FAITH MATTERS: War and Spirituality

Every year as we approach Anzac Day my thoughts are with all those who have experienced war, be they combatants, victims, or those on the periphery.  In 2024 there are two major conflicts at the forefront of the news cycle, with others happening and not receiving much media attention.

Whilst Australian defence personnel are not directly involved in these conflicts, there are Australians being affected by these, they have family and friends living in the war-torn areas, they are aid workers, or like me a family member is part of the UN (Irish) Peacekeeping force in the Middle East.

The fear for people’s physical health and safety is ever-present, more focus is now placed on the mental health of all those affected by war, but what of the spiritual health? I have read numerous academic articles in relation to war and spiritual health, but I have questions. For me to gain a greater understanding of this topic is through relationship, I learn and understand through story.

Those who fought in World War One, World War Two, and Korea are mostly deceased. Whilst some of these veterans told their story and were willing to participate in discussions, many could not. I know that my mother-in-law knows little about her father’s involvement in World War Two, he just wouldn’t talk about it, and this was true of so many of that era, fathers, uncles’ brothers who just never spoke of what they had seen, heard, smelt, and felt. I know of a family story from the Vietnam era, and the experience with the conscription “lottery”. The subsequent visits by military police to the family home, the son who was peace loving, an altar boy, named for a saint, the lad who to this day does not speak of this part of his life. He avoided becoming a “nasho”, but at what cost to his spiritual life? I can’t ask him, for fear of creating angst, disrupting the peaceful existence he has created of wife, children, grandchildren, rural property, cattle and gardens.

Sixteen years ago, this month, I traveled through Europe with my husband and baby daughter. With both my husband & I being history buffs we visited many battlefields, war memorials and museums. I, being a new mum and pregnant with child number two was often teary with the sight of fertile fields in Belgium and northern France. I was walking on ground that had soaked up the blood of innocent women and children living in farms and towns that were in the way of the war machines, of young men far from home, praying and crying out for their mother, their God, as they died surrounded by the mud, the sounds of battle and the cries of others. I found in one of the small graveyards at Fromelles a list of the names and addresses of the soldiers thought to be buried there and I cried for the family of the lad who came from Macquarie Street, Merewether, a street I drove through each day. I thought of the impact his death had on his family, so very far away. Did they lose the baby of the family? Was he betrothed? Did they ever know what really happened to him? Were they ever able to believe in a loving God, when they had lost so much in a war fought in a distant place?

I can’t ask those questions as that family is long gone, (I know, because I went looking for information about them when we came back to Australia). There are many stories of war and the impact on people’s lives, there are books, diaries, newspaper articles and even oral history projects that have recorded these stories. How many times have you read or listened to such a story and had questions? Did you need more detail to understand more fully? Did you feel the need to offer comfort to the storyteller? Did you want to interact with the story in a more meaningful way?

With a Human Library we have the opportunity to hear the story and ask the questions that arise as we interact with living books. Human Libraries are a worldwide movement aiming to create a real connection between people, facilitate a greater acceptance, tolerance and social cohesion in the community and cultivating empathy and respect for others. On Friday, April 26, the Diocesan Library will hold the first Human Library event, the theme being War and Spirituality. Our books are 2 members of our Diocesan family, each has experienced war and the effects of war. One in the military and one as an innocent person living in a war zone. They are both people of faith. How have they maintained their faith in a space that can be so destructive to our belief in God? Did they ever struggle with their faith in the face of what they experienced? Do they ever feel fear now when they are safe from the physical aspect of war? What impact did their experience of war have on their family?

We invite you to come and listen to their stories, to ask the questions, to share and create relationships and forge empathy. For in empathy, we can help to create peace in our world, one small moment at a time.


Date: Friday 26 April, 2024
Time: 10.30am -12.30pm
Place: Diocesan Resource Centre Library - 12 Tudor Street, Cnr Parry Street, Newcastle West
Bookings Encouraged:

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