“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18)
Home from Gelderland in the Netherlands and the annual Dag van de Kinderspiritualiteit conference. The first was in Arnhem five years ago, and this year’s in Nijmegen. Each year I have had a little time to explore the Rivierenland: Arnhem and Nijmegen are very much defined by the area’s rivers, the Nederrijn, the Sint Jansbeek, the IJssel, and the Waal amongst them. The area has some personal significance for me too as my Dad completed his National Service with the RAF in this area in the immediate post-war period. He was already fluent in German and French, and quickly mastered Dutch too. He had a real talent for languages and gained fluency in several more over the years, a gene I didn’t inherit unfortunately! He passed away last summer but his last years were severely blighted by dementia. He gradually lost everything, even his command of English, and couldn’t always recognise his own family. Yet, curiously, his eyes lit up when I told him about my visits to Gelderland. He even corrected my faltering Dutch.
On that first occasion, when I mentioned Arnhem, he suddenly became animated and lucid and excited. “Did you visit the Eusebiuskirk? Did you cross the bridge? [He meant the famous ‘bridge too far’, the Jan Frostbrug in Arnhem] What did you see in Nijmegen?” He spoke about the close friendships he had developed with several Dutch families and the years of correspondence with them. He even made friendships over the border in Germany too. It was still a very tense and volatile time though and the extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure from the conflict was very evident. He described an incident in which he and a friend took leave in a small German village but found themselves chased by a lynch mob, riled up by a newly-repatriated ex-SS officer who took exception to their presence. They only escaped when a quick-thinking, passing farmer with tractor and trailer realised their dilemma and gave them a very timely lift. Nothing daunted, he continued his excursions into Germany, sometimes taking Dutch friends with him. In his own small way – one person at a time – he sought to be a peacemaker. It took courage. It was risky.
This year, in Nijmegen, I had time to visit Stevenskirk, just off the main square in the oldest part of the town. The Church was extensively damaged by bombing during the War and underwent an enormous programme of reconstruction. It is a fabulous building with many wonderful features. But, for me, the most moving was the small inset in a side chapel with a plaque from the British Legion: “A stone and cross of nails from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral with grateful thanks to the Netherlands War Graves Committee for their devotion to our glorious dead” [see middle photo above]. Stevenskirk is one of 250 churches, chapels and cathedrals world-wide that is still an active member of ‘The Community of the Cross of Nails’ [www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/ccn/], a group dedicated to the work of reconciliation and rebuilding. The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation includes the line: De Haat die naties, rassen, klassen scheidt, Vader, vergeef [‘The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class, Father, forgive.” My Dad understood, all those years ago, and he put it into practice.
Blessed are the peacemakers indeed. And they are still desperately needed.