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Winchester Cathedral hosts online event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day

February 3, 2021

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To commemorate this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, Winchester Cathedral hosted an online event with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders to explore how different communities seek to ‘be the light in the darkness’, the chosen theme for 2021, and how the faithful interpret this in action.

Moderated by the Very Revd Catherine Ogle, Dean of Winchester, speakers at the event included Rabbi Maurice Michaels, leader at the Bournemouth Reform Synagogue, Peer-jada Qureshi, lawyer and a founder of the Winchester Muslim Cultural Association and Fr Mark Hogan, priest of the Parish of St Peter and the Winchester Martyrs. The sixty attending participants came from different faith communities within Hampshire.

The theme ‘Be the light in the darkness’ encouraged reflection on the Holocaust, and on genocide and atrocities since, and the ways in which individuals and communities resisted the darkness of hatred and violence. As part of the discussion, the speakers talked about the different kinds of darkness – from identity-based persecution to misinformation and denial of justice; and the different ways of being the light, for example, resistance, acts of solidarity, education and bringing to light mistruths.

Together, they discussed the importance of learning the lessons of the past and recognising that genocide does not just take place on its own – it’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not identified and prevented.

Rabbi Maurice Michaels began the discussion with the observation that we can all play our role and share in the burden carried by the victims and survivors of genocide and other mass atrocities.

“We should be painfully aware of the horrors of today, of people being targeted purely because of their race, their ethnicity and their religion – the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Uighurs and other minorities in China and various Christian minority groups in Africa and Asia. We cannot allow these precarious situations to get out of hand, to become the genocides of the 21st century. Light is near in the face of darkness, as the book of Job reminds us; we must be the light in the darkness.”

He went on to say that now is the time to unite and to mobilise the forces of light against darkness. There is a responsibility to educate young people of the horrors that occur when darkness rules the world, and to provide them with the tools to be the light in the darkness so that they can grow up in a world where light is the norm.

To follow, Peer-jada Qureshi highlighted that we have duties as citizens, citing the UN Convention on Genocide, but we also have power and the ability to do things when faced with adversity. Reflecting on the detention camps of the approximately one million Uighur Muslims, including reports of forced female sterilisation, and the plight of almost a million Rohingya Muslims, governments must be lobbied and put under pressure to show that these acts are unacceptable and must be stopped.

Quoting from a verse from the Quran, we are reminded that “For the people who murder out of mischief an innocent life, it is as if they have murdered the whole of humanity. Whoever saves a life, it is as if they have saved the whole of humanity”.

Peer-jada Qureshi went on to say that the murder of George Floyd epitomises this verse – the killing of one righteous man is like the killing of humanity. The world reacted to this one killing and the Black Lives Matter movement was kick-started, highlighting the shocking treatment of people, not just in America but across the world. The call to action is not to turn away from injustice, but to shine a light on genocide and persecution, especially at a time where minorities continue to be victimised and murdered for their difference.

To conclude the discussion, Fr Mark Hogan used the metaphor of a stained glass window to convey an interpretation of the theme ‘Be a light in the darkness’.

“If you go into a church in the evening, the stained glass window doesn’t look very interesting at all – in fact you can hardly see it, and that’s because there is no light coming through. It’s not until the light starts to shine through, and then suddenly it comes alive, and there’s beauty and something amazing, marvellous and engaging about it. In the window there are different characters and each one is a different shape, with different clothing and different colours in the same way that each of us is uniquely shaped, coloured and has all sorts of different qualities and histories. It’s when the light of Christ shines through us that we’re able to be light ourselves”.

Reflecting on the unprecedented times that we are currently living through, which is showing the very best of humanity but also a much darker side, Fr Mark summarised that it is an opportunity for personal transformation, to be a light for others and to join in solidarity and to unite for a safer, better, future.

The Dean of Winchester, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle, said: “Through education and building better interfaith relations, we can all stand in solidarity and learn from the lessons of the past. We held this online event to mark the annual commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, to reflect on the millions of victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides and to explore how different communities seek to ‘be the light in the darkness’. This evening demonstrated all that is shared between different faith communities and the joy that can be found in one another’s company.  It has been a reminder that we must all be that light in the darkness and that we each have a responsibility to end discrimination.”