I was privileged to be invited to speak last week at the 75th anniversary commemoration for the bombing of the city of Nijmegen. This, the oldest city in the Netherlands, is only 2 miles from the German border and was the frontline towards the end of the second World War. Like Coventry, it hides its age thanks to the scale of the destruction.
I spoke of the three main themes of Coventry Cathedral and the Community of the Cross of Nails: healing the wounds of history, learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity, and building a culture of peace.
It is clear that a number of historical wounds have been allowed to fester. Many people have lost the sense of identity, dignity and belonging which derive from employment or community, as the manufacturing sector continues to dwindle and as the colours, languages and cuisines of our high streets have shifted towards what some would call vibrant and others would call threatening. We have allowed the gap between elites and the grass-roots to grow. This gap is exactly the same as that which undermines good governance in so much of the developing world and leaves so many millions in grinding poverty. We must heal this wound, and guard against nationalist or partisan choices under which the have-nots will become the have-even-lesses. We will do this by funding social enterprise non-politically (such as has been possible through the European Social Fund) to build community, by training people to work in new industries and services, by helping people to develop their dignity, worth and identity through volunteering, through social care, through decent parenting, through hospitality and welcome to those who are lonely, through championing environmental protection. I do not say this glibly, as someone who does these things and has seen in Darfur and elsewhere the impact of climate change on violence and migration first-hand, but because they are essential for healing the wounds of history and if we ignore these wounds we do nothing to treat the causes of events like Brexit.
We will otherwise be unable to learn to live with difference. We will be unable to learn to love the “other” in such a way that there is no “other”, because we all share one humanity and because we are all made in God’s image. We will revert to the “us” and “them” mentalities which threaten our public discourse and our social cohesion, and which have led to so much violent conflict around the world.
These two themes are pre-requisites for building a culture of peace. By peace we do not mean the absence of violence – though this is important – but the sense of wholeness and fullness of life about which Christ himself preached. A culture of peace is only possible when we love and forgive each other as Christ loves and forgives us.
Dean’s Advisor for Reconciliation Ministry, Coventry Cathedral
Chair, Community of the Cross of Nails (UK & Ireland)