War in Europe

The title for 20th March address was published as “Irish Missionaries to the Continent”. I intended to explore the stories of Colmcille, Columbanus, Gall, Virgillius and other Irish monks who went to the Continent as Christian missionaries between the 6th – the 8th Centuries.
          These monks left a legacy that is still visible. The great Cathedral in Salzburg is dedicated to Virgillius. St.Gallen in Switzerland is named for Gall. In the sixth century Columbanus founded an Abbey in Bobbio in Northern Italy which survived until the Nineteenth century when it was closed by Government decree.
          The monks left Ireland with a burning ambition to bring Christianity to Europe. Some left because of family disputes perhaps even under a bit of a cloud. No one asked them for passports, residency permits or a work visa. When I came to write the address looking back into a Golden Period of Irish history seemed unimportant in the face of what is now happening in Europe.
          At the end of the Second World War the European Union was established to prevent conflict in Europe. Since 1945 Europe has enjoyed a prolonged time of peace with a corresponding growth in prosperity. Europe has ensured a reliable supply of cheap food. Living as we do on the Western Fringe of Europe our membership of the EU has made us a more open, outward looking people. Individual personal freedoms have flourished since we joined the European Union.
          For the first time in almost eighty years Europe is experiencing war. It is a war where one of the combatants has a nuclear arsenal. It is being fought in a country that has nuclear power stations. Thirty six years ago the world’s worst nuclear accident occurred in the Ukraine.


Towards the end of the last millennium scientists intensified their warnings of the dangers posed by increasing world temperatures. The first international conference on climate change was in 1995. During the following quarter of a century Governments made many promises of change; few if any fulfilled the commitments made; because changing how we live will cost money. Perhaps it was Greta Thunberg’s taunt of “more Blah, Blah, - blah” but in 2021 there seemed to be a dawning realization that change was imperative. The developed countries began to take action; the world seemed united in their commitment to lessen our footprint on a stressed planet.
          The first twenty odd years of the new millennium have been eventful. There was 9/11. The financial crash. America went to war with Iraq and sent troops into Afghanistan. The Arab spring blossomed briefly but was defeated with great brutality. A de-stabelised Middle East, the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, poverty caused by Climate Change all these events came together and created a tsunami of refugees seeking refuge in Europe. And of course 2020 brought the Pandemic.
          Just over two years ago members of this congregation joined a Government scheme to provide support for refugees. Under this scheme Groups agree to sponsor a refugee family for a period of two years. Within a short few weeks we were ready to welcome and support a Syrian family based in a refugee camp in Lebanon. The sight of Syrian homes bombed into dust evoked widespread sympathy.
          Covid put the scheme on hold – but we did continue to work with the Irish Refugee Council. Late last year a refugee fleeing from the Taliban in Afghanistan was allocated to our group. She is making progress in settling in Ireland. Now war has broken out in the Ukraine, millions of refugees have left Ukraine for safety and Irish people have rightly opened their hearts and their homes to these women and children.
          This latest flood of displaced people means that refugees from Afghanistan are forgotten, Syrian refugees have taken a step down the ladder of our concern and this does not even consider the situation of refugees in Palestine, or the victims of war in Yemen.
          We Humans are such a contradiction. We are social beings. We need one another. Yet we fight war after war. Why is that we can’t learn that war is futile. Almost three thousand years ago the Jewish Prophet Micah wrote longingly of what peace could look like “they shall beat their swords into plough shares and their spears into pruning hooks”. The Buddha taught. “Never does hatred cease by hating in return. Only through love can hatred come to an end. Victory breeds hatred. The conquered dwell in sorrow and resentment”.
          When an army goes to war very often it is with Prayers to God to bless the endeavor; soldiers march to war to the beat of music. What an insult to God. What a travesty of Christ’s teaching.
          The Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu understood the implications of war. He said that the mark of a great leader is that he “Goes to battle gravely, with sorrow and great compassion as if he were attending a funeral”. (re-read these words)

          Modern leaders certainly ignore the words of Lau Tzu. They go to war with a television broadcast or address a stadium packed with people who are not allowed to speak the truth. The adage that Truth is the first casualty of war still holds true.
          America began the second Iraqi war with “operation shock and awe” It sent its troops into Afghanistan with a promise to support the people of Afghanistan “for however long their support was needed”. They stayed until it was politically expedient for them to leave.
          Russia of course is not involved in a war. Their troops are on “special military manouvers” they are assisting the local citizens. Anyone who dares to contradict this lie will at best end up in jail. Silenced as all political opposition has been silenced in Russia for the past twenty two years.
          The Jewish prophet Micah’s wish was that soldiers would “l beat their swords into plough shares and their spears into pruning hooks”. If only it were that simple. it’s impossible to beat a cluster bomb into a plough share and anti- aircraft artillery is not very useful for pruning vines”
          In November in Glasgow – less than four months ago. World Leaders committed themselves to being more caring of the Earth. The time had come when the developed world would wean itself form the use of fossil fuels.
          During the past month Planes and artillery has pounded the land of Ukraine with bombs. There is constant black smoke as homes burn unchecked. Nature and life, human and animal are being destroyed, the land poisoned. Last week Mr.Boris Johnston, the host of the COP-26 summit on climate change, visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia requesting an increase in oil production.
          How are we to live through these difficult days? We can’t bury our heads in the sand. We must take care of our mental health. Don’t binge watch reports from the war zone. We must work not to become bitter or give into despair.
          We remember that Russian soldiers are being killed in a war that is not of their making. Russian mothers and fathers are losing their children. Russian tears, Ukrainian tears, Afghan tears, Syrian tears are the same. They are the outward sign of intense pain. The only people who win in war are the manufacturers of arms.
          We must help the victims of war in any way we can. We welcome refugees and continue to welcome them in the long term. We must be generous in providing aid for refugees.
          Fifteen hundred years ago Europe was in the dark ages. Ireland was a centre of Christianity and learning. Irish Monks brought the light of Christianity to a Europe in turmoil. I hope that once again Ireland will live it’s Christian values in how we care for the people who come to us for sanctuary. And those in need from war.
          It is important to make time for a spiritual practice. Come to church, pray, meditate and reflect. Try not to let war blind you to the good in the world.
          More than ever we need to care for the earth; caring for the earth is a two way process. If we care for the earth it cares for us. Never underestimate the restorative power of nature. In this spring time the earth is coming back to life. Plant something, watch it grow and blossom this is the only antidote to the destruction of war.
          These days will pass we pray that peace will soon return to Europe and the world. We pray for peace beginning with ourselves and spreading out to all humanity.

Rev.Bridget Spain
Minister Dublin Unitarian Church

© Dublin 20th March 2022