“The souls of the just are in the hand of God.” (Wisdom 3:1) – From the All Souls Day liturgy
The beginning of November is a time to remember the saints and souls, and our loved ones who have passed away, with the reassurance that God “will raise [them] up on the last day” (John 6:40). Yet in our world so torn by violence and war, we are also deeply aware of the women and children who are the victims.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, 90 per cent of the victims of war were soldiers. By the end of the century, that number had been reversed: 90 per cent of the victims of war are civilians.
This past year, the Missionary Society of St. Columban accepted an invitation to join Pax Christi International, a worldwide Catholic Movement for Peace which began at the end of the Second World War and recently celebrated its 70th anniversary. In 1944, a group of French and German Catholics came together to pray, seek reconciliation and work for a peaceful new beginning after years of bitter conflict.
By bringing together ordinary people from different backgrounds and cultures, and encouraging people to shape and act upon their shared vision of peace, reconciliation and justice, the Columbans share a common spirit and the heart-felt conviction that inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue are integral to what it means to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel today.
In Korea and the Philippines, in Chile and Peru, in Pakistan and Fiji, and on the U.S. – Mexico border, Columbans are a living witness to the reality and hope “that peace is possible among Muslims, Christians, and ethnic minorities.” These were the words shared by the Columban General Council in their September letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging the U.S. government to “choose a path of active non-violence” and to work “through the United Nations” to encourage peace among all peoples in the Middle East.
The power and credibility of the Columban mission over nearly 100 years is this Gospel witness for justice, peace and reconciliation across diverse cultures and religions. Many Columbans were martyred in China, the Philippines and Korea, simply for remaining with the people they served and subsequently facing torture, prison and execution in the midst of war; and many Columbans today continue to stand with the poor and for human rights in many countries across the world.
This November 11 – Veterans Day in the United States, Remembrance Day in Europe – marks the conclusion of World War I, a war began 100 year ago in Europe. It was supposed to be “the war to end all wars.” Instead, it redrew the map of Europe and cost the continent 20 million lives – half of them soldiers, half of them civilians. November 11 is also the Feast Day of St. Martin of Tours. Conscripted as a soldier into the Roman army, Martin found this duty incompatible with the Christian faith he had adopted and became an early conscientious objector. He is best known for using his military sword to cut his cloak in two in order to give half of it to a beggar – in whom he saw Christ – clad only in the rags of winter.
As we commemorate these days in November, let us remember those who bear the wounds of war and take to heart Pope Paul VI’s impassioned plea to the General Assembly of the United Nations on the Feast of St. Francis in 1965: “War no more! War never again!” We offer thanks, as well, to successive generations of local communities and missionaries alike – Columbans among them – who have accompanied the victims of war and offered a witness of peace.