In his book, The Life of Reason, George Santayana made the following observation, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” As we mark Remembrance Day this month those words seem to take on an unfortunate significance. Those who do not remember or care about the horrors and pain of war are putting far too many innocent people in harm’s way.
My father was a veteran of the First World War and throughout my life I have had a close relationship with the military — from school days as a Cadet Battalion Commander to being Bishop Ordinary to the Forces. There are many things that have come from this relationship, two of which I write to you about this month.
The first is the monumental service and sacrifice of Canadians during the world wars, other conflicts and peacekeeping missions around the globe. As time marches on and fewer veterans appear at parades and Remembrance Day services, our minds can easily forget their willingness to stand against tyranny and injustice. Our freedom is a direct result of their fighting for peace and democracy.
A second point to ponder is about peace and reconciliation. Over the years Canada has played a significant role in developing peace through our military. United Nations peacekeeping forces were a Canadian initiative taken by Lester B. Pearson, then Canada’s minister for external affairs, during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. (He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957.) In 1988 our forces, as part of the United Nations peacekeepers, were collectively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to promote peace and ensure that current generations do not suffer the horrors of war experienced by previous generations. So much of their story goes untold as they work in small villages or major cities bringing together people to talk share and live together.
The challenge that all of us face is centered in the quest for reconciliation. Sometime this month it is likely that you will sing the hymn Let there be light (Common Praise # 572). In so many ways it reflects the Canadian approach to a world in need. The words by Frances Wheeler and tune by Robert Fleming were first published in 1968 and used in St. George’s Anglican Church at St. Anne de Bellevue, Que. The hymn calls for light, understanding, the gathering of nations and that they “be face to face.” When you look into the eyes of another person you are looking at the image of God — my beloved’s beloved. There is no space for hatred or bitterness — only love.
The second verse becomes more personal as we are challenged to “open our lips, open our minds to ponder, open the door of concord opening into grace.” The grace of reconciliation becomes possible whether between nations, peoples or families because of our openness to listen to our Saviour’s gift of shalom.
To those who died in the quest of peace I say thank you and Requiescant in Pace. To all others I ask, where does light need to shine that peace justice and reconciliation may flourish?
Archbishop Andrew Hutchison is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.