08 May 2020, The Tablet

'Locked down and embattled' on VE Day

 'Locked down and embattled' on VE Day

A display by the Ministry of Defence and the British Legion on the Lights in Piccadilly Circus in central London to thank Second World War Veterans and to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

On the 75th anniversary of VE Day today, the Catholic Bishop of the Forces has recognised the war-time spirit with which the nation is battling Covid-19.

Later this morning, the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols will celebrate a livestreamed Thanksgiving Mass for Victory in Europe Day from Westminster Cathedral, beginning with two-minutes’ silence at 11am. The Mass will also be recorded so that it can be viewed later at the same link.

Bishop Paul Mason said: “It’s an ironic twist of fate that our VE Day celebration of victory and liberation should find us both embattled and locked down.

“How readily we have seen in these days, however, that same spirit of determination and pulling together of our forebears in World War Two.

“Although we are not able to mark the 75th anniversary as planned, I am sure it will not stop us from remembering them, thanking them and celebrating the courage of all those who bought our freedom at such cost.

“We pray for them and ask God to inspire us with that same sense of sacrifice in our own lives.

“May they all rest in peace.”

The May Bank Holiday weekend was supposed to mark three days of commemorative events and celebrations for the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

Bishop Mason said he recognised that necessary restrictions to contain Covid-19 had, rightly, changed the shape of the celebrations.

Church leaders in Ireland and Northern Ireland also issued a statement to mark VE Day.

"We are all now, in the present day, facing a very different war with an unseen enemy in the Covid-19 pandemic," said Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin and the other leaders.

"On 8th May 1945, countless numbers of people celebrated as nearly six years of war came to an end. Those years had brought immense pain and suffering with millions of lives destroyed.  Life would never be the same again for a generation. People rejoiced that the dark days were over and so streets were filled with people celebrating," they said.

At 3pm on VE Day, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, in a national radio broadcast formally announced the news that the war had ended in Europe, but his speech also included a warning. He said: "We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead."

The war in Europe may have come to an end but the conflict still raged on in Japan and the rebuilding process now had to begin. "We must not forget that VE Day was not a day of rejoicing for everyone. For those who lost loved ones in the conflict it had more sombre undertones as they mourned the death of their nearest and dearest. 

Peace was won, but at a great cost. The world has changed much in the years since. Peace is still a costly, precious and fragile commodity – a reality that perhaps we in this place know better than many others. Reconciliation takes years of work and an appreciation and understanding of the needs and aspirations of others.  Only then is it possible for a shared path to be walked together."

The church leaders reference the statement by UN Secretary-General António Guterres who urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against Covid-19: the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind. 

"The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war," he said. 

They continue: "As church leaders we are reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah that ‘in the days to come … they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’ .  Our hope is that the world will see a new dawn once this pandemic is conquered. That people will realise the futile nature of war and how precious the gift of life truly is. With God’s help may we together work to create and shape a better and more peaceful world where love and respect is at the centre of all our thinking."

The other signatories were Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell, moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Dr William Henry, president of the Methodist Church in Ireland the Rev Sam McGuffin and resident of the Irish Council of Churches Dr Ivan Patterson.

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