England, Germany, Russia and Poland together

England, Germany, Russia and Poland are currently playing in the Euro 2012 football competition. Over 70 years ago these nations were savagely at war. Here is a story of forgiveness.

Poland was where the second world war began, when it was invaded by Germany on 1 September 1939. As a country, it suffered greatly from its position squeezed between two great powers. Like Germany and England, it had to suffer greatly, in particular when the Warsaw ghetto uprising was suppressed on the eve of Passover of April 19, 1943. The country also housed notorious concentration camps, most notably Auschwitz-Birkenau, which the English team visited before the start of the competition, and Treblinka.

I have just watched the BBC TV "Songs of Praise" programme, devoted to the old and the new Coventry Cathedral. Both were named after St Michael, the name given to me and one whose origin is the Hebrew question "mi kəmo ʔelohim", translated in English as "Who is like God". The old one, a 14th century Gothic church, later cathedral, was almost completely destroyed in a bombing raid on Coventry on 14 November 1940. Although Christianity preaches forgiveness, it is hard not to think that this bombing played some part in the decision to bomb Dresden to destruction in February 1945.

The new Coventry cathedral was designed by Basil Spence, later knighted, and its foundation stone laid by Queen Elizabeth on 23rd March, 1956. On 25th May 1962, when she had reigned for just 10 years, Queen Elizabeth was present at the consecration. Thus, when we are celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Coventry Cathedral is celebrating its Golden Jubilee.

The decision to rebuild the Cathedral, taken on the day after its destruction, not simply as an act of defiance but rather as a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. Since then the Cathdral has been at the centre of a Ministry of Reconciliation. One example of this is the statue, called Choir of Survivors, very recently given to the Cathedral by the Frauenkirche in Dresden.

One particularly well-known symbol, which originated in Coventry Cathedral, is the Cross of Nails, a cross of three nails from the roof truss of the old cathedral. This gave rise to the Community of the Cross of Nails, an organisation devoted to reconciliation in the world, and which has donated crosses to several German cities whose own churches were destroyed in the war.

It is a very sad sign of the times that, while writing these words, the TV news carried a story of the bombing of two churches in Nigeria. The above-mentioned Community would preach forgiveness, but it is hard to do so.


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