notre dame montreal

Words about the Beslan Massacre from Christopher Bishop of Hertford

BESLAN - seeking hope from the horror and grief by Bishop Christopher +Hertford

Words seem useless, almost obscene. As if anything that I write can do proper justice to the savage horror and wickedness in Middle School No. 1, Beslan in the first days of September. The passage of the weeks seems, in some sense, to allow reflection and so these words, but truthfully it feels presumptuous to try to encapsulate our revulsion and shame as if any words can be appropriate. So, with some trepidation I invite you to share the horror and, by God's grace, the hope.

I was moved in the days after the murder of the innocent by the various religious contributions on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Archbishop Rowan, as the father of young children, pointed to the care and love older children probably gave to others in the distressing time held hostage. An Orthodox priest spoke of the Liturgy offering solidarity and healing in a unique and special way. The Chief Rabbi spoke movingly of the human heart revealed as the greatest weapon of mass destruction.

None of them, nor I, in the immediate aftermath can begin to make any sense of these appalling events. What can we do?
First, we can enter with sympathy and love into something of the experience of the children, parents, families, communities, and nation. Those of us who remember the shock and pain we felt here at the murder of sixteen primary school children and their teacher, by a gunman in Dunblane in 1996, may begin to grasp the enormity of this grief. We should lament – and our Christian tradition provides in the Bible, and in the Psalms especially, a way for us to express both our revulsion at wickedness and injustice, and also our shame at the depths to which we human beings can stoop.

Secondly, we can (at the Archbishop's prompting) reflect on how no situation is so grim as to be without some trace of love and sign of God. Even amidst terror and cruel violence, and its aftermath, we have learnt of small but significant acts of love, solidarity and heroism. We are right to condemn, of course, but also to give honour and find hope in God-given gentleness and generosity.

Thirdly, we can look at ourselves and resolve to purge from our minds, thoughts and prayers any trace of pride, superiority and prejudice. Like 9/11 the events of Beslan will have consequences far beyond Russia but may skew our vision and distract us from proper reflection on the spiritual, human and political degeneration that led to this unparalleled outrage.

Finally, and most importantly, we must trust in Him who tells us to become like little children. We believe that Jesus shields those whom their parents (and we also) yearn to embrace.

As our words seem so inadequate and our questioning so barren, we might echo in grief and hope the words of the hymn:

There is a place where God will hear our question,
suffer our anger, share our speechless grief,
gently repair the innocence of loving and of belief.