|The Rev. Joan Beilstein|
In June, I traveled to France and England during my sabbatical. I was moved by the D-Day observances held by both countries, in remembrance of the 70th anniversary of the allied victory. On June 6, 1944, during WWII, the combined forces of the United States, Great Britain, and Canada invaded the beaches of Normandy and turned the tide of the war by their advance into Europe, which resulted in the defeat of Germany, Hitler, and Nazi domination on the continent.
Examples….the Normandy beaches were filled with military re-enactors, current military personnel, WWII veterans, and world leaders and dignitaries. As I visited these beaches, I felt like I was there, surrounded by the uniforms, military camps, tanks, jeeps, and surviving boats, which landed the soldiers on the beaches to face deadly enemy fire from the hills and cliffs above.
In France and England, many churches, such as the American Cathedral in Paris and The Minster in York, recognized D-Day on Pentecost Sunday, June 8, with special prayer services, Evensongs, and concerts, in a spirit of renewed commitment to live out Christ’s ministry of reconciliation and peace throughout the world.
In England, when visiting Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by German bombs in WWII, I was brought to tears as I toured the ruins, especially by the proclamation written on what remains of the high Altar wall. The Dean at the time wrote in charcoal, “Father forgive…” The new Cathedral, its construction begun in 1951, has made its primary mission one of reconciliation and peace. The Unity Chapel, in the new Cathedral, with all of its architectural and artistic symbols, serves as one witness to this mission.
While attending the American Church in Paris, which is interdenominational, I experienced the congregation praying a special litany during the Sunday service. This litany, prayed every week, is for reconciliation, justice, and peace for all nations and peoples of the world. While the litany is prayed, the Candle for Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace is lit, its permanent place on the High altar.
These D-Day observances revealed to me that Europe is a continent that remembers well the horrors of war with its tragic loss of life; destruction of homes, sacred places, cities, and countrysides; and atrocities committed against all deemed inferior by the powerful. Indeed, the murder of millions of Jews, the disabled, artists and writers, gays and lesbians, and other targeted groups, is not forgotten.
In our own day, I believe God calls us to remember and light a candle in our hearts and in our communities for reconciliation, justice, and peace. The horrors of war, and the persecution and destruction of those deemed inferior by our dominant political, military, and religious powers, are still with us. D-Day’s victory was temporal. Its importance for humankind’s present, as we know it, immeasurable.
Therefore, let us strive to impact our time, like those who bravely fought and died for liberation on June 6, 1944, with the hope that we would remember and make freedom eternal.
The Rev. Joan Beilstein is rector of Ascension, Silver Spring.