Change of heart needed in face of terror and violence, service for Nice, Turkey told
We must seek those things that belong to our peace, says Melbourne priest Canon Ken Letts
By Mark Brolly
July 21 2016A change of heart was needed more than changes in mind, methodology or policy in response to tragic events such as the Bastille Day attack in Nice, a Melbourne priest who served in France for 20 years told a service at St Paul’s Cathedral on 21 July commemorating the recent losses of life on the French Riviera and in Turkey during the attempted coup.
More than 200 people attended Choral Evensong with Prayers for the People of Nice, Ankara and Istanbul, led by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe. The Honorary Consul-General of France, Madame Myriam Boisbouvier-Wylie, and Turkish Consular representative Sinan YeÅ�ildaÄ� lit candles, and members of the consular corps and other official and community representatives then laid flowers as signs of hope on a small table near the Nave Altar. The table included a teddy bear to remember the children who died. In the Chancel, the Australian flag was flanked by the flags of France and Turkey.
The Revd Canon Ken Letts, a former Archdeacon of France and Anglican Chaplain of Nice, made a stark comparison between the Promenade des Anglais – where 84 people died and dozens were injured when a French-Tunisian man named as Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a truck into the crowds celebrating France’s national day on the seafront on 14 July – and Melbourne’s Beaconsfield Parade, which runs along Port Phillip Bay.
“As Melbourne is, so Nice lies around a bay, la Baie des Anges, which has a long promenade running around its perimeter,” he said.
“What you may not know is that Beaconsfield Parade, that lovely boulevard which runs between Port Melbourne and St Kilda, Beaconsfield Parade was designed as a replica of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice: the same broad carriageways, the same broad footpath between the road and the beach. And if you can imagine the section between Kerferd Road in Albert Park and Fitzroy Street in St Kilda crowded with thousands of people, then you will begin to have an idea of what it might have been like should a huge truck cut a deadly swathe along those two kilometres of footpath.”
Canon Letts spoke of the poignancy of the attack occurring on the Promenade des Anglais, less than 140 metres from where he lived during his 20 years in Nice until 2013.
“The Promenade was born, in the 1820s, not because of a municipal road-building project, but out of a compassionate response by the Anglican Christians of Nice to the plight of their neighbours,” he said. “The parish priest of the time, Fr Way, convinced his parishioners that they had a responsibility to those around them who were unemployed and in need. And so they created a subscription fund which enabled employment for the unemployed of Nice at that time. It was an act of solidarity, and so the Promenade des Anglais, which would be written about and painted by every subsequent generation, was begun.
“That memory of generosity and Christian vocation speaks louder of goodwill, redemption and reconciliation than the insanity of one sad, deluded, troubled young man who sought personal redemption through a soi-disant (‘self-proclaimed’) hallowing of death, murder and self-immolation.”
Canon Letts posed the question “Que dire?” (“What can be said?”)
“In the face of such mindless violence, whenever and wherever it happens, one can only say, ‘No; this is not right’. Even in the face of our pervasive moral relativism, we should say, ‘No; this is not right’. People of goodwill are appalled at such events no matter where or when they happen, yet if one can visualise the place, or if one has actually experienced the place, then there is a further dimension.”
For Australians, “in this continent which is the Antipodes to these events”, there was a particular difficulty not determined by geographical distance, he said.
“In this country, it seems to me, we live in an age of but moderate virtue and scarcely moderate vice, and we are desirous to keep excesses of passion or madness at a distance. In the light of the events of last Thursday, the danger is that, seeing that we are not the ones dead, we shall return unchanged to our affairs. This surely is folly.
“There must be change, not simply of minds, nor of methodology, nor of policy, but a change of heart. We must learn what there is to be learned by heart, or else the meaning will slip away as easily as the water flows from the pebbles around the Baie des Anges. Without a change of heart, our tribal choices will simply continue to alternate between futile speculation and unconsidered action.
“Is all this too fanciful? Too theoretical? Too romantic? I think not. I can only speak as a Christian priest whose understanding has been shaped, not simply by the affairs of men, but by the affairs of God.”
Canon Letts alluded to how Christmas celebrates an event that changed humanity’s understanding of the world, “how an ordinary woman, one like us, became, through love and faith, the Theotokos, the God-Bearer, the channel through whom the Love of God was made visible… how her child was received with joy by those of good will; for the child is God who, in an overflowing act of love and solidarity, takes our humanity, with all its pain and all its joy, to himself for all eternity”.
“The Son of Mary, when grown up, once looked with love and tears upon the holy city of Jerusalem and commented that if only she had known the things that belonged to her peace. It is those things that we must seek, the things that belong to our peace, and like Ulysses of old, we must not be turned away from our purpose either by length of years, or difficulty of passage, or by the sirens’ call to ephemeral and transitory comfort.
“Four hundred years ago, a young French philosopher called Blaise Pascal set out a challenge for us based on his Christian understanding that in Christ, God and Man are one. ‘Christ is in agony until the end of time,’ he said, ‘And what right have we to sleep?’ How we answer that question, both personally and communally, may well determine the future of this world.”
The Lord’s Prayer was published in the Order of Service in English, French and Turkish, while the readings (from Isaiah, chapter 25, verses 6-9 and St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter eight, verses 35 and 37-39), hymns and Collect were in both English and French. The French-speaking readers were a Year 11 student at Trinity Grammar School in Kew, Mr Lachlan Morrison, and Madame Danièle Kemp, Counsellor of the Assemblée des Français de l’étranger, an organisation supporting the two million French living outside their homeland. The readings in English were by the Revd Matt Campbell, Associate Priest of the Cathedral and Senior Chaplain at Trinity, and Bishop Philip Huggins, representing the Archbishop.
Music included Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s Evening Service in G, Gabriel Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine as the Anthem and as the Organ Postlude, Maurice Duruflé’s Méditation.