On 13th November I attended my first German Remembrance Day at Glencree. For this son of a German-speaking Czech Jewish father who had lost close relatives in the Nazi concentration camps, it was a particularly affecting experience. The wondrous voices of the Goethe Choir singing Bach and Bruckner; the shining, innocent faces of the children of Curtlestown National School as they lined up to read their prayers in three languages; the warning words of the German ambassador, Matthias Höpfner, about the “brutality and senselessness of war” and the danger of a return to nationalism in Europe; the sight of General Peter O’Halloran, Assistant Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, standing alone, head bowed, among the graves of the young Germans who had ended their lives in this painfully beautiful burial ground on an unknown island.
All these things moved me deeply in a place I have come to love for its ethos of peacemaking and hope-giving, its difficult work of reconciling the conflicted communities of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the magical tranquillity of its mountain scenery less than 20 miles from my home city of Dublin.
Here we were on a bigger stage. The 134 German sailors, airmen, spies and civilians buried here are among the millions of dead of the last great conflagration which engulfed the world, the Second World War – or, as many of us see it, the battle against the evil of Nazism and its allies. Now, suddenly, after more than 70 years of peace and prosperity – in Europe at least – we are again facing into a dangerous world. Ambassador Höpfner praised the “thriving, open-minded, welcoming society” that Ireland had become since its own small violent revolution, the Easter Rising, a hundred years ago. But he also warned of more uncertain times as the threat of right-wing populism raises its ugly head in forthcoming elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany, and quoted former French President Francois Mitterand that “nationalism means war.”
Earlier Father Kieran McDermott, the Dublin Archdiocese’s Vicar for Evangelisation and Ecumenism, wondered that with all our advanced development, the human race still thinks that “peace can be achieved by violence and force of arms.”And he cited another threat to the peace and tranquillity of the world: that of global warming and man’s destruction of the planet. He quoted from Pope Francis’s Laudato Si that we humans have come to believe that we are “lords and masters of the earth, entitled to plunder her at will.”
The Pastor of the Dublin Lutheran Church, Stephan Arras, recalling the words of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans about the need for patience at a time of suffering, said we all had shared memories,hopes and fears of love and hatred, peace and war, democracy and dictatorship. We are particularly fearful at this time, following the Brexit vote in the UK and Donald Trump’s election in the US. He said we had to find “a new way of living patiently”, remaining hopeful that in the end healing and equality and peace would prevail. Father McDermott said that “if we bear slight things patiently we will gain the courage and strength to bear great things.”
Our own Colin Murphy spoke eloquently of Glencree’s work for peace and reconciliation in Ireland and abroad, and particularly of its new work to help refugees – the newest victims of humankind’s inability to solve its problems peacefully – to integrate into Irish society. He also singled out its faith-based work. “If God is part of the problem, God must be part of the solution,” he said.
Fellow Lutheran pastor Martin Sauter quoted the lyrics of the British singer Sting, who played at the reopening concert at the Bataclan in Paris, scene of the massacre by Isis exactly a year ago:
…nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are
On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star, like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are, how fragile we are.
Glencree board member