World Leaders Remember Beginning of Peace
LONDON (AP) _ Leaders from 54 nations that fought in World War II joined in thanksgiving and prayers for reconciliation Sunday at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which still bears scars of the combat that ended half a century ago.
As the bells of the cathedral, towering symbol of London’s resistance to German bombing, pealed across the capital, Queen Elizabeth II led a royal family gathering at the service.
In brilliant sunshine, crowds pressed against barriers to watch processions of limousines which brought the foreign royalty, political leaders or their representatives.
They included Vice President Al Gore from the United States and Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of the now mighty Germany, and King Mswati III of Swaziland _ among the Commonwealth countries that rallied to Britain’s aid.
The queen was accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, her four children, her sister, Princess Margaret, and several cousins.
The 94-year-old Queen Mother, who presided over a ceremony in London’s Hyde Park on Saturday at the start of the three-day celebrations, leaned on the arm of Prince Charles, her eldest grandson and heir to the throne. Together they moved slowly up the aisle.
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who led the service, asked for prayers ``for the healing of memories, for those who suffer as a result of war, for communities where past wrongs and violence persist.″
He recalled a war-time bishop’s statement that the combat was ``a war between God and the spirt of evil for the possession of the soul of Europe and of the whole world.″
The dome of St. Paul’s, rising 365 feet through the black smoke from German bombing raids, came to symbolize British survival in the 1938-45 conflict.
The cathedral was hit twice by bombs, its stained glass was shattered and its high altar was smashed by falling masonry, but the great dome survived.
``Every day you would ask, is St. Paul’s all right?″ Londoner Anne Gander recalled recently. ``If that was still there, then we were still here, you know.″
The first bomb to hit St. Paul’s, on Oct. 10, 1940, caused heavy damage to the rear of the building. The second, in the early hours of Feb. 17., 1941, wrecked the north transept.
Shrapnel scars remain on the south wall of the great church, built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed its predecessor.
When V-E Day came on May 8, 1945, some 30,000 people passed through the cathedral, many attending one of the 10 religious services that day.
During the war, the cathdral organized volunteers to stand watch every night, to put out fires from incendiary bombs and deal with damage.
``We knew then the comradeship and friendship which come to men and women of good will when trivialities fall away and they face realities, realities of life and death, with a common purpose,″ the late W.R. Matthews, then dean of St. Paul’s, said when it was over.