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REVERAND CHARLES PATRICK'S SERMON

Last weekend I was in Bruges, in Belgium, together with a group of six others from the parish. We are looking to develop a link with the Roman Catholic parish of Koekelare, just to the west of Bruges. I think we were all agreed, it is not a bad place to make a link with: The Belgians love their food, and of course, their beer and their chocolate! And Bruges is, also, a very beautiful city!

Whilst we were there we had a wonderful day in Bruges, but we were also taken to some other sites in Belgium, which reminded us that they are that small country in northern Europe, which was trampled through by invading armies in both in the 1st and the 2nd World Wars.

Last Saturday evening, we were taken to the famous ‘Menin Gate’ in Ypres, where over 50,000 names are inscribed on a great monument, honouring those who fell, but have no marked grave. We joined probably a thousand other people, on what is a nightly ritual for the ‘sounding of the last post’, and the gradual internal lighting of this amazing structure. It was a very moving ceremony.

And then, on the Sunday afternoon, we were taken to ‘Tyne Cot cemetery’, on the outskirts of Ypres. It is so-called because of its connection with Newcastle, through the Northumberland regiment that was at the heart of the fighting there. It is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, and marks the place where the Third Battle of Ypres, otherwise known as the battle of Passchendaele, took place. There are some 8,900 British graves there, besides those of Australians, Canadians and others.

It is very sobering to visit these places. And what struck me very clearly on this visit was the depth of the sacrifice that these men made on behalf of the rest of us. Right at the heart of Europe is this string of cemeteries, marking the blood shed by these men, on our behalf, and to assure our freedom.

There was of course the hope at the end of the 1st World War, with the depth of the tragedy that had unfolded, that it would be a ‘war to end all wars’. Sadly that was not to be the case, in many ways because the 1st World War had not been fully resolved; within twenty years, the world was at war once again.

Indeed it was, of course, in the month of September, of 1939, exactly 70 years ago, that Hitler invaded Poland and the 2nd World War began, and that proud land also got trampled by invading armies.

And it is about 70 years to the day that an exodus began from that land of the Polish Armed Forces, which saw Poles spread around the world; leading to some pilots and aircrew, ending up here in Faldingworth to continue their heroic fight for the freedom of their land, and that of their people. It is that anniversary that we remember especially now as we meet together today.

And so unfolded another World War, which lasted for six years and the repercussions of which, especially for the Polish people, lasted much longer than that. For many families their lives were forever disrupted, and of those who came to England, many were destined never to return to their homeland. And, once again, many millions gave their lives as a sacrifice for the sake of Europe and the world.

Indeed, in the same way that we can visit the cemeteries of the 1st World War, so we can visit many cemeteries across the whole of Europe, as well as in Africa and the Far East, to those who gave their lives in this second great conflict. And no doubt many of us have done just that?

Indeed, in that same spirit, this afternoon we will go on to the airfield here at Faldingworth and lay pieces of aircraft retrieved from four different sites across Europe, to be placed into the memorial there; and we will remember the sacrifice they made against tyranny.

Somewhere, last weekend I read a piece about a soldier in battle, and how in many ways their actions are Christ-like, in so far as they are caught up in that greater sacrifice for the sake of others.

The battlefield has that echo of that other sacrifice that we are mindful of whenever we meet together in an act of worship, the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. For we remember how He gave of Himself, dying for us on the cross, in order that we might have new life through Him and freedom from our sins. In the words of the children’s hymn writer:

‘We may not know, we cannot tell,
what pains he had to bear,
but we believe it was for us
he hung and suffered there.

He died that we might be forgiven,
he died to make us good,
that we might go at last to heaven,
saved by his precious blood.’

And so we give thanks and praise and glorify His name for that redeeming sacrifice, which we remember whenever we have a service and especially as we go to Mass and receive Holy Communion!

And as we come to remember, especially those who gave their lives, serving from this airfield, we recognise that their sacrifice was real, and it was for our freedom.

Through their actions, we can travel freely across the continent, even for the weekend. There is a new Europe, where people can express themselves, vote as they wish and travel as they will.

Belgium is now at the centre of that new Europe. It is home to the European Parliament, where mercifully people have learnt to talk with one another.

And, since the 1st May 2004, Poland has been a member of that same European union, and enjoys those same privileges.

It is clear as we visit the ‘fields of Flanders’ and as we remember the many battles of the 2nd World War that a very great sacrifice was made for our freedom there. We do well to honour that sacrifice, and remember, as we do today, those who made it on our behalf.

We remember, and give thanks, for all those who in love gave their lives for their friends. Amen.

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