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Remembrance Sunday is back. We remember many things on that day: the sacrifice and heroism of so many, the untold suffering of so many others, the senseless cruelty “justified” by ideological dogma, the stories of compassion which emerged despite the hatred engulfing nations.

Yet the fratricidal hatred is also back. Is it not, then, really “Amnesia Sunday” which approaches? For it seems as if the lessons we thought we had learnt, and say we have learnt, and which led to the establishment of the United Nations and of International Humanitarian Law, have in fact been forgotten. Old wounds have opened up again. They are bleeding copiously from the maimed and murdered innocent victims of the “will to power” and to annihilate. What we seem in fact to have remembered, and rendered more sophisticated, are the means of killing, not how to heal and to reconcile.

I once attended some UN meetings on human rights in the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The assembly hall was filled with delegations from all member nations of the UN, and numerous representatives from observer nations and non-governmental organisations (NGO’s). It was in 1948 that the UN had passed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. After that, many other instruments were passed by the UN, to refine the meaning and implications of that Universal Declaration.

Although much has been achieved in 75 years, and the culture of human rights has expanded in important ways, the reality at those UN meetings was that, in the event of friction, political concerns always trumped human rights. Frequently, there was a lack of “political will” to get measures through which would more effectively promote human rights. Economic, commercial and military priorities dwarfed humanitarian concerns. So-called Realpolitik meant that the real human person, individually or collectively, was simply not made the centre and foundation of the international order.

So, Remembrance Sunday! The world would indeed do well to remember that, without the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, there is no world order. This annual recurrence should be a day to stop and take stock: am I, are we, truly centring our society in all its permutations on the dignity of the human person? If we did that, then our honouring of the fallen would be more than a civic gesture. It would be an effective recognition that their sacrifice had really not been in vain.

Mgr. Peter Magee   The above article was published in the Largs and Millport Weekly News, edition of 8th November 2023.