repeat the mistakes after World War I, our future in Europe must be a future together. Indeed. What today is the European Union is the most important reconciliation project of the 20th century.

Last October I was on Crete. In May 1941 the Germans invaded Crete. They were met with fierce resistance, not only by Allied troops, also by villagers. The Germans revenged. I saw several places with stories like the one of Putten. But I also visited both the Commonwealth and German war cemeteries. And as part of the commemorations in my own country I have stood at American, British, Canadian and also German graves. I often do. There I can just think of young men, parents, wives and children, one generation ago.

But when driving home I think of the future. The current threats for European integration. The returning anti-semitism and extremism. White supremacy. Exclusive nationalism in Europe. Armed militias in the US. The corona crisis is feeding this dangerous polarization. In Europe the war is over, but every single day I read about its aftermath. Every single day I am reminded that working for a united, reconciled Europe is as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.