A few years ago I was invited to visit Sri Lanka at the height of its Civil War.
Thankfully I didn’t experience any of it first-hand but I felt its effects. I stayed with people in the war zone and my movements and access were limited. I was stopped at check points several times a day and carefully monitored by my minders and government officials. We regularly had to make detours to avoid being turned back or even possibly arrested. It was at the peak of the bombings so there was anxiety about travelling on public transport especially the buses. Numbers of people had been caught up in terrorist attacks as buses passed by and a bomb detonated. I met numerous people who told horrific stories about fighting for one side or another and others who’d lost loved ones in battle. They told of the sacrifices and losses made on both sides. It was an alarming and frightening experience which in its own small way brought home the horrors of war.
This Sunday, I’ll be leading an act of Commemoration at Sheffield Cathedral as we remember the Centenary of the First World War. Once again, we’ll be reminded of the revulsion of war and its terrible impact on all those involved. As someone born nearly 40 years after the end of the First World War I find it difficult to comprehend its overwhelming scale, ten million people killed, 20 million injured, landscapes and towns destroyed, a breeding ground for all forms of brutality and corruption. Most of those who died did so along a battle line that moved a few miles in four year.For every person drawn into battle numerous others are affected. There’s nothing glamorous about war, it’s brutal, ugly and evil and I recognise that there are times when evil can only be resisted by force, hence the reason for so many armed conflicts today many of which draw in brave men and women in our forces drawn from Doncaster. As we remember the beginning of the First World War we do so with sadness for those who died on both sides, all those caught up in the conflict, who lost their homes, lives and loved ones and security. This is not a time for celebration but remembrance. Remembrance is crucial as it signals to future generations that they must build relationships and society on hope, mutuality, trust and love. These are key Christian principles on which foundations of peace are built. These principles have been the basis of our society for generations and none more so than the critical element of love and compassion that calls us to a life of service of others.
Most of us find the horrors and complexity of war too staggering to take in so we cut ourselves off and imagine we’re immune, but we aren’t. Every life lost in armed conflict diminishes our capacity to resist evil and love our neighbours as ourselves not only in international affairs but in our everyday lives and relationships. I pray one day we’ll all learn lessons from the past and become “blessed peacemakers”.
* Peter Burrows, Bishop of Doncaster