Bells of peace call for unity in Europe
Long ago, the Nazis stole church bells from churches all over Germany, even from the former East German territories, in order to secure metal reserves and to serve as raw material for war equipment. One-fifth of these bells eluded destruction and were hung in West German churches after World War II. In September of this year, the initiative "Bells of Peace for Europe" was launched, to which Sister Faustina, a Schoenstatt Sister from Poland who works in Germany, belongs. The initiative has set out to return stolen bells to Poland and the Czech Republic and to organize the production of replacement bells for churches in Germany.
Claudia Brehm / Sr. Faustina Niestroj
Bells of Peace for Europe: an initiative that inspires hope
During World War II, beginning in 1940, the German armaments industry converted some 100,000 bells into weapons and ammunition. Some of these bells survived the Second World War. They were loaned to German churches in the years after the war, according to current government documents.
Facing the past with a glance towards the future
The project focuses on the coexistence of the peoples of Europe, based on the Christian message and the Gospel. On the one hand, Bells of Peace for Europe is a kind of reconciliation with the past, but at the same time it is strongly oriented towards the future. It is about weaving a network of unity, mutual trust, and encounter between countries.
With the initiative of the diocesan bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Dr. Gebhard Fürst, some 54 church bells abandoned after the war are to be returned to their original towers in the areas of present-day Poland and the Czech Republic.
In the Maria Hilfe der Christen church in Nürtingen, Germany, there was one bell from Poland and one from the Czech Republic. The fact that the bells belonging to two countries were in the same church was something unique and led to the decision to choose this place as the starting point of the peace project.
On September 24, the handing over of the bells was celebrated at a festive mass with the corresponding bishops from Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic, as well as a delegation of nine priests from Ermland, Joseph Engling’s homeland.
The citizens of Germany and Poland celebrated a festive community service that clearly expressed that the Christian faith of the Church brings former enemies together around the Lord’s table as brothers and sisters. The day provided an opportunity to establish contacts and bonds of friendship. Appreciation for one another was awakened.
Bishop Fürst from Germany reported enthusiastically about the subsequent visit to Poland: “In Poland I experienced the great, emotionally deep meaning that this festive event has for the people. We foreigners were welcomed as German brothers and sisters in faith and as friends. I was able to experience that the painful and unjust wartime history of this bell finally turned it into a symbol of hope, international understanding and peace.”
The symbolism of the peace bells
For each bell that is returned, a replacement bell will be recast and decorated with the peace symbol. The artist Massimiliano Pironti created a motif that inspires and conveys a message. This is how he explains his work:
“The two doves, the rays, the wreath of stars and the prayer for peace are related to each other and form a union. The image shows how peace is both a task for human beings and a gift from God. The dove that comes from above and brings the olive branch – the symbol of peace – to others is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. God spreads his love through the Holy Spirit into the world and wants to establish a relationship. The rays are an expression of trust and joy in the peace that expands everywhere from the encounter and acceptance of the Holy Spirit, spreading courage through his witnesses. The wreath of twelve stars represents the European Union, but also unity, harmony, and perfection in peace. The wreath of stars also stands for Mary, the Mother of the Church. The Church, as a community of believers, is given the task to protect the peace.
The prayer in the wreath of stars is a call for reconciliation and peace in Europe through the Prince of Peace Jesus Christ, our Lord: EXORO RECONCILIATIONEM ET PACEM IN EUROPA PER DOMINUM NOSTRUM IESUM CHRISTUM PRINCIPEM PACIS”.