It ended 100 years ago, and on 11 November, church leaders will remember World War One, praying and calling for reconciliation, despite a century passing since one of humanity’s most brutal conflicts.
From Flanders in Belgium to villages across France, the UK and Germany, bells will toll to remember.
More than 3,000 church bell towers across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will ring out with the sound of “half-muffled” bells, like a slow march, in solemn memory of those who lost their lives,
“When we remember 1918, we reflect on a time of great hope and great sadness for our country. We recall our part in the horrors of war and the darkness that drives humanity to violence. But we also remember the promise of peace,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote on the website Remembrance 100.
The Anglican leader said, “Our God is one who brings peace to hearts and calls us not only to stop violence but to seek reconciliation. His reconciliation asks that we disempower memories of destruction and their hold over individuals and societies. Through this we can learn to approach difference with curiosity and compassion, rather than fear – and begin to flourish together in previously unthinkable ways.”
According to Reuters news agency, more than 10 million soldiers died in the First World War, much of it fought on French and Belgian soil.
The Netherlands remained neutral during that war along with countries such as Denmark, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
International event in Mons
An international event organized by the Belgian city of Mons, is likely to be attended by both the UK prime minister, Theresa May, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, near the place where some of the first and last battles of the war took place.
Belgian composer Geert D'Hollander has written a "Sacred Suite" for the occasion inspired by three Gregorian melodies, including "Da Pacem Domine", a hymn to peace to be played in places such as Wavre, Verviers and Leuven, CathoBel news reported.
Germany, Russia, France and Britain suffered the highest numbers of casualties with each losing more than one million soldiers.
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has put out a free ebook written by Rev. Dr Keith Clements the former general secretary of the Conference of European Churches titled, “We will remember.”
In it, Clements writes, “In Christian understanding, none are to be privileged and none excluded from remembrance, for there is one God and Father of all…”
He cites the “Christmas truce” of 1914, when British and German soldiers met in no man's land, fraternizing and playing football together, as the best-known instance during the war when enemies saw each other as fellow human beings, but the book also mentions other instances.
“The Armistice of November 1918 brought an end to war but not to suffering. The Treaty of Versailles laid down the conditions of peace but also sowed seeds of a future conflict,” says Clements, noting that how peace after a war is made is crucial.
German President Frank-Walker Steinmeier had joined French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday 4 November at a ceremony in Strasbourg's cathedral to observe a century since the end of World War I.
The commemoration began with a concert in the French eastern city bordering Germany featuring German composer Ludwig van Beethoven and France's Claude Debussy, to celebrate the friendship between the two countries that were once wartime enemies, Deutsche Welle reported.
In Germany, the Foreign Office announced in Berlin that a bellringing initiative of Belgium, France and Britain will be joined by Germany on 11 November, the epd news agency reported. Around 1.4 million French soldiers and 2 million German troops perished between 1914 and 1918. Many of the Great War's battles took place on French soil, and the remains of trench lines can still be seen in some areas along France's frontier with Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium.
“In Germany, the initiative will be joined by the parish of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin” to commemorate the more than 17 million victims of the First World War and send a strong signal of peace and reconciliation said the news agency. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is affiliated with World Council of Churches’ member church, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).
After the announcement of the ceasefire on November 11, 1918, in many countries, the joy of hearing this message spontaneously rang the bells, epd reported.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Council of Churches issued a statement titled: “One hundred years later – It’s Canada’s time to lead” that was published the media calling for Canada to go further than normal calls for sustained peace and reconciliation.
The council said, “We call on the Government of Canada to lead in love at home and abroad by ratifying the United Nations (UN) Arms Trade Treaty and signing the UN’s Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons.
“The arms trade fuels conflict and must be curtailed rather than promoted. Ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty will strengthen Canadian resolve to build an economy where the fruits of our commerce do not become a curse on the peoples, economies and land of others.”