FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR B

The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness … With the leadership of our Shepherds Pope Francis and Bishop Declan may we and all Christians seek the wilderness of God’s silence this Lent and further the reform and renewal of the Church of God

               [reader]               LORD DRAW US TO YOURSELF…
               [response]         AND SPEAK TO OUR HEARTS

He was with the wild beasts … as Christians may we reverence all creation and learn to live in communion with our planet and all your creatures; may conflict and war be ended, and a miracle of peace be secured for the peoples of the Middle East, Yemen, Cameroon and Mali

               [reader]               LORD DRAW US TO YOURSELF…
               [response]         AND SPEAK TO OUR HEARTS

The angels looked after him … as a parish community during this Covid pandemic may our caring for each other grow deeper; may we grow as a healing community in the Inner City: we ask God’s blessing upon all who serve and are served, the excluded and vulnerable, through our Food Bank, the Wildgoose Café, Borderlands’, Unseen and One 25 – may we offer healing and hope to the most marginalised and rejected of our community

               [reader]               LORD DRAW US TO YOURSELF…
               [response]         AND SPEAK TO OUR HEARTS

Jesus says, Repent and believe the Good News … may each one of us make space during these days of Lent to confront our own inner demons, invite God’s light into our shadows, let God speak to our hearts and change us, so that we might change our world

               [reader]               LORD DRAW US TO YOURSELF…
               [response]         AND SPEAK TO OUR HEARTS

The Kingdom of God is close at hand … may the CAFOD Lenten Fast Day help us to live this Lent in communion and solidarity with the poorest of the earth,  bringing dignity and hope to those most desperate in their poverty – we pray that all who serve in our relief agencies may never use their power to exploit, but always to respect all to whom they go

               [reader]               LORD DRAW US TO YOURSELF…
               [response]         AND SPEAK TO OUR HEARTS

Jesus proclaimed the Good News from God … thanking God for the Good News of the Covid vaccines, we pray for all health care workers of our nation and all nations; may the sick and housebound of our parish family know Good News of healing and comfort,  especially …
for those who have died recently:  especially …, the victims of the Covid Pandemic and all killed in the conflicts scarring our world at this time
for all whose anniversaries are at this time: …

               [reader]               LORD DRAW US TO YOURSELF…
               [response]         AND SPEAK TO OUR HEARTS   

Mary, Bearer of humanity’s Hope, journey with us along pathways of repentance and peace this Lent…

                                               HAIL MARY…

Let us pray in the silence of God’s desert…

ASH-WEDNESDAY

‘Proclaim a Fast’ – may God’s people journey the path of repentance these 40 days of Lent and so make room in our hearts for God’s tender love, for God’s challenging Word, for God’s Renewing Spirit and discover the true happiness of God-centred lives – may our world fast from the injustice and violence that leads to war and embrace the pathways of mercy

                                 LORD IN YOUR MERCY…
                                 HEAR OUR PRAYER …

‘Give alms’ – may our fasting be a sacred communion with the hungry, the poor and the oppressed of our world, so that our giving might be more than charity but restore justice, and live with courage the ‘Covenant with the Poor’

                                 LORD IN YOUR MERCY…
                                 HEAR OUR PRAYER …

‘Pray…’ – may this Lent during this Year of Lockdown and Covid restrictions be a committed time of profound prayer for us as individual Christians and as a community; may we seek with a renewed love the heart of God, and value the many opportunities for prayer and for Eucharist together in our parish life, or through the Internet

                                 LORD IN YOUR MERCY…
                                 HEAR OUR PRAYER …

‘Be reconciled to God’ – as we walk together the desert path of this Lent, may we open our hearts to God’s reconciling mercy and healing spirit; through forgiveness may we grow in deeper unity with God, with each other as a Parish in Communion for Mission, with the world in its need for peace, justice and reconciliation especially throughout the Middle East, central Africa and in Myanmar

                                 LORD IN YOUR MERCY…
                                 HEAR OUR PRAYER …

‘Now is the favourable time’ – may each of us hear the call to missionary discipleship and use this Lent to grow in Christ: may the Lord lead us to bring healing and renewal to the Earth and all its creatures, caring for our ‘common home’ before it is too late!  

                                 LORD IN YOUR MERCY…
                                 HEAR OUR PRAYER …

‘Ambassadors for Christ’ – may the Spirit of God help form in us a new heart and a new spirit in the weeks and months ahead…

                                 LORD IN YOUR MERCY…
                                 HEAR OUR PRAYER …

Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of Mercy and the first and greatest disciple of Jesus, pray for us that this Lent may form Christ in us

HAIL MARY… 

We pray other needs in the ‘secret place’ of our own hearts…

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT – YEAR B

PRIEST:      We have begun our journey of these 40 days of Lent – like Jesus we enter into the desert to face the demons of our own hearts – demons of selfishness and of comfort,  of greed and exploitation.  Having overcome them, like Noah overcame the flood-tide of evil, Jesus shares the Good News of the New Life that is possible for all who repent and change.  That is why Lent is Good News – the time has come for us to change and become more alive!… and more life-giving! Let us make this lent truly a Springtime of new growth, new beginnings, recreation in the midst of a world devastated by Covid and Climate Change.

READER:             Jesus remains in the wilderness,
                                        to confront the demons of the world’s sin …
so often we are afraid to enter the wilderness of our hearts
                                  and confront honestly what we find within us

                                                       LORD HAVE MERCY …

Jesus welcomed the touch of God ministered by the angels

… too often our closed minds and hearts fail to welcome
the comforting and healing angels that God sends to us

                                                       CHRIST HAVE MERCY …

Jesus leaves the wilderness to proclaim Gospel repentance …
we can be afraid of change in ourselves, and even more afraid
                                  of challenging our society to change its injustice and poverty

                                                       LORD HAVE MERCY …

PRIEST:     May the God who calls us to the desert of his love
                                        embrace us with mercy;
                        may the Redeemer who walks our path of temptation
                                        forgive us and heal our sin;
                         may the Spirit change our hearts and give us the joy of repentance;
                        and bring us and all the world to everlasting life

                                                             AMEN!

SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B

PRIEST:      Today’s Gospel tells us of Jesus curing a leper: but it is not just another healing.  He breaks the sacred Law because of his compassion.  And in restoring this outcast to his family and community,  Jesus then becomes the outcast.  Compassion costs,  and healing does not often come cheap,  even if it is a free gift!  Who are the lepers and outcasts of todays’s world – and where is our compassion?  Whom do we cast out of our hearts?  Perhaps the outcast can heal our hardness…

READER:                 We cry out to God for mercy
                                      because of all the outcasts our heart makes,
                                      for every refusal to be compassionate

                                                                LORD HAVE MERCY…

We cry out to Jesus for forgiveness in the name of a society
                                       that discriminates and divides,
                                       that gives birth to racial violence
                                       and hatred towards those who do not conform

                                                                CHRIST HAVE MERCY…

We cry out to the Holy Spirit for the healing
                                       of our hardened and cynical hearts
that so often will not accept those who are different from ourselves

                                                                LORD HAVE MERCY…

PRIEST:               May the God of all love melt our hearts with his compassion;
                                 may Jesus touch our sin with reconciling mercy;
                                 may the Holy Spirit cleanse and heal us that
                                we might have a new heart for all humanity
                                and bring us and all outcasts to everlasting life

AMEN!

SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

‘Of course I want to!’ Jesus said: may the Church everywhere be a community of healing, compassion and inclusion, witnessing to the breadth and power of God’s love for the world
(Reader:)                           In a broken world…
(RESPONSE:)               LORD, MAKE US WHOLE…

The lepers ‘must live apart … in desert places … as the unclean’: we pray for all who are excluded from hope and opportunity, from justice and freedom, from peace and equality: we pray for the people of Yemen torn apart by war not of their making; for the ‘Dalets’ (the so-called ‘untouchables’) of India that their dignity and equality will be recognised; for the Ruhynga Muslims in their exile and all the people of Myanmar and of Hong Kong in their struggles for democracy 

(Reader:)                           In a broken world…
(RESPONSE:)               LORD, MAKE US WHOLE…

‘Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God’ says St Paul: that we might learn to glorify God in our work, in our homes, in our families and in our schools – may we bear witness before the world that there is nothing human that is alien to God

(Reader:)                           In a broken world…
(RESPONSE:)               LORD, MAKE US WHOLE…

‘I try to be helpful to all people that they might be saved’ … For all who research cures for the diseases that afflict humanity, especially Covid 19,  HIV/AIDS; that medical science might explore ethical means of research that do not abuse the integrity of human life; that those with incurable and destructive illnesses will resist the temptation to end their own lives, but find a new hope in the God who walks with them

(Reader:)                           In a broken world…
(RESPONSE:)               LORD, MAKE US WHOLE…

‘Jesus could not go openly into any town’ because he touched the leper … For the excluded of our own society: for prisoners. those with mental illness, those with addictions, the victims of prejudice and discrimination, for our sisters and brothers seeking safe sanctuary among us

(Reader:)                           In a broken world…
(RESPONSE:)               LORD, MAKE US WHOLE…

For our children who are being home schooled and for the families seeking to offer them the best education they can; for our teachers and school staff coping with Covid restrictions and providing classes over the internet

(Reader:)                           In a broken world…
(RESPONSE:)               LORD, MAKE US WHOLE…

‘Be healed’ Jesus says to all the broken and hurting of the world, especially those suffering from Covid or war induced famine: we pray for healing for the sick and dying, especially … ;
For all who have died recently, especially …  and all killed in the conflict in Yemen;
And for all whose anniversaries are at this time:

(Reader:)                           In a broken world…
(RESPONSE:)               LORD, MAKE US WHOLE…

Mary, Mother of the Church, Mother of Compassion pray with us, pray for us

                                                                                              HAIL MARY ….

We pray for all the excluded of our world in a moment of silence

 

LENT IS HERE AGAIN!

PREPARING FOR LENT DURING THE COVID PANDEMIC In many ways it has felt like one long Lent since Ash-Wednesday 2020 – we have been deprived of so much – social contact, parties, shopping, holidays, often attending Mass. We have needed to adjust to all sorts of new measures and our world has become small. It has been a desert or wilderness time for our whole world. Many have had no work and others (like Health workers and carers and other key workers) have been overworked! Perhaps this Lent is a call to reflect upon the meaning of this past year, to embrace lovingly and caringly the deprivations of the past 12 months and the future unspecified months. Lent is a call to serve the common good of our nation and all nations; to care for our Common Home, the Earth and all its people and creatures. This Lent we may have little to give up as so much has been taken away – but perhaps we have many things to do positively to build a new kind of (and ‘kinder’) world. 

WHY LENT? We enter this privileged time of personal and community renewal which we call Lent. We join with Christ Jesus’ 40 Days in the desert to journey with Him through the desert of silence and prayer, of deprivation and hunger, of thirst and yearning. Why? To grow to become more like Jesus in generosity of spirit, openness of heart, deeper communion with God, a readiness to give of ourselves to the Mission of the Gospel. These 40 Days express our communion with all catechumens of the Church journeying to the great moment of Baptism (or reception into Full Communion with the Church); these 40 Days are our journey to the renewal of our Baptism at Easter when we say again our ‘YES’ to being plunged into the Mystery of Christ and become truly Christ People, filled with His Spirit and knowing ourselves to be ‘Beloved of the Father’. Let us embrace these most precious days of renewal.

THE TRUE FAST – ACCORDING TO POPE FRANCIS
“Fast from hurting words and say kind words. Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude. Fast from anger and be filled with patience. Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope. Fast from worries and trust in God. Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity. Fast from pressures and be prayerful. Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy. Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others. Fast from grudges and be reconciled. Fast from words and be silent – so you can listen.”

Feasts of St Josephine Bakhita and Our Lady of Lourdes

TWO IMPORTANT FEAST DAYS THIS WEEK
[1] On Tuesday 9th February we celebrate the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita. Born in Sudan, as a young girl she was captured, trafficked to Egypt and sold (and abused) as a slave. Eventually rescued by the Italian Consul and taken to Italy, she was baptised and heard the call of God to become a Canossian Nun in Venice. She lived simply, lovingly and humbly. She carried all her life the physical and emotional scars of her slavery and trafficking and during her last painful illness so often cried out – ‘break these chains’. She is the patron saint of all victims of slavery and human trafficking, which is horrifyingly on the increase. There are estimated to be at least 300,000 enslaved and trafficked people in UK today! About 30% are white British, about 30% are children trapped in ‘County Lines’ used to move drugs around the country and sell them, or deliver them to dealers. There has been an increase in trafficking through Portishead, in Weston-super-Mare, Highbridge and amy other part of our diocese. David Maggs and I currently represent the diocese of Bath & Wells and Clifton Diocese (respectively) on the ‘Avon & Somerset Anti-Slavery Partnership’. As a parish we look forward to working once again and more closely with the Clewer Initiative to combat slavery and trafficking in our own city of Bristol.

[2] Thursday 11th February we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick. Lourdes as perhaps the greatest Healing Shrine in the Catholic world is a prophetic sign to the Church that everywhere we are called to be a healing community, a healing presence in a world of brokenness, sickness and inner turmoil. We are called in the now famous words of Pope Francis  to be God’s ‘field hospital’ – open and welcoming, holding and healing for the broken and wounded of our world. A place of belonging for the lonely and isolated, a place of patient listening and healing compassion, a place of faith in the wholeness of humanity. Let us pray for all health and care workers and researchers and all the sick.

Fifth Sunday of the Year B – marking World Day of the Sick

PRIEST:        We gather to celebrate the World Day of the Sick. We also celebrate the Mission we all share. Indeed our Mission is to be Healing Light for the world.   In the Gospel Jesus allows himself to be besieged by the wounded and broken of the world – and like Simon’s mother-in-law raises us up from pain to be servants of others healing. He calls our parish to be God’s ‘Field Hospital’ of hope, healing and welcome. He calls all of us to protest against global inequality of health-care revealed so graphically during this Covid Pandemic. Will be bring hope and healing to the poorest of the earth? Will we, as a parish, respond to the challenges that the aftermath of this pandemic will bring?

READER:             For the ways our words have wounded,  not healed;
                                   our hearts have hardened against another,
                                   not opened in caring and compassion, offering hope

                    LORD HAVE MERCY…

For the ways we have not valued and supported
those whose work is medicine, research or caring;
when we could have shared the burden and have not

                     CHRIST HAVE MERCY…

For the times we have been too preoccupied with self
                                 to reach out and listen to another’s pain, to touch the wounds;
                                 slow to respect every person, fail to be bearers of Gospel Light

                    LORD HAVE MERCY…

PRIEST:        O God of love without limit,
                           make us compassionate as you are compassionate;
                           Jesus,  come to bring us Life in all fullness
                                         makes us whole and holy;
                           Holy Spirit, breath of love and great Comforter,
                                         bind us together in unbreakable bonds
                                                   of a love that give Light and Hope
                            and so bring all Creation to everlasting life…  

                       AMEN!

FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B – MARKING WORLD DAY OF THE SICK

We pray that the Church of God will everywhere seek to be the field hospital where the wounded and hurting know they will be welcomed, accepted and held in caring and healing
                             [Reader]                 Lord we pray ….
                             RESPONSE:         HEAL YOUR BROKEN WORLD

We pray for all who lead and govern the nations, that they will lead us to peace not war, give priority to healthcare for all, respect all human life especially the most frail and vulnerable, and no longer traumatise their people with terror and war

                             [Reader]                 Lord we pray ….
                             RESPONSE:         HEAL YOUR BROKEN WORLD

We cry out for all who are broken and excluded because of their struggle with mental illness; for those whose poverty and oppression deny them the healthcare, the compassion and understanding they need to recover wholeness and peace; we pray in particular for the 73 million refugees and displaced persons world-wide who suffer trauma of war, injustice and terrible disruption of their lives with little healthcare or psychological support

                             [Reader]                 Lord we pray ….
                             RESPONSE:         HEAL YOUR BROKEN WORLD

We pray for all affected by this global Covid pandemic: those struggling to survive this illness; health and care workers exhausted by the avalanche of sickness; families caring for the sick in their own homes; those afflicted with deep mental trauma and turmoil; we pray also for all whose treatment for life-threatening illnesses has been delayed because of Covid

                             [Reader]                 Lord we pray ….
                             RESPONSE:         HEAL YOUR BROKEN WORLD

We pray for the renewal of the healing ministry of the Church: that we will ‘bow before the suffering and vulnerable’, walk with the excluded and greet with acceptance society’s outcasts … for those who counsel the wounded, listen to the burdened, bring light to those trapped in darkness; for those who befriend the isolated and pray with the sick, for all who strive to make parishes communities of Christ’s healing Light

                             [Reader]                 Lord we pray ….
                             RESPONSE:         HEAL YOUR BROKEN WORLD

We pray for all whose lives are darkened by broken relationships and devastating griefs; for any who despair because of painful memories or incurable physical illness; for those trapped in mental disorder or unending darkness – may they rediscover their dignity as beloved children of the Father. 

                             [Reader]                 Lord we pray ….
                             RESPONSE:         HEAL YOUR BROKEN WORLD

For the sick in our hospitals, the dying in our hospices and the elderly in our care homes, for those suffering from Covid, and for … ;
for those who have died recently, especially …  and all who have died of Covid, preventable diseases and the wounds of war|
for all whose anniversaries are at this time, especially …

                             [Reader]                 Lord we pray ….
                             RESPONSE:         HEAL YOUR BROKEN WORLD

We ask Mary, Sister of Compassion and Mother of the Wounded, to pray with us for our world…

                                                                    HAIL MARY…

We pray for all health workers, researchers and carers in a moment of silence…

Synagogue Address – Holocaust Memorial Day 2014

Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is nine years, almost to the day, since I stood in this very same pulpit to remember the recently deceased Sam Nirenberg, Bristol`s last direct link with the horrors of the holocaust.

 He had survived 2044 day in slavery. 

As a teenage boy he had witnessed many terrible things and had been forced literally to help bury more than 60,000 victims of the Nazis….. Forced at gun-point to bury the very evidence of the crimes that have given this day its name: Holocaust Memorial Day.

In some aspects the Holocaust is a unique event. Never before, and never since, had the extermination of a whole ancient people been made a central policy of government. Never before had whole communities, whole sections of the population,  religious minorities, ethnic minorities, social minorities, the disabled, the dissidents, all been loaded together into an industrial process of annihilation. Never before, had all the facilities of a world power been dedicated to such industrialised  destruction of civilian populations.  It was a particularly vast and well organised example of the type of event that now makes for bloody history books and thicker newspapers. 

How far back do we have to go? In each generation it has happened to someone…. somewhere. 

Ghengis Kahn probably killed a million people in the twelfth century. Simon De Montfort and his son, Simon Junior, in their so called crusade against the Albigensian  Heresy certainly killed 250,000 people including the inhabitants of the French cities of Albi and Carcassonne. When people cried out: ”You are killing the innocent:” De Montfort replied with the absolute confidence of the fanatic: “God will know his own.” 

Such is the product of Certainty. It was in such certainty, De Montfort Junior returned to England and to Leicester, where he put to death the Jewish community……before summoning the first English Parliament which also met in Leicester in 1266.

If these men didn`t have God on their side, they had the next best thing: Self-certainty. Who was it who said: “The opposite of Faith is not: disbelief. The opposite of faith is: un-questioning certainty!” Perhaps there really is more faith in an honest doubt than in half thy creeds.

 It is sometimes said that the holocaust was a collective crime, an institutional crime. But was it? How does it start? It finds its roots in individuals. I saw it in Yugoslavia, back in the late 1960s. Serbs and Croats were always willing to tell nasty stories about each other. 

It was always thus: First the rumours and murmuring in the street, then the scurrilous stories and newspaper articles. Next come the pseudo-scientific journals published by academics, who should know better, but rarely do. Then, the newly perceived grievances are added to old libels. The disorder in the streets soon follow, and it`s at that moment that someone in power decides it`s good political capital, and in no time at all you have corpses in mass graves; whilst the world press looks on with cameras going: click…… click…… click……….Something for the world`s breakfast table.

 And when we ask: How did this happen?  It`s like dealing with a committee. You think you are dealing with everyone, and suddenly you realise you are dealing with no one. “Every one was to blame”, is like saying: “No one was to blame.” “I was only obeying orders said one.” Another says:“ The others were doing it so I thought it would be safer for me if I joined in…” 

And then there are the others who just looked on. “We couldn`t do anything”, they say. “I was one individual watching the madness of others.” It`s almost a reasonable defence…Well, half-way there anyway.

  Some thirty years ago or perhaps a bit more, another person stood in this pulpit to give a sermon. He was Doctor Carlabach, brother of Rabbi Carlabach of Manchester, both were sons of the great Chief Rabbi, JosephCarlabach of Hamburg. On Kristalnacht, on 9th of November 1938, when synagogues, Jewish institutions, Jewish homes and Jewish businesses throughout Germany were sacked and burnt; on a night when any Jew caught in the street risked any fate between arrest and death;   Rabbi Carlebach, did not hide away. Quite the opposite: He went down to watch the storm troopers burning the great Borneplatz Synagogue. Inevitably, he was recognised by someone.

“Rabbi Carlabach, Rabbi Carlabach……What are you doing here? Get away before someone else sees you.” “No”, the Rabbi said, “I`m not going. I`m here to bear witness.”  The great Rabbi eventually perished alongside members of his congregation in the forests outside Riga, in 1942. But, his act of witness lived on and lives on again, with the telling. 

Our Sam Nirenberg witnessed a lot, too. Over the years he told me of some of the nightmare events that he had witnessed. It was the time when the slave labour camp at Cracow Plazow was being liquidated: ”Liquidated” Now,  there`s a weasel word if every you heard one……….

It was March 1944, and Nazi tyranny was having time to reflect, Things were no longer going to plan. But the last thing the tyrant surrenders is: his victim. And, the tyrant is usually a HIM and only very rarely a HER. Anyway, Sam and his fellow work unit had been ordered to dig deep pits in clearings in the forest. The Jews of Cracow Plazow were brought to the appointed killing place, stripped, brought to the edge of the pit in pairs, and shot. When each pit was full: Sam and his fellow slaves were told to back- fill it.

But all was not finished. The dead began to decay and as they decayed they swelled and as they swelled; the very pits heaved. Sam said: As high as a house. The earth herself,  creation herself…………had vomited the Nazi crime back into the daylight. Sam and his fellow victims were then told to cut down the forest, and build great pyres, then to dig up the dead and burn them: All Sixty  thousand of them. We can`t cope with number like that, can we?

So let`s get back into scale. Sam told me of one particular incident that had recurred in his mind for every day there after. When all those people were being shot, in pairs: There was one moment when an elderly couple were pulled forward; obviously they were husband and wife of many happier years………They held hands,looked each other in the eyes and smiled They almost embraced and  then they were gone. It was a moment of unmatched love that should echo through eternity. It was also a moment unmatched by even a single instant of mercy on the other side of that deadly machine gun. Yet, that couple was not forgotten. There was a witness who was destined to live and to pass the story on; as I now pass that story on to you six decades later, in the warm comfort of a beautiful building, in an orderly city, in a peaceful and mostly tolerant country.

But it`s not always like that for everyone, is it? No, the bleeding, bandaged fingers of humanity really do go wobbling back to the fire. Hitler`s ashes were hardly cold when hundreds of thousands died in the partitioning of India, train-loads of refugees slain on very the trains that were meant to take them to safety……..Less than two decades later we have Biafra: Nigeria`s civil war. Who now remembers the million people left to starve to death by an international political community that raised not a finger to save them. Then came the failure of Yugoslavia, where neighbours rounded up their neighbours of many generations. Men and boys were shot by other men and boys. Yet one more instance of young men and boys being sent by old men to commit the atrocities that they themselves are too old and too perfidious to perform. Now, there`s a form of abuse that too few are addressing. 

 When I had a shop in Leicester, we had a frequent visitor. His name was Sidney Brandon; and he was professor of Criminal Psychology at Leicester University. We didn`t see him for a few months, and then one day, he came back in. But, he was a changed man. He looked ill and he seemed unwilling to engage in any form of conversation. “Sidney, what`s wrong?” We eventually asked. “My faith in humanity is broken.” He replied. Then he went on: “It was in connection with my work as a criminal psychologist, that the government sent me on a fact finding mission: to Rwanda.” Where once again neighbour had butchered neighbour with machetes supplied as aid by foreign powers. Eight hundred thousand dead, in eight weeks. 

Poor old Sidney died a few weeks later: probably of a broken heart. Being a witness changes the witness, too. Four decades earlier, British troops liberating the Belsen concentration camp also found their lives changed by what they witnessed there.

What constitutes being a witness? We all read the newspapers and watch television. It`s easy to mutter our disapproval of old and new atrocities. But so often it become, at best, an intellectual exercise, or at the worst: a peep show on the misery of others. We see, we listen, but we don`t really hear; we don`t see with eyes and hearts open. We`ve all done it; me included. I was brought up amongst survivors, escapees and refugees. They all had their extraordinary stories to tell. Yes, I listened, I even remembered: but did I really hear and see? I could look into the abyss and then turn away. Then came the moment when the abyss looked into me, the moment when I became the witness.

 You don`t expect it on holiday do you? I was swanning around in Prague: just one of my ancestral cities. The old Jewish quarter was fascinating.  There is the cemetery, with its crowded grave stones. The Alt Neu Synagogue with the chair, the cahedra, of the mysterious, alchemical Rabbi Lowe. Then, back into the sunlit  street, ……and……. then I took three steps down out of the sunlight into the gloom of another ancient building: The Pinchas Synagogue. It is silent and empty now. The old men who once quietly studied the Talmud there are ashes, elsewhere. Then, my eyes were opened as I stared round the walls of a building nearly as large as this one. The walls are covered from floor to roof in neatly painted line upon line of names and dates. Seventy seven thousand, two hundred and ninety seven names, of men women and children; with the dates that they were born and the dates when they were murdered. The writing was a labour of love by the artist Vaclav Bostik, in the 1950s. The communist regime responded by closing the building to the public. There the name still there: The Jews of Moravia and Bohemia.

Is it strange how your eyes are opened when they are blinded with tears? Eventually, I found the names of members of my own family. There were no prayers, no words to be said; not in that place. I was looking into the abyss and the abyss was looking back into me. We can all look into the abyss and give ourselves a gratifying little fright. But the moment of vulnerability: the moment of utter loneliness; the moment of utter alone-ness. That is the moment when the abyss presents us back to ourselves.

So, where does that leave me…and you? At some time, most of us face petty tyrannies, small time evil men. It can be frightening enough just standing up to them, Can`t it? You have to admire the witness who steps up into the witness box in even this country, to tell the truth about some gangster being called to account. And what can we do, when we see evil on the vast scale? It`s going on even as I speak to you: its going on in Sudan, in Saharan Africa, in Syria, almost secretly in Burma and there is nothing physically that we, here tonight, can do to stop it. After all, it took the armed forces of three world powers to bring Nazism down; and it took NATO to side-step the European Union to bring the carnage in Bosnia to a stop. None of us here tonight can stop what goes on. When the tyrants have taken power it takes a great deal to dislodge them.

But there is something else you can do and it is something that tyrants really fear. You can stop just passively watching what happens. You can step forward and be prepared to bear witness. Tyrants hate witnesses. Witnesses remind them that they are not all-powerful and, that they may one day be called upon to give an account. Without witnesses there can be no justice, and without justice there is no reconciliation. and without reconciliation there can be no peace.

 By Justice: I do not mean revenge. Justice: is when the perpetuator of evil is called to account………..Justice: is in the verdict of the court. There is no such thing as condign retribution for the heinous crime of mass-murder. Hanging a war criminal never brought a single victim back from the dead. Punishment, when meted out. is our only effective way of drawing a line beneath an appalling event. It leaves those who did evil, to remain in the personal hell of knowing that their will to do even more evil is frustrated: by Justice. Thus, we clear the way for the world to reconcile.

 Of course, Reconciliation may not occur for years or even decades. I remember well the unease that was felt in so many quarters when: in the early 1960s, Israel and Germany finally established diplomatic recognition. What is certainly is that after justice and reconciliation…and the difficult peace; eventually, there comes the easier peace. That`s the peace where no one need be afraid.

Reconciliation can be hard. Look closer to home: look at the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland. A difficult peace is still better than a nasty little war………..and a lot better than old men bequeathing their grudges to misled and morally abused young men dressed in baggy, ill-fitting uniforms. Young men who would do so much better for themselves and others, if they just stayed at home and dressed in purple hair and outlandish clothing: even if only to irritate their parents and teachers. 

The other day, I read an old rabbinic comment. It said, that if we failed to greet even a stranger with the traditional greeting of: “Peace”or ”Shalom”, in Hebrew; we were committing a form of robbery because we rob the stranger of his self dignity. As it said: The greeting is: “Peace”………..It`s “Salam” in Arabic…………”Shalom”,  in Hebrew.

So, tonight: I wish you all:  “Shalom.”