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Remembering fallen means their lives weren't lost in vain

Thought for the weekend

By Canon Walter Lewis

Armistice Day was yesterday and Remembrance Sunday is tomorrow. This is a time to remember all who have died so that others can live in freedom and security: and to thank God for their sacrifice. For the first time since its publication in 1999, I recently took down the book 'Lost Lives' from my bookshelves. It's a huge tome, logging the details of the 3,524 people killed in the recent Northern Ireland Troubles.

Among the names, I wanted to check the people whom I knew: I wanted to remember them - Johnny Pedlow, Adrian Barton, Jane McIntyre, Thomas Mills, Thomas Easton, Heather Thompson and Denis Taggart. All were shot dead. All were innocent victims going about their daily business. Theirs were lost lives. But their murders were not in vain as we remember them and the others whose lives were so brutally taken. Our remembering them can lead us to make sure such cruel and mindless barbarity will not happen again.

We do well to remember that throughout our recent Troubles the position of the Catholic and Protestant churches, on the matter of paramilitary violence, was clear and unequivocal: "There is no ethical, theological or doctrinal justification for killing and bombing." From the start, the Churches affirmed that all problems could be resolved peacefully and within the law. How regrettable it is that, at that time, the leadership of the Churches was not heeded on both sides.

Ten million servicemen and civilians were killed in World War One. Many viewed the war as a tremendous waste of young lives with little gain. However, the same was not said of World War Two. Many laid down their lives so families and friends might live in freedom, and that the tyranny of Hitler's Nazism might be confronted and defeated. We remember the great truth and power in the words of a dying soldier to his comrade: "When you go home, tell them, 'For your tomorrow, we gave our today'."

At this time, we express our thanks for those who gave their lives to establish the democratic freedoms which we now enjoy. Here in Northern Ireland, we have come through an uncertain period when our democracy was under severe threat from paramilitary organisations. Their technique was to suppress all opposition. Only their voice was allowed to prevail. Therein lies a warning that democracy must be jealously guarded if we are to live in a civilised and inclusive society. That is what our forbears gave their lives for.

In the last century, the poet TS Eliot wrote the words: "The peace of the world is always uncertain unless people keep the peace of God." Here, Eliot was warning that peace is more than the silence of cannons. It involves entrenching ethical standards in our society such as respect for others, dignity, justice, kindness, thoughtfulness, prayer and love. At Remembrance time we are reminded about two crucial and fundamental things - to keep the peace of the world and to keep the peace of God.

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