On holiday I indulged in quiet people watching to a greater degree than usual, perhaps because I had no children to amuse. My wife is amused enough by my antics that I need not seek ways to entertain her.
Perhaps, too, not understanding more than a few words of German or Polish favoured my eyes when my ears failed me.
One evening we were in the Old Town of Warsaw, pleasantly crowded with people from all over the world, under the watchful but discreet eyes of armed police and soldiers.
Do you tell yourself stories about passers-by?
In a group of Muslim girls, enjoying each other’s company on a warm evening, some will be veiled, some not; in a family, the mother may wear the veil, the daughters not, or the other way about. What discussions take place around their meal tables? And what does the smiling husband and father feel, accompanying them through Berlin or Warsaw or even Canterbury?
I can remember Catholics being scandalised by women appearing with heads uncovered in church, or sisters abandoning their traditional habits; but come to think of it, we saw more veils on nuns than on Muslims in Poland. And one rainy morning in Krakow, nearly all the stragglers from World Youth Day wore veils as they passed by.
Dr Johnson once remarked: ‘A man who cannot get to heaven in a green coat will not find his way thither the sooner in a grey one.’ But not everyone agrees.
In the days following the murder of Fr Jacques Hamel I was travelling without computer or smart phone, through France, Belgium, Germany and Poland.
Armed police and soldiers were evident in all the major cities where we stayed or paused. It happened that our train was passing though Krakow around the time that Pope Francis was celebrating Mass on World Youth Day. Two military helicopters flew over us. There were security staff at every station within the city; no doubt they were required for crowd control, but you don’t need automatic rifles for that job.
The night before we had been in Warsaw: perhaps it was mischievous of me to ask a pair of policemen to direct us to our hotel from the railway station. We had an armed escort through the station as it was ‘a bit difficult’ to explain the route. As we thanked them I reflected that this had been an opportunity for these young men to be peacemakers rather than peacekeepers by helping a couple of tongue-tied tourists in a foreign land.
Reading the French newspaper Le Monde of 28th July, it is clear that Fr Hamel was a peacemaker, and no doubt that is why he was targeted. He had been working with Imam Mohamed Karabila to help their people learn to live together.
Fr Hamel had given the last blessing at the end of Mass when he was cut down in front of the altar; thus his fifty eight years of priesthood were crowned by martyrdom.
May each of us look into our heart and refuse to give in to the hatred that the Daesh terrorists seek to cultivate between Muslim and Christian communities, and indeed between different Muslim communities.
Let each of us, every day, find a way to be a peacemaker.