Archbishop Eamon Martin celebrates Mass with the Polish community to commemorate 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of the Second World War
Bilingual Mass with the Polish community at 12 noon in the Cathedral of Saint Patrick & Saint Colman, Newry, Co Down
The readings at Mass this weekend speak about the virtue of humility, which reminds me, on this occasion, of something Pope Francis has said: “You cannot have peace without humility, and where there’s arrogance, you’ll always have war”.
We gather today to recall the invasion of Poland which marked the outbreak of the Second World War, exactly 80 years ago, on 1 September 1939. I welcome in a special way the many members of our Polish community who have joined us in Newry today. This is my first time to concelebrate a “bilingual” Mass with you and I take this opportunity to thank you for the valued contribution which so many Polish people have been making to Ireland – north and south – in recent decades. I also pay tribute to the Polish priests who have come to minister among us in Ireland and to provide pastoral care to our Polish communities.
You, the Polish people, have known first hand the horror and demeaning impact of the Second World War. Your people made huge sacrifices. Many of your grandparents and great-grandparents would have endured the forced partition of your country and the massive the displacement of your people, and grieved over the deaths of one-in-five of your citizens during the war.
On anniversaries like this, the advice of Pope Francis is important: to beware jealousy, envy, conflicts, and gossip which can destroy unity. Instead, the Holy Father encourages us always to nurture unity and peace through humility, gentleness, and a heart “wide-open” for forgiveness.
An estimated 55 million civilians lost their lives in the Second World War, and perhaps 25 million others perished, who were members of various military forces. The war represented the worst in “man’s inhumanity to man”. In addition to the lives and livelihoods lost, whole villages, towns and cities across the world were destroyed; centuries of historic and cultural treasures were wiped out. But above all, humanity still hangs its head in shame at the nuclear massacre of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the horrendous brutality of the holocaust with its systematic attempt to wipe out the Jewish people and other groups deemed expendable. On a granite block at the Auschwitz-Birkenau “death camp” in Poland is inscribed this message: “let this place forever be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity”. I remember Pope Saint John Paul II kneeling there, describing the camp as the “Golgotha of the modern world”.
In the years after the war, humanity was shocked to look back at the grim reality of its devastation. The establishment of the United Nations and the beginnings of the European project resulted from a positive desire that countries which had once been at war might now come together in community and cooperation, with old enemies joining hands, hearts and minds so that their children and grandchildren might enjoy a more prosperous and peaceful future.
It is frightening though, that despite the memories and painful lessons of the Second World War – and the outrageous scandal of the holocaust – the tragedy of violence and conflict continues in many parts of the world today. Humanity has still to learn true humility. Human pride and arrogance continues to feed a creeping culture of death, violence, aggression and war.
We continue to witness an immense displacement of people due to conflicts across the globe, separating children and their parents, destroying dignity and opportunity. While millions of our fellow human beings continue to suffer hunger and thirst, billions of dollars, pounds and euro are spend on the arms industry, and the continued development and testing of nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponry. On a daily basis, people across the world continue to suffer the destructive impact of terrorism and gun violence.
In the decades since the war, successive popes have warned about what happens when humanity abandons reference to God and the transcendent moral law – in some cases replacing it with an “intransigent nationalism”. Each year, on the 1st January, the Holy Father leads the world in praying for peace and for those who commit their lives to peace building and reconciliation. The Church also consistently highlights the fundamental right to life and speaks out against all attacks on innocent human life – including from abortion and euthanasia. Sins and crimes against human dignity are more likely to occur when we lack humility, believing instead that we don’t need God, we can be “self-sufficient”; boasting that we have the science and technology to redesign everything to suit us – even life itself; some power groups appear to think they can take the place of God, being masters of history and even of human nature itself.
Such arrogance easily gives way to prejudice, the manipulation of media and other forms of defamation and propaganda which distort the truth to suit a particular view, ignoring where necessary, human rights and dignity. This was the way that totalitarian ideologies were enabled to label the lives of whole groups of people as worthless, and to impose gruesome policies such as the infamous “final solution”.
Today’s anniversary commits us to redoubling our efforts to counter the language of hate, barriers, walls and separation with peace-making, reconciliation, bridge-building and cooperation.
Forty years ago this month, on 29th September 1979, the great Polish Pope Saint John Paul II came to Ireland on what he described as a “pilgrimage of peace”. The Holy Father was stopping off in Ireland on his way to address the United Nations on the problems of peace and war, justice and human rights. At Drogheda he reaffirmed the message which he had already spoken in Mexico and Poland during the first year of his pontificate: “Each human being has inalienable rights that must be respected. Peace is threatened every time one of these rights is violated. The moral law, guardian of human rights, protector of the dignity of man, cannot be set aside by any person or group, or by the State itself, for any cause”.
To mark both the visit of Pope Francis to our country one year ago, and the 40th anniversary of Pope Saint John Paul’s visit, I will lead a short prayer service “For Ireland and for Humanity” on 29th September next at 5.00pm at the Papal cross near Drogheda. I invite the faithful in the Diocese of Dromore and the Archdiocese of Armagh to join me by coming together at the same time in their parishes. We will reflect on the same text which Pope Saint John Paul II used to pray for peace and reconciliation, forty years ago. On that day he concluded his address by praying that Christ the Prince of Peace, Mary, Saint Patrick, Saint Oliver Plunkett, and all the saints of Ireland would “Watch over Ireland”; “Protect humanity”. It is the perfect prayer for us during these troubled and uncertain times for Ireland – north and south – and as we commemorate the beginning of World War II, eighty years ago today.
May God bless you now, and always. Amen.