Pax Christi Germany
It was on Good Friday in 1947 that former German soldiers took a cross of wood and steel, 3 metres high and 150 kg in weight, and carried it from church to church and village to village in their home diocese. In the middle of the cross was a carving of the suffering face of Jesus, hope of forgiveness for those who do penance.
Later on, the former soldiers made a pilgrimage to Rome, to show that they did not want war in their lives any more, but peace. Pope Pius XII blessed them and their cross, saying that it should be carried whenever peace was in danger.
In the first ten years after the Second World War the cross was present at some large pilgrimages in Germany and it stood for penance for the crimes committed in the name of Germany. In the name of the cross French sisters and brothers had already offered the spirituality of reconciliation while the war was still in progress. By carrying the peace cross Germans gave their answer: “Yes, we need reconciliation, and this will be our way.” It became a strong symbol of conversion and a new beginning.
These were the origins of the Aachener Friedenskreuz, the Aachen Peace Cross. It is still in use today, in different regions of Germany, when people want to ask for forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. In the 1980s some large pilgrimages took place in preparation for the ecumenical assemblies for Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation. Christians of different denominations asked for the cross to be present, the sign of solidarity and love, and at ecumenical ceremonies the cross would be covered with notes carrying the personal messages and prayers which people had hung on it.
So the Aachen Peace Cross with the face of the suffering Jesus Christ is always an invitation, appealing to us to go the way of peace, to look for the next step forward.
I personally remember how young people understood and transformed the message of the peace cross. In 1989, as a member of German Pax Christi, I was invited by Polish friends to share in the international student pilgrimage from Krakow to Tschenstochau, a well-known sanctuary of great significance for the Catholic Polish nation. The cross was invited to participate with the pilgrims. All day people shared the weight of the cross, heard reflections and prayed. On the first day Germans carried it. Then Polish students offered to do this service for their own conversion. One morning people of two neighbouring nations in conflict with each other came and asked to carry the cross. They wanted to do this as a sign of reconciliation with one another. I was moved. Members of other nations took the cross. They saw us Germans and took their own share of responsibility. For me this was a very helpful way of showing that we are all children of God and sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ.