Hold on to Peace - Image courtesy Ira Mitchell-Kirk

Hold on to Peace - Image courtesy Ira Mitchell-Kirk

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas with the troops all over the world.

While we think of the troops overseas away from families, fighting because they believe they must, so too are many peace workers away from home and in dangerous situations. Peace is more than a prayer at Christmas time, a fleeting thought amongst the festivities. John Lennon's "So This is Christmas" is sobering and challenging.

Working for Peace:
This group of young German, Italian and Polish students listen to the veterans, visit the battlefields and cemeteries and share prayers for peace (Cassino, October 2010).

The need to work for peace is greater than ever before.


As we eat our Christmas chocolate, do we spare a thought for where it came from? It might be a shock to learn that the home of 40% of the world supply of cocoa is currently on the brink of war, or, depending on your definition, is at war. Your Christmas treats, hard earned, may cost you much more soon. It will hit your pocket, but will it also hit your heart?

Wars continue, often unnoticed as we pursue our busy lives. When it hits us in our wallets, or in our supplies of things we consider to be our normal right, does it bring it home to us a little more?

This link to the BIPPI website gives a glimpse of how much work needs to be done to have any chance of peace and harmony, for people to be able to live in peace. Peace is not merely an absence of war, but as fervent peace worker Bruno Picozzi puts it, "Peace is what happens when all peoples are free to develop themselves in the way they want, without having to fight for their rights." (Bruno Picozzi)

Yesterday I was reading of a war I hadn't even noticed evolving. Other nationals are being urged to leave the Ivory Coast as civil unrest verges on civil war. Power, it seems, was linked to cocoa production.

Today I made the usual Christmas treats, New Zealand recipes to take to Italian homes. Cocoa featured in many of them. The cocoa powder spilt on my bench "runner" refused to brush off easily, remaining for now a stain the colour of dried blood. It's not that I am bent on focusing on the brutality of war, in fact I much prefer to focus on peace. But living as I do between the Gustav Line and the Hitler Line, visited by historians and tourists wanting to know more about the history, it is difficult to extract myself from the sorrow of the history at times.


My father tells of spending a wartime Christmas in Italy with his two brothers, where they celebrated by sharing a bottle of brandy. How lucky they were to be able to reach one another from their respective locations. My favourite story is his Christmas pudding story. This arrived too late for Christmas, so was being saved for a special occasion. That occasion arrived on the following Good Friday, when he survived being buried alive in an aerial attack on the Allied troops behind Mt Trocchio at Cassino.

So, this Christmas, let's not just look at the Christmas stories of WWII, but, as Katherine Jenkins does so beautifully, spare a thought for all those engaged in combat wherever they are, for what ever motive, this Christmas. This Youtube tribute to Katherine's work gives a glimpse of what continues today, from a more peaceful perspective. Art, music, writing... it all makes a difference. Whether or not troops should be where they are is for each of us to evaluate according to our own beliefs, but the fact remains that war continues and we must use every talent we possess to ease the suffering that continues today.

As I watch former foes greet one another as friends, German veterans and Polish veterans embracing as they remember their battles, I think of the magical song "Silent Night". In 1965 I learnt the original German version of Silent Night. Then only 20 years after the war, it was still too soon for Kiwi soldiers to be hearing it and was controversial for it to be taught in schools. Now we look at a peaceful Europe and wonder how could once have been so torn by war.

There is hope. But it seems that building peace takes more effort than going to war.

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