…a tribute to your many friends who have paid with their lives for fidelity to their mission. Forgetting themselves and despising danger, they rendered the community a priceless service. Today, during the Eucharistic celebration, we entrust them to the Lord with gratitude and admiration. But where did they find the strength necessary to do their duty to the full, other than in total adherence to the professed ideals? Many of them believed in Christ, and his words illumined their existence and gave an exemplary value to their sacrifice. — St. John Paul II
Last Friday, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, our family watched HBO’s “Band of Brothers” which, starting with their rigorous training in Georgia in 1942, recounts the achievements of the elite rifle company — Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army — which parachuted into France early on D-Day morning, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and captured Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden. It was very powerful and, as one of my sons said, “it makes you realize these were real people.” Something that can be lost when you study wars in history books. Afterward, I re-read Pope St. John Paul II’s remarkable reflection on 50th anniversary of the end of World War II (see whole text here), and would like to share my favorite excerpt here.
O God, grant eternal rest to the souls of all those who died in that war and in all wars.
Many are the voices raised on this 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in an effort to overcome the divisions between victors and the vanquished. There are commemorations of the courage and sacrifice of millions of men and women. For her part, the Church wishes to listen in particular to the plea of all the victims. It is a plea which helps us understand better the scandal of those six years of conflict. It is a plea which asks us to reflect on what the War meant for all humanity. It is a plea which serves as a denunciation of the ideologies which led to that immense catastrophe. In the face of every war, we are all called to ponder our responsibilities, to forgive and to ask forgiveness. We feel bitter regret, as Christians, when we consider that “the horrors of that war took place on a continent which could claim a remarkable flowering of culture and civilization – the continent which had remained so long in the light of the Gospel and of the Church”. For this the Christians of Europe need to ask forgiveness, even while recognizing that there were varying degrees of responsibility in the events which led to the war.
War never again! Yes to peace! These were the sentiments commonly expressed after the historic date of 8 May 1945. The six horrible years of conflict provided everyone with an opportunity to grow in the school of suffering. Christians too were able to draw closer together and question their own responsibilities for their disunity. They also discovered anew the solidarity of a destiny which they share in common and with all men and women of whatever nation. An event which marked the depths of strife and division between peoples and individuals thus proved for Christians a providential opportunity to become aware of their profound communion in suffering and in bearing witness. Beneath the Cross of Christ, members of all the Churches and Christian communities were able to resist even unto the supreme sacrifice. Many of them, with the peaceful weapons of witness in suffering and of love, stood up in an exemplary way to their torturers and oppressors. Together with others — believers and non-believers, men and women of every race, religion and nation — they held aloft very clearly, above the mounting wave of violence, a message of brotherhood and forgiveness.
On this anniversary, how can we fail to remember those Christians who, bearing witness in the face of evil, prayed for their oppressors and bent down to bind the wounds of all? By sharing in suffering, they saw one another as brothers and sisters, and fully experienced the unreasonableness of their divisions. Shared suffering made them feel ever more deeply both the weight of the divisions still existing among Christ’s followers and the negative consequences which these divisions entail for the building of Europe’s spiritual, cultural and political identity. Their experience serves as a warning for us: we need to continue along this path, praying and working with fervent confidence and generosity, in expectation of the fast-approaching Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. May Christians set out towards that goal on a pilgrimage of penance and reconciliation, in the hope of being able at last to restore full communion between all believers in Christ, a step which will assuredly benefit the cause of peace.