January is the month of Holocaust Memorial Day and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and both of them are really about how human beings live together throughout the world. January 27th is the anniversary of the liberation of Aushwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps, and therefore a day to remember the slaughter of 6 million Jewish people in an attempt to exterminate all Jews. But it is much more than that, partly because we mustn’t forget that maybe 250,000 homosexual people, 250,000 disabled people, many Roma people and other minority groups, that were also slaughtered, by the Nazis. And it doesn’t stop with the Nazis: well over a million Armenian civilians were murdered during the First World War; over two million people died in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979; over a million Tutsi people in Rwanda in 1994; 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Bosnia in July 1995; the continuing civil war in Dafur has claimed up to half a million civilian lives. And what can we say of Syria? In the UK during 2015, there were over 900 antisemitic incidents, about 2,500 hate crimes against Muslims, 5,500 attacks because of the victim’s sexuality and 2,500 because of the victim was disabled. Since June last year, the number of crimes against immigrant people has greatly increased. Why are human beings capable of doing such things?
The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day is “How can life go on?” How can those who have experienced the victimization demonstrated by these statistics, live now? How can all of us change to turn away from this hatred and violence and realize that blaming and victimizing other people for our perceived misfortunes will never benefit us.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a positive response to the scandal of division among Christian Churches. Mostly the divisions are cultural and administrative, although perhaps a few disagreements are more fundamental. But the importance of Christian unity is because Christians believe that God’s will is for the unity of all human beings. God loves us, and loves every other person as much as he loves us. Divided Churches are a bad example, but the prayer of all Christians is that all human beings may be united in love. Whether we pray or not, that’s a worthwhile ambition for us all, and it is the only hope for overcoming all the hatred and violence that destroys human lives.
Canon Chris Ivory
Kings Lynn Minster