Sunday, 24 February 2008

Identity at the borderlands as the prayer cycle moves to France and Germany

Today the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle moves to France and Germany. One is the country I live in the other the country where my father was born. For the whole of my childhood and youth Germany was two countries and not one. Breslau, the German city my Grandmother was born in and where my great grandfather was the city architect has been part of Poland, as Wroclaw, since the end of the second world war.
The shifting border between three countries in that part of the world has been much fought over. I can remember being shown ossuaries filled with the skulls and bones of the war dead in small Catholic chapels in villages near Wroclaw.
When not living in the country of my birth I seem to have lived mainly in borderland areas. Ten kilometres down the road from Dunkerque was the Belgium border with French spoken on one side and Flemish on the other. Vlaanderen, Flandres or Flanders is however a cross border region, Flemish is still spoken a bit in the villages on the French side of the border. Over the centuries generations of European soldiers have lost their lives in battles and wars fought over Flanders fields, war graves can be found in the middle of fields of wheat. Cartridges and other debris of the first world war still rise to the surface in some parts when the fields are ploughed.
When I lived in West Berlin the border was only 2 kilometers down the road and although the same language was spoken on both sides it certainly was not permeable. The Berlin wall with its watchtowers and death strip ran through the middle of the forest, late in the night you could hear "Allied" tank manoevres. Despite being a powerful and violent symbol, the wall finally came down through people power and not fire power. A great moment of hope.
These days it would be easy to think I live in a sleepy backwater - not entirely untrue either. But the history of this part of what is now France has also been marked by wars of religion and violent repression. The Bailliage de Gex was Protestant when it became part of France in 1601. Versoix and Grand Saconnex were Catholic and part of France until they became part of Switzerland in the post-Napoleonic Congress of Vienna in 1815. Geneva was for a short time under Napoleon the capital of the French département du Léman. The fields I travel through to work have been fought over in political and religious conflicts.
As the ecumenical prayer cycle invites prayers for the peoples and churches of France and Germany this week and for Switzterland next week I shall focus on praying for the healing of memories and for lasting peace in the borderlands of the world.