Some thoughts

By Rosa Packard (USA)

After the conference some of us visited memorials and museums in the western part of Flanders (Belgium) where in World War I so many died and so much was destroyed. We went first to the British Cemetery at Passendale and walked among rows of white crosses which had heartbreaking inscriptions - known only unto God, till we meet again, all he knew of life was death. Red poppies still in bloom in Flanders fields.

The German cemetery was a quiet glade of mature trees sheltering rows of flat black markers each with twenty names. Overlooking them are two statues of Grieving Parents by German artist Käthe Kollwitz. The statutes are of herself and her husband and the stone nearest to them includes the name of their son Peter who died early in the war at Essen at the age of eighteen. It took her the next eighteen years to finish the statutes. This was a place where the grief of all wars could be felt and some of us were drawn into worship there.

Our guide for the trip, one of the conference organizers. Koen Moens, gave us information about the Belgian experience of World War I, especially that of the Flemish population. Flemish speaking soldiers were under the charge of French speaking officers and much misunderstanding and tragedy occurred because of that. After the war, a movement for Flemish autonomy emerged blended with a plea for no more war and for tolerance. Every year there is a procession to the Flemish soldiers museum and memorial that we visited at Diksmuide. Out of this movement Belgium has recently created separate legislatures for Flemish speaking, French speaking and German speaking citizens - these in addition to the federal legislature. We learned that the Flemish parliament has just approved an institution for nonviolent defense, an idea first mentioned at the gatherings at the memorial.