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Lest we forget

Friday 1 April 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features


Lest we forget
Ukrainian soldiers and rescue officers search for bodies in the debris at a military school in Mykolaiv earlier on Saturday, March 19. Russian rockets hit the school the day before. Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images/22033112

Humankind must take full responsibility for what is happening in the world and not blame God for it, writes Bishop Paul Donoghue of the Catholic Church.

For more than a month, since the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia, I have been watching the news from the comfort of my home in Titikaveka. During this time I have often heard a casualty of this cruel and senseless war, ask the interviewer the following questions: “Why is God allowing this to happen? Why is God allowing children to get maimed or killed? Why are women being killed and hospitals bombed?”

I know that others in our community are concerned about the plight of the people in Ukraine because when war first broke out, we held an ecumenical prayer service, and last Friday my own church joined Pope Francis in an hour of prayer as we asked God for peace in Ukraine and Russia.

I use part of the prayer of Pope Francis in praying for peace between Russia and Ukraine as a basis for my article today.

“Yet we have strayed from that path of peace. We have forgotten the lesson learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two world wars. We have disregarded the commitments we made as a community of nations. We have betrayed peoples’ dreams of peace and the hopes of the young. We grew sick with greed, we thought only of our own nations and their interests, we grew indifferent and caught up in our selfish needs and concerns. We chose to ignore God, to be satisfied with our illusions, to grow arrogant and aggressive, to suppress innocent lives and to stockpile weapons. We stopped being our neighbour’s keepers and stewards of our common home. We have ravaged the garden of the earth with war and by our sins we have broken the heart of our heavenly Father, who desires us to be brothers and sisters. We grew indifferent to everyone and everything except ourselves. Now with shame we cry out: Forgive us, Lord!”

‘We have forgotten the lessons learned from the tragedies of the last century…’

I appreciate that in the Cook Islands we have a cemetery for soldiers of the first and second world wars in a prominent place. Much work is being done to find more graves of men who fought for peace. It is important that these graves be found and restored so that the lives of these men and what they fought for will be remembered. 

In every ANZAC ceremony we hear the poignant words, “Lest we Forget”.

In the first weeks of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, we were reminded frequently that there was the possibility of this war turning into the third world war. Yes, how important it is at this time to pray for these commitments taken after previous wars. In 1919 there was the League of Nations which is the predecessor of the United Nations. This organisation came into existence after World War I, under the Treaty of Versailles “to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security”.

How disappointing it is now that nations on the security council today have the right to veto decisions taken in council. The United Nations Security Council veto power is the power of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to veto any “substantive” resolution. This group has just demonstrated to the world that it can’t do what it was founded to do i.e.  to achieve peace and security. No wonder Pope Francis uses the words “stop this madness” when addressing this war.  

How frustrating in recent days it is to have world leaders like President Biden making an off the cuff statement, stating president Putin should be removed from the position of leader of Russia. A mere nine politically incorrect words seemingly paralysing world leaders. The shock waves of an inappropriate comment about another leader became the principal focus throughout the world when that focus should have been on preventing the slaughter of women and children and putting an end to the displacement of numerous people as refugees.  I ask what are our values? Is the survival of politicians now more important than the lives of their people?

‘We grew sick with greed ...’

War should not be something that is inevitable. We should not accustom ourselves to war. Instead, we need to convert today’s anger into a commitment for tomorrow, because if, after what is happening, we remain like we were before, we will all be guilty in some way. Before the danger of self-destruction, may humanity understand that the moment has come to abolish war, to erase it from human history before it erases human history.

When we try to fathom why Russia is prepared to go to war, what reasons do we come up with? Does President Putin want to restore the former glory of the USSR? Is it because Russia needs to stand up to the threat of power of the West held by the likes of NATO nations? Or is he concerned that the Russian economy reliant on oil and gas will gradually weaken as the reserves of these commodities deplete in the near future and he must find a substitute to boost the economy? Russia is a great political and military power but has it the economy to back it up? We may never know the real reason for the invasion.

Another matter of this war that has me frequently squirming in my chair in front of the television is the number of refugees that it has caused. According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, the invasion has resulted in more than 2.5 million people fleeing Ukraine. Most of these refugees, 1.5 million, have fled to Poland. The countries with the next largest refugee populations caused by the conflict are Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova. There are a further 1.85 million people internally displaced in Ukraine. So overall close to 6 million have left their homes with no more than what they can carry. Who is feeding all these people, particularly those left behind in Ukraine? One has to give thanks for those neighbouring countries that have welcomed those from Ukraine as brothers and sisters. I give credit for the good will that this war has brought out in many people. Many are not indifferent to the plight of our brothers and sisters.

In connection with refugees I found my thoughts thinking back to the recent volcanic eruption in Tonga and the resulting tsunami that affected 85 per cent of the population of that country. My church reports that one of the biggest problems now facing Tonga is the restoration of clean water to most homes. My imagination had me pondering that if Tongans had to abandon their country because it was no longer habitable and they took to vakas to find a new homeland in the Cook Islands, how welcoming would we be of them?

I conclude by answering the question I mentioned at the beginning of the article: “Why is God allowing this to happen?” Humankind must take full responsibility for what is happening in the world and not blame God for it.

I end with a simple prayer for peace between Russia and Ukraine.

God of Mercy,
We pray for peace in Ukraine and Russia.
For all of humanity distorted by war.
For all the lives lost, homes seized and peace broken.
May the Spirit of comfort and compassion envelop all who dwell in fear.
May the Spirit of wisdom and humility enliven our global leaders.
May we affirm the dignity and rights of all.
May we seek peace.