One of the deaths has been that of Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth whose death now brings his life into focus. Being such a public figure Prince Philip was fair game for the media and he was associated with blunt embarrassing remarks that were not exactly politically correct. Now his achievements are being recognised and even his bluntness is being interpreted as a desire to be friendly and put people at their ease, often backfiring on him. He gave up a promising military career and made a life for himself in a situation where he always had to play second fiddle to the Queen whose role was clearly detailed and defined. Now the media is acknowledging the difficulties he overcame, his decades of public service and commitment to issues such as the environment and the welfare of young people through the Duke of Edinburgh Award which has now been awarded to over three million young people. It was a life well lived.
Another controversial figure – at least as far as the Catholic Church is concerned – who died on 6th April is Fr Hans Kung. Fr Kung is one of the last theologians who attended the Second Vatican Council as an expert advisor to the Bishops. His work on infallibility brought him in to conflict with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the designation Catholic theologian was taken from him in 1979 which meant losing his job in the catholic theological faculty of Tubingen. What happened then was that he moved to the Protestant faculty of the same university where he continued his work, desiring more than anything the reform of a church he loved. He was also involved in interfaith issues and is responsible for the maxim, “no peace in the world without peace among the world religions, no peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions and no dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions”. Later he added “no dialogue among the religions without global ethical standards” when he wrote the document on a “Declaration Towards a Global Ethic” which was presented and adopted by the 1993 Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. Kung’s commitment to Global Ethics then became a lifetime’s work and the need for such an ethic was echoed last year at the Edinburgh Book Festival by the late Lord Jonathan Sacks in conversation with Amin Maalouf. Another life well lived.
Yom HaShoah, which also happened this week, is the moment when the Jewish community remembers those murdered by the Nazis. Unlike Holocaust Memorial Day, which is a political and national event, Yom HaShoah is a community affair. It is very moving to see displayed page after page the names of those family members related to the local community who died in concentration camps. For the Jewish community the Shoah is a family affair and a present reality. The two speakers this year were remarkable.
Noemie Lopian grew up in Germany but knew nothing of the Holocaust from her family and unbelievingly asked her mother if such a thing could possibly be true when she was told about it in school. It was only when she was in her mid-thirties that she read her father’s memoirs and understood for the first time the suffering her father endured when as a teenager he was sent to a series of concentration camps and took part in a number of death marches. His parent and two younger sisters were murdered in Auschwitz. Noemie realised this was a story that needed to be told, translated her father’s memoirs “The Long Night” into English and committed herself to telling his story at events such as Yom HaShoah. This she does with the second speaker, Derek Niemann and what is remarkable about their work is that he is the grandson of a Nazi perpetrator. Derek was brought up in Scotland and only found out about his grandfather when he and his wife decided to visit Germany and trace some family history. Looking up the address of the family home on the internet he discovered that his grandfather was SS Hauptsturmführer Karl Niemann, a former SS Officer and concentration camp overseer who had been tried and found guilty at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity and use of slave labour. Derek too has written a book, “A Nazi in the Family”, and is determined that his family’s secret should be brought into the light. Speaking as he does with Noemie is really powerful and they are determined to use their precious life to work together to educate people about the atrocities of the Nazis with the hope that such a thing should never happen again.
My last reflection of a wild and precious life came from a television programme about the Cistercian Abbey of Mount St Bernard in Leicestershire. Here was a community of monks who lived a very unadventurous life committed totally to praying for the world and honouring God away from the glare of publicity. Their genuineness, simplicity, dedication and love visibly showed a life well lived even if not understood by most. More on this another time but what more could we ask for in living our own wild and precious life?