And yet we try. There have been many statements calling for peace, even letters, from very public people like the Pope, the World Council of Churches, the Dalai Lama and from less significant figures and organisations. I am usually in two minds about such statements and wonder if the motivation for them is a fear of appearing indifferent and the effect is to help the organisation feel they have done something rather than nothing without necessarily making any impact on the situation. It’s very hard to stay with the pain and the sense of powerlessness and do nothing. At present there is a petition on the internet calling for the end of nuclear weapons, hoping to get one million signatories. It is an open letter from ‘Nobel Peace Laureates and Citizens of the World against War and Nuclear Weapons’, saying that this moment is either the end of nuclear weapons or the end of humanity. But will governments listen to this? The fact that President Putin has threatened to push that nuclear button but not done so (yet) might cause some politicians to underline how important nuclear weapons are as a deterrent – but only if possessed by the right nations!
Prayer is also a way of helping us overcome a sense of powerlessness, particularly if done in community. Uniting with others, like the thousands in George Square last week, gives a sense of strength and support. No doubt people will be expecting different things from that prayer. For some there will be a belief that a God who is all powerful could intervene to bring about a change of heart and restore peace.
For others this prayer is more a statement of solidarity, that awakens compassion within our hearts and expresses itself in action. For others the prayer will be said in a spirit of repentance, recognising that the fear and pride that seems to be motivating President Putin lives in our own hearts. The Pope’s act of consecration, something that has a long tradition in the Catholic Church, took place within the context of a penitential service at which the Pope was seen to humbly acknowledge his own sinfulness within the context of the sacrament of penance as well as then administering that sacrament to others. Within the public prayer he identified himself with all of humanity when he prayed
“we have strayed from that path of peace. We have forgotten the lesson learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two world wars. We have disregarded the commitments we made as a community of nations. We have betrayed peoples’ dreams of peace and the hopes of the young. We grew sick with greed, we thought only of our own nations and their interests, we grew indifferent and caught up in our selfish needs and concerns. We chose to ignore God, to be satisfied with our illusions, to grow arrogant and aggressive, to suppress innocent lives and to stockpile weapons. We stopped being our neighbour’s keepers and stewards of our common home. We have ravaged the garden of the earth with war and by our sins we have broken the heart of our heavenly Father, who desires us to be brothers and sisters. We grew indifferent to everyone and everything except ourselves. Now with shame we cry out: Forgive us, Lord! Lead us now on the paths of peace”.
Is this not a catalogue of the sins of humanity and truly should we not be ashamed of them? We are implicated in them, and we all have the potential to perpetrate great injustices and violence within ourselves. But we also have the potential for the opposite. The generosity of the public in donating to charities working in Ukraine and working with refugees, offering to open their homes to refugees has been outstanding and shown us humanity at its best. Two images from the news stand out in my mind – one is of the large number of families waiting at the Ukrainian border to welcome refugees into their homes and the other image is of a row of empty push chairs waiting at a railway station in Poland for any family that needed one - signs of real generosity and goodness which can inspire and even console us as we do out bit in sowing seeds of peace.