Earlier this year, Irish author and humanitarian Don Mullan accepted the Peace Through Truth & Reconciliation Award at CRCC’s Inaugural Gala and introduced his latest initiative: The Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project– being developed at Messines, Belgium’s smallest city. Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has described the project as “a gift of the Island of Ireland Peace Process to the European Project and World Peace.”
On Monday, September 22, 2014, Mullan launched his official tour of The Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project at a CRCC-exclusive event in Crawford Hall, The Ehinger Center, on Drew University campus.
During World War I, on and around Christmas Day in 1914, fighting ceased on the Western Front and soldiers shared in holiday celebrations and gestures of good will. The truce was popularized by the French film, Joyeux Noël and this year marks the 100th anniversary.
“The world knows about The Christmas Truce but has nowhere to go,” Mullan reasoned. “I have a vision of re-branding the city of Messines – City of the Christmas Truce – a place of pilgrimage and peace building at a sacred location. A location where, 100 years ago, ordinary soldiers on both sides of the Western Front, rediscovered their common humanity during their spontaneous truce.”
While the truce was only temporary and had no real bearing on the progress of the war, the stories that have survived demonstrate that the men who took part were changed, and looked back on their encounters with great emotion. “Their stories, today,” says Mullan, “are a source of inspiration and hope that can be harnessed to inspire new generations of peacemakers. That is my hope, that is my dream.”
Mullan has forged impressive alliances in his efforts. Global soccer legend Pele and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are patrons of the Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project. UNESCO’s Programme on Youth Engagement are partners, along with the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace. The Flanders Peace Field is due to be officially opened in September 2014 by the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland, after which, the youth of Europe and the world will be invited to engage in peace building programmes based around the Peace Field and at the Messines Peace Village, a world class youth hostel that can accommodate over 130 youth.
Mullan is also developing a major project around St. Nicholas Church, Messines, with the support of the Mayor and local parish, aimed at making Messines a place of pilgrimage for adults of all ages. In the crypt of St. Nicholas Church a young Adolf Hitler recovered from injuries sustained during fighting. “My vision,” says Mullan, “is to make Messines the antithesis of all that Hitler came to represent during the 20th Century. A place where people of goodwill are made welcome and where true dialogue and respect for all humanity can be nurtured.”