Human price of war puts WWI in 'DNA of every family'
The names inscribed on the memorials of the Great War should remind people that the cost of conflicts is always measured in human lives, the Bishop of Shrewsbury has said.
In a homily at a Requiem Mass for the fallen of the First World War, the Rt Rev Mark Davies reminded the congregation at Shrewsbury Cathedral that every casualty in war was “always a human person, a brother or sister of ours”.
“Each time we pass through the entrance of this cathedral we pass the list of names, the memorial to the men of this parish who perished in the vast conflict which would touch almost every family,” he said in the homily read on his behalf on Sunday by Canon Stephen Coonan, the cathedral dean.
“The statistics of this First World War vary in their estimates but always defy imagination: some 20 million soldiers and civilians died violently; 21 million were physically wounded and an incalculable number were emotionally injured,” the bishop said.
“The generation who survived the war would declare ‘never again’ but this first, global war was to be the cause of a second, five times more destructive and followed by a ‘cold war’ which threatened all humanity with nuclear destruction.”
Bishop Davies reminded the faithful of how Pope St Pius X strenuously opposed the Great War as “disastrous” at a time when millions across Europe cheered and celebrated when it was declared.
“Pope Pius was asked by the warring parties for his blessing,” Bishop Davies continued. “His response was emphatic: ‘I will not bless war, I will bless peace.’”
The 20th century then became, in the words of Pope St John Paul II, “the century of tears”, the bishop said, and one which witnessed “violence and destruction on a scale never seen before”.
Bishop Davies said: “It was surely in the minds of those who set up memorials in Shrewsbury and far beyond that a message be left for future generations by the words: ‘lest we forget’. It is a message applied to the souls swept up in these conflicts who appeal for our prayer and it carries a moral message for the future.
“The listing of names on the memorials of war challenges us still to recognise the person beyond the rank or number. In the Gospel, Our Lord never saw anonymous crowds but each and every human soul. He ‘took pity on them’ St Matthew tells us.
“In the tragic drama of the past hundred years it was the eternal value and dignity of every human person which was so often lost sight of.
“Today, as we hear within the 24-hour news cycle of a Syrian refugee, a Palestinian child, a missing Israeli soldier, we are invited in faith to recognise not a statistic but always a human person, a brother, a sister of ours.”
The Requiem Mass was one of a number offered throughout the diocese and the country to mark the first centenary of the outbreak of the First World War on 4th August 1914.
Bishop Davies reminded the congregation that the Diocese of Shrewsbury is also marking the centenary with a Year of Peace and Reconciliation, recognising anew “how peace begins or is lost within the human heart”.
The Year of Peace, the bishop explained, was inspired by the call of Pope Francis to a day of prayer and fasting last September as the world stood on the brink of the escalation of the conflict in Syria into a major regional war.
“Pope Francis invited us to open our hearts to a higher wisdom, a greater mercy, and appealed to world leaders and all peoples to look deep into their consciences,” Bishop Davies said.
“And today, as we offer this Requiem Mass for all the fallen of the Great War, for those listed on the memorial of our cathedral and on memorials which stand across the earth, we pray that we may not lack the wisdom, the light, to recognise what makes for true and lasting peace.”