Singing and praying for peace has always been a part of Catholic days. Not least because they assert themselves that they are on the right side. But what is the correct aspect of a Christian perspective when Ukraine demands heavy weapons to defend itself against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression?
First of all, of course, there is great sympathy for the refugees, some of whom are with us in Stuttgart. Ermi Stetter-Carp, Chairman of the Central Committee of German Catholics, is moved by a voice heard at the Peace March on Catholic Day:
“Dear Ukrainians, rest assured that we share your grief over the many dead and wounded. We share the despair of the injustice caused by this war imposed on you by Russia.”
Confidence in the work of civil peace
Like many others in Stuttgart, Ermi Stetter-Karp seeks answers in the face of the Ukraine war, for guidance from a Christian perspective: “Defense works to restore peace. Officials struggle every day to ensure that the means are proportionate. Civilian peace work plays a role. In this role we cannot imagine in times when firearms speak. We Christians must continue to place our faith in this work of civil peace.”
Civilian before military: This has always been the principle of Christian pacifism. In his general social encyclical “Fratelli Totti” a year and a half ago, Pope Francis criticized political tendencies to legitimize military conflicts with a certain folly: war cannot be considered a solution.
But what does that mean in light of experiences like those of a Ukrainian mother who just ran away from Bucha with her daughter whom she talks about on stage — with the help of an interpreter.
“She wrapped her daughter Sophie sitting here in shawls and clothes so that the Russian soldiers wouldn’t see that she was a little girl so they wouldn’t hurt her. And when they ran away, they just begged you not to shoot them in the back.”
Your peaceful heart
He’s calling for a truce to give diplomacy a chance. The Pope was also asked to act as a mediator. Pax Christi clearly rejects a massive military build-up in Ukraine:
“Heavy weapons are not the solution. Behind every weapon there is a person, and in front of every artillery barrel there are many people. These are visions, dreams and hopes destroyed in one fell swoop, and this should not happen.”
Pax Christi-Mann Koenig says the call for more and more guns has become too loud for him in Germany: warlike rhetoric is spreading. So what is to be done from the point of view of the peace movement?
“Now we have to prepare for peace during the war. We have to work in politics and in the church. That Russians and Ukrainians meet on an equal footing and at the level of the heart. Weapons don’t help at all.”
It does not work without military protection
Church groups are the pillar of the peace movement. They support disarmament, against arms exports, and conflict prevention. Suddenly in tension that their demands exceeded reality.
On an ecumenical board, the evangelical Bishop of Württemberg, Uttfried July, posed the question: “Should we, as churches, rethink our positions on the ethics of peace, hard-earned over the years, after we have all been shocked and how?”
Regional Bishop Julio puts the question in a broader context and states that war and violence have been a terrible part of daily life in other parts of the world for so long. His conclusion: it will not succeed without military protection. The evangelical bishop says he is not a radical pacifist and reports on his trips to Africa.
“I flew over the cavalry militia that was attacking women in northern Sudan. I almost prayed that Operation Blue Helmets was also possible with weapons. Or I was in the Boko Haram area two years ago, where there is a church that was stormed before. I was under military protection there. If Accept that, I am no longer a radical pacifist.”
Protect the innocent with guns
Haberlag is the national vice president of the Catholic Soldiers Association. The association holds that peace means more than the absence of war, that people should be able to thrive with dignity and that social justice must be promoted. That is why Catholic Juliana Haberlag became a soldier.
“As a Christian, I stand up for others. Being a soldier gives me the opportunity to help my neighbor in completely different ways, and I think she has a very deep Christian background in the end.”
The Christian view leads to different conclusions. For all the horror, it’s also about giving people hope during Catholic Day, says Jerrold Koenig of Pax Christi.
At least that’s where singing and prayer help, says Juliana Haberlag. “I think prayer and singing only give security: I’m not alone in my needs. Our songs are heard, and the officials know we want something else.”