The fragile flame of hope


Roger Dawson SJ, chaplain to the Help for Heroes bike ride

Last Monday a candle was lit at the Parc du Cinquantenaire  in Brussels.  This flame has burnt in the Chapel of the Resurrection over this last week as we have cycled from Brussels to where the first shot of the First World War was fired, through the Somme battlefields, past Compiegne where the Armistice was signed in 1918 to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  We have passed through places of great beauty and peace, which once were scenes of devastation and horror.  We have laughed with friends and many have shed tears at the tragedies we have seen and the stories we have heard.  At ceremonies each day we have kept silence and promised to remember. 

All through this week that flame in Brussels has burned.  Today we have joined with other cyclists from Edinburgh, Cardiff and Manchester, and the Dawn Raid riders from Tidworth who set off to cycle one hundred miles at 2am this morning to arrive at this solemn place where each year the Queen and the nation keeps silence and remembers. 

And what do we remember? Certainly the fallen and the war dead, but also the living, especially those who are wounded in the service of their country; and to remember with gratitude what we have and what we want to protect.  We are fortunate to live in this remarkable country, where you can say what you want and you won’t be found dead in a ditch; where we have free education and free health care.  That is extraordinary – not just in the history of the world, but also in our current world.  Young men and women have suffered and sacrificed to protect that.  We have the privilege of being among some of them now. 

The candle in Brussels burns out tomorrow.  The other flame lit by Bryn and Emma Parry just seven years ago fired the public imagination and has lit thousands of other fires, raising over £200m in less than seven years and giving enduring hope to thousands of others.  And they have made us remember: that we too have a responsibility to those who have been hurt or injured in the service of their country.  This flame is fragile and must be kept burning, so that we do not fail or forget them.  We will remember them, and we must not keep silent, especially for those who would otherwise have no voice, so that they can have a life and a future worthy of them and worth hoping for.  Life may be a right, but it is also a privilege that we must continue to protect. 

Help for Heroes provides hope for heroes – and hope for the rest of us too: that there can be a better future, rather than the one we fear, a life and a world we can look forward to; that perhaps I can be a better person, the one that God created us to be, not the one we fear we might become.  The Old Testament prophet Micah calls us to ‘act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.’  Justice in action for a great cause, love and compassion, walking – or cycling – humbly, combined with great hope: that is what we have witnessed and been part of over these past few days.  No wonder we are inspired; some may even have felt the touch of God; no wonder we are moved.  We will remember; we won’t keep silent. 

St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, himself an injured soldier who was hit by a cannonball said this: Keep your soul in peace.  Let God work in you.  Welcome thoughts that raise your heart to God; and open wide the window of your soul.

Fr Roger Dawson's words at the Cenotaph on Sunday 8th June 2014