German bishops have marked the centenary of the start of the First World War by calling for a ban on arms exports from their country for use in conflict.
“The First World War … teaches us to observe the present situation vigilantly, and vigilance means appealing to politicians to exhaust all possibilities in promoting peaceful de-escalation, to protect innocent civilian populations by preventing arms exports to areas of crisis and conflict,” said Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart.
Addressing an ecumenical service on Monday in Stuttgart”s Protestant Stiftskirche, or Collegiate Church, he described the war as the “seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century”, and said it had raised questions about the presence of God and meaning of suffering.
But he said it should also been treated as a summons “when conflicts cast dark shadows over the world in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria and again in Israel and Palestine”.
The Evangelical-Lutheran Bishop of Württemberg, Frank Otfried July, issued a similar call. Speaking at the service, which followed a commemorative session of the Baden-Württemberg state parliament and German War Graves Commission, he said: “The vicious circle of violence, displacement and death, using weapons from Germany, must now be stopped.”
Germany’s Catholic bishops have previously criticised their country’s arms exports, which have increased sharply over the past decade, alongside falling demand from the Bundeswehr – the German armed forces – and now account for three-quarters of national arms production.
On Monday the Munich-based daily, Süddeutsche Zeitung, said the Government of Angela Merkel would revoke a €100-million (£79m) military deal with Russia, as part of efforts to force Moscow to reduce support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Addressing keynote war commemorations at Liège on Monday, German President Joachim Gauck, himself an Evangelical pastor, described the invasion of Belgium – the catalyst for Britain declaring war on Germany – as “completely unjustifiable”.
In a war anniversary statement last week, Germany’s Catholic bishops’ conference urged Christians to recognise “the shared guilt of Churches” for the 1914-18 conflict, which left 16 million dead, and to help assert “the common interests of the human family against destructive self-interest”.