The Normandy Landings and the politics of hate and exclusion

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On Thursday 6 June it was celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy landings. This important event, which occurred on Tuesday 6 June 1944, started the process of the Nazi tyranny ending by the Allies. In history this invasion is referred to as D-Day. Codenamed Operation Neptune, history has it as the largest seaborne invasion ever.

The Nazi propaganda put the nation before anything else. Upholding the idea of eugenics, Nazism considered the selective breeding of humans in order to pass along desired characteristics, as is performed with domestic animals such as race horses. This horrendous practice was committed to advocate sterilization of people that were deemed as inferior. On the other hand, the Nazis adopted social Darwinism as well. What they did was to apply Darwin’s work in the people’s social affairs. In practice, this meant promoting a kind of living wherein only the best had a place to live. Thus, only might makes right. Seen from this perspective this internal social struggle reflected a much wider vision of reality which incorporated social competitions among races and countries. The winner of such rival contests was crowned by the state as the most powerful race. They, in fact, were the height of nature’s development. The misuse of Darwin ideas was instrumentalized to justify such a heinous philosophy which propagated racism and national pride.

It was against this abhorrent system of destructive unchecked power that the Normandy landings are to be understood and valued. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in his address during his meeting with H.M. Queen Elizabeth at Holyroodhouse Palace in Edinburgh, on Thursday 16 September 2010, “the Nazi tyranny … wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live”.

After 75 years of history the need was felt again to commemorate this great day which brought freedom and peace in our European continent. For that matter, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings (June 6, 1944), Pope Francis paid his respects by sending his Message of Peace and Homage for this important anniversary. In its introductory sentence the Holy Father openly acknowledged “that the landings on June 6, 1944, right here in Normandy, were decisive in the fight against the Nazi barbarity and enabled to open the way, at the end of this War, bruised Europe and the world so profoundly”. While remembering with gratefulness “all the soldiers that, coming from several countries, including France, had the courage to commit themselves and to give their life for freedom and peace” the Pope also prayed for “the millions of victims of this War, not forgetting those that, on the German side, fought in obedience to a regime animated by a deadly ideology”. He entrusted all these victims “to the infinitely merciful love of the Lord”.

In his message Pope Francis wholeheartedly expressed his wish “that this commemoration will enable all generations, in Europe and in the world, to reaffirm forcefully that peace is founded on respect for each person, regardless of his history, on respect of the law and of the common good, of the creation that was entrusted to us and the moral richness transmitted by past generations.” The Holy Father prayed to the Lord for “Christians of all Confessions, with believers of other religions and men of good will” to make them instruments of His healing by making them protagonists in “promot[ing] a veritable universal fraternity, fostering a culture of encounter and of dialogue, attentive to the little ones and the poor”.

Contemporary history is constantly showing that not everybody is open to this message of hope and reconciliation which Pope Francis is eagerly propagating. Thus, the recent growing support for far-right movements has called once again the attention of returning back to it and keep repeating it all the more. In this backdrop, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Malta felt its responsibility to reiterate on the Catholics sacrosanct duty of opposing any kind of politics that advocates hate and exclusion. No one is to be excluded in our society, be they migrants and Muslims and people of whatever faith or non-faith they might uphold.

In its statement which denounced different forms of politics of exclusion, fears and anxieties concerning quick cultural and demographic developments, nationalistic and Islamophobic rhetoric and the pattern of confrontational nationalism, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Malta highlighted that “the Christian tradition helps shape a counter-narrative based on solidarity and hospitality as well as on our common humanity and dignity”. Furthermore, the Commission recalled that “the principle of the common good, as formulated in Catholic social teaching, fundamentally challenges a culture that prioritises personal interest over solidarity with the weak and marginalised, or narrow national interest over global concern”. The Commission statement made it clear that while “it might be tempting to believe that ‘good fences make good neighbours’, history teaches us that ‘those who build walls will become prisoners of the walls they put up.’”

In its catechetical message, the Commission lauded Pope Francis’ life witness “of what it means to be Catholic and foster, in words and deeds, a culture of encounter and solidarity that counters a culture of fear and exclusion”. The statement mentioned “his visit to Lampedusa, to travelling back to the Vatican with a group of asylum-seekers from Lesbos, to the washing of the feet of a group of Muslim men and women”. The Holy Father “has led by example”. Moreover, it also brought into attention what the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar said in their joint document: Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together: “Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings (equal on account of his mercy), believers are called to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need”.

The document stressed that authentic protection of ‘Catholic identity’ implies building a future based “on justice, love, solidarity and openness”. So we, as Christians, our duty “towards migrants can be articulated around four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.” Thus, as the statement says, “integrating does not mean assimilating, but sharing the way of life of their new homeland, while they themselves remain as individuals, with their own biographical history. In this way, migrants can present themselves and be recognised as an opportunity to enrich the people that integrates them”.

The statement concluded that true Catholic identity is easily detectable by the living of Jesus’ words, as found in Johannine Gospel: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:35). Fear, exclusion and hatred simply do not feature in the saving Gospel message.

In his interesting book Russia and the Universal Church, the Russian philosopher and theologian, Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov (1853-1900), writes: “But if the faith communicated by the Church to Christian humanity is a living faith, and if the grace of the sacraments is an effectual grace, the resultant union of the divine and the human cannot be limited to the special domain of religion, but must extend to all Man’s common relationships and must regenerate and transform his social and political life”.

The statement by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Malta shows a Church that offers Christ’s regenerating and transforming love to our struggling social and political life. Such an attempt is to be appreciated and listened to with great humility, respect, docility and applied with the utmost dutiful commitment.

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

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