In the Creators of Peace Circle, we spend time getting to know the stories of women who have taken leadership for peace. We learn about the qualities they found in themselves when faced with extraordinary circumstances. The story of one of these women seems pertinent at this time as those of us who live in Europe once again grapple with our identify and relationship with our neighbours.
Danielle Norgren, who is interning with Creators of Peace & Caux-IofC Foundation in Geneva, watches the film 'For the Love of Tomorrow' and encounters the story of Irene Laure for the first time. Here are her reflections.
In the Summer of 1947, Irene Laure arrived at the Caux Conference Center determined to restore European unity following World War II. A Resistance leader during the German occupation, Laure entered the conference with pressing memories of wartime atrocities. Her desire for unity was tainted by her bitterness towards Germans, hoping that Germany would be 'wiped off the map of Europe'.
When Laure discovered there would be Germans in attendance, she immediately began packing her bags. A revelation occurred, however, when Dr. Frank Buchman asked 'Do you think you can rebuild Europe without the Germans?' Retiring to her room for three sleepless nights, Laure forced herself to face up to the consequences of her hatred.
It was with hesitation that Laure decided one morning to meet on the terrace with a German woman. Unleashing tales of her pain and suffering, Laure told the woman that she hoped to be 'free of it.' Rather than responding with anger, the German woman expressed her deep regret at not having fought harder and asked Laure for forgiveness. Later, the two women would pray together. In that moment, the bridge across the Rhine was built.
On that same day, Laure was given the chance to speak in the main hall. Saying everything she felt about the Germans, Laure asked for forgiveness for her hatred. A woman approached the stage and held out a hand. With this, gesture Laure felt 'Completely free.' All her defenses crumbled away. Through this honesty, everyone faced their own responsibility squarely.
Last year, I had the privilege to attend a German and French orchestra concert celebrating the anniversary of the Elysee Treaty. I think back to Irene Laure meandering through her sunny gardens, birds chirping and wind rustling through the leaves of verdant trees. She reflects on a comment that her husband made, 'She always makes me water these sticks, and those sticks have become what you see here'. With each expression of apology and forgiveness, Irene Laure laid down the foundation for a more peaceful future, a future in which simple moments of beauty and celebration between France and Germany are possible.
Today, Laure's message of reconciliation is deeply poignant. Each new generation must challenge itself to confront its hatred. Only through forgiveness can we become part of the healing of the world, instead of part of the disease.
To read more: http://www.iofc.org/irene-laure
To order a copy of the film: http://uk.iofc.org/Films-to-watch/For-the-Love-of-Tomorrow
To join the conversation about the future of Europe at the Caux Forum this summer and take part in Creators of Peace workshops there: http://www.caux.ch/Addressing-Europes-Unfinished-Business-AEUB