Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God
Remembering the victims of wars for the sake of peace.
November 14, 2008
"Peace is the emergency," observed the former German president Gustav Heinemann (1899-1976). As a Protestant Christian he steadfastly opposed all those who clamored for war in the days of the Cold War. Johannes Rau (1931-2006), who was also a confessing Protestant Christian, reinvented this slogan during his term as German president.
Thank God, many people living in Germany today are only familiar with images of the wars through the ones they see on the daily news. Each year, the number of people who actually experienced both wars grows smaller. Yet, the memory of the two wars that originated on German soil should not be allowed to fade, for it is this memory which impels us to take peace seriously and to strive for reconciliation among all peoples and cultures.
Once a year on this national day of mourning, the horrors of war are remembered and those who died in the two wars are mourned; not just to commemorate the past, but rather, to make peace happen, not only in central Europe but also in regions currently afflicted by war.
It was decided in 1952 to set aside a national day of mourning on the second to last Sunday of the church year, that is, two Sundays before Advent. The purpose was to give all Germans a uniform day on which to collectively remember the suffering caused by war and to urge "all Germans to surmount political, religious and social barriers in order that from the graves of our nearly two million dead soldiers we draw the strength and courage to carry out the sacred task of fostering our people's and our nation's future." This was how it was put when, at the time of the Weimar Republic, the first day of mourning was held, not in the quiet days of November as it is today, but during Lent. After 1945, the memory of the soldiers killed in the Second World War and of the victims of National Socialist tyranny was added.
For the 2008 national day of mourning, EKD Council chairperson Bishop Wolfgang Huber wrote:
Year after year, the national day of mourning serves as a reminder that peace cannot be taken for granted. It is a task which calls for constantly renewed effort. We owe this especially to the memory of the victims who paid a heavy tribute to war and violence in our nation's history.
The numerous events of this day exhort the present generation to peace. The worships on this day of mourning remind us that any commitment to peace has its basis in the peace of God, which precedes us for our well-being.
The theme of this year's day of mourning, "Europe without borders-borders of reconciliation," highlights the learning process which goes hand in hand with responsibility for peace in Europe. Against the background of two devastating wars, Europe has developed a peace project which is rooted in the concept of reconciliation. With the end of the division of Europe in 1989, this project of peace can henceforth embrace the entire European continent. Bridges of reconciliation can be thrown across boundaries which in earlier times stood between opponents, indeed enemies. After centuries of military violence at home and colonial expansion abroad, Europe has now begun to write a new chapter in history. The European peace project of the 21st century is inspired by human rights and fueled by steadily denser economic and social exchanges, especially, numerous encounters between people across national borders.
Advocacy for peace is high on the agenda of Christian churches in Europe. Eliminating violence is Christianity's major goal. Because of their faith, Christians know they have an obligation to stand up for peace. Jesus was neither a general nor a crusader; he was a Jewish rabbi who praised the "gentle of heart" and called peacemakers "children of God." The goal of Christian action is therefore: peace always, war never. This is the stance of all confessions in Europe. It also entails taking a critical look at the role of churches in past European conflicts and making a firm and steady commitment to the future of the European project of peace.
For more information about the national day of mourning, see: