8th May 2020 was to have been a day to remember, marking the 75th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day. Instead we are all now, in the present day, facing a very different war with an unseen enemy in the Covid-19 pandemic. On 8th May 1945, countless numbers of people celebrated as nearly six years of war came to an end. Those years had brought immense pain and suffering with millions of lives destroyed. Life would never be the same again for a generation. People rejoiced that the dark days were over and so streets were filled with people celebrating.
At 3pm on VE Day, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, in a national radio broadcast formally announced the news that the war had ended in Europe, but his speech also included a warning. He said: ‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.’ The war in Europe may have come to an end but the conflict still raged on in Japan and the rebuilding process now had to begin. We must not forget that VE Day was not a day of rejoicing for everyone. For those who lost loved ones in the conflict it had more sombre undertones as they mourned the death of their nearest and dearest.
Peace was won, but at a great cost. The world has changed much in the years since. Peace is still a costly, precious and fragile commodity – a reality that perhaps we in this place know better than many others. Reconciliation takes years of work and an appreciation and understanding of the needs and aspirations of others. Only then is it possible for a shared path to be walked together.
In recent weeks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against Covid-19: the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind. ‘The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,’ he said. As Church Leaders we are reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah that ‘in the days to come … they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’ (Isaiah 2:4). Our hope is that the world will see a new dawn once this pandemic is conquered. That people will realise the futile nature of war and how precious the gift of life truly is.
With God’s help may we together work to create and shape a better and more peaceful world where love and respect is at the centre of all our thinking.
In the words of the prayer associated with St Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
The Most Revd Eamon Martin
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore & Primate of All Ireland
The Most Revd John McDowell
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland
The Rt Revd Dr William Henry
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
The Rev Sam McGuffin
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland
The Very Revd Dr Ivan Patterson
President of the Irish Council of Churches