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Birthed through reconciliation

IN EUROPE MAY THE EIGHTH IS STILL IN ITS DYING MOMENTS AS DAWN BREAKS IN NEW ZEALAND; THE FLAG OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, BLUE WITH A CIRCLE OF YELLOW STARS, IS HOISTED OVER THE AUCKLAND HARBOUR BRIDGE-TO MARK EUROPE DAY, MAY THE NINTH.

On our last week of a Pacific furlough, we are intrigued by this acknowledgement down-under of the events leading to the forming of the European Union, beginning 56 years ago. Too few know the wonderful story of forgiveness and reconciliation behind Europe Day. It’s a story I have often told before, but it’s worth telling annually.

After the Second World War, some ninety-five Swiss Christian families pooled their life-savings to purchase a derelict hotel high in the mountains in Caux, above Montreux overlooking Lake Geneva. Their vision was to open a refuge of hope, a Centre for the Reconciliation of the Nations.

Behind this vision was an evangelist named Frank Buchman. An American with a German background, Buchman was acutely aware that if Germany was not embraced by Christian forgiveness and reconciliation, godless forces of anarchy or communism could fill the post-war vacuum.

Buchman invited a French woman, Irène Laure, a socialist member of the Resistance, to attend one of the first conferences in this centre. Her husband and sons had been killed by the Germans. So when she discovered Germans at this conference, she stormed off to pack her bags.

But Buchman persuaded her first to lunch with the widow of Adam von Trott, co-conspirator with Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the abortive plot to kill Hitler. Mme Laure reluctantly listened to the German woman’s story: of how her husband had been hanged by the Nazis, and her children had been taken away from her, given new names and put in children’s homes. As the two women shared their mutual sufferings, they were tearfully reconciled.

The next day, Mme Laure confessed to the whole conference, “I hated Germany so much I wanted to see it erased from the map of Europe! But I have seen here that my hatred was wrong. I want to ask all the Germans present to forgive me.”

Among those Germans present was Dr Konrad Adenauer, the future West German chancellor. The message of forgiveness and reconciliation taught by Buchman and demonstrated by Mme Laure affected him and his countrymen deeply. He invited Mme Laure to share her story all across West Germany. Buchman’s movement, Moral Re-Armament, sent many teams to bring the message of forgiveness to Germany through travelling musical shows. In the heavy industry area of the Ruhr, Marxist trade union leaders were converted. The resulting moral transformation was seen as a significant factor in the recovery of post-war Germany.

Later, the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, also met Buchman and visited the centre in Caux. He confided to the evangelist that he was discouraged and was considering retirement. Yet, something told him his life task still lay ahead, that of reconciling France and Germany.

“But which Germans can I trust?” he asked his new friend. Buchman encouraged both Schuman and Adenauer (who had once called the Frenchman a ‘lying Alsatian’) to trust each other.

This trust culminated in a bold plan, proposed by Schuman, to integrate the coal and steel industries of France and Germany, and of any other European country wishing to join. Since these industries would be the motor of any potential military machine, future war between the nations would be rendered permanently impossible.

The Schuman Plan, presented on May 9, 1950, gave birth to the European Coal and Steel Community, ECSC, the first major step toward today’s European Union. The anniversary of this event is now known as Europe Day, celebrated annually throughout the European Union.

And, surprisingly, even on the other side of the world!

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

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