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On the shores of history – The gift of a Dover sunrise!

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”

—– Michael Crichton

A sunrise at the English Channel.

A sunrise at the English Channel.

The sun rose brilliantly as I stood on the shores of the English Channel, on Jan. 18, and looked across the sunbeam studded waters toward the thin black line on the horizon that marks the coast of France.

Directly ahead of me at the southernmost edge of Britain were the White Cliffs and Dover Castle, from which Admiral Bertram Ramsey, in 1940, orchestrated what the British people and historians call the Miracle of Dunkirk.

Beyond my ability to see its outlines on the France coastline, but very much in my mind, I imagined where the City of Calais sat. It is a place frequently in the news these days because it is where thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries have migrated, hoping to find new lives by crossing the channel into Britain and the United Kingdom.

At that moment, I truly felt I was standing on the shores of history, connected in profound ways to those who had met the challenges of World War II, to those concerned about the surge of refugees ready to flood their island, to the people of faith seeking to assist the refugees, and to the migrants and asylum seekers themselves.

How did I come to be on the shores of history? It was a gift given to me by Rev. Dr. Jean Ford, pastor of the River of Life American Baptist Church, located in Wheaton, Illinois, and members of her congregation. The River of Life Church also freed Rev. Dr. Ford and her assistant, Dennis Corrigan, to travel with me so I could experience firsthand how people of faith are affecting the course of history.

Rev. Dr. Ford, who planned this trip, is a dame of the Ordus Supremis Militaris Templi Hierosolymilani (OSMTH), known in the United States as the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem. SMOTJ includes the Priory of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin in Indiana. Colonel James W. Sweeny of SMOTHPStMTG also contributed to funding the trip.

A marker located at Dover.

A marker located at Dover.

The priory asked Sisters of Providence General Superior Sister Denise Wilkinson to identify a Sister of Providence to travel with Rev. Dr. Ford to share in OSMTH’s participation in the United Nations Forums on Spirituality and Values and the Environment, at which she represents SMOTJ/OSMTH.

Read my blog about my day at the United Nations.

En route to Geneva, Switzerland, Rev. Dr. Ford, Dennis and I stopped at Dover, where Rev. Dr. Ford offered me a special gift: The story of the Miracle of Dunkirk and an opportunity to absorb the power of the English Channel coast.

“The Miracle of Dunkirk occurred May 24 to June 4, 1940,” she told me. “In a massive evacuation, the British, using military vessels and countless ‘little ships’ (yachts, fishing vessels, and other craft that civilians offered) rescued more than 338,000 British, French and Belgian troops surrounded by Nazi brigades and pushed to the shores at Dunkirk on the French coast.

“It was a critical moment in the war. (Winston) Churchill had feared the Nazis would deal a significant blow to the strength of the British Army there, but the rescue of so many enabled England to regroup and continue defending itself through the war.”

As I stood there imagining that historic event, I felt myself gripped with a new sense of the present moment. I found myself looking at the French coast across the channel with a consciousness of the thousands of refugees at Calais and an awareness of how Prime Minister David Cameron and the people of England currently are struggling to respond to the significant humanitarian crisis of those migrants waiting for transport across the channel to a new life. Christian churches are in the forefront of those stepping up to provide assistance.

Rev. Dr. Ford works with the Board of Christians Together in Dover (CTID), an ecumenical group committed to “promoting the Christian faith … and furthering the spread of God’s Kingdom by associating together with each other, local inhabitants, government and local authorities, voluntary and other organizations in a common effort to advance greater knowledge of the Christian faith and greater understanding of it.”

The White Cliffs of Dover.

The White Cliffs of Dover.

As part of her involvement, Rev. Dr. Ford has worked with those directly involved with the camps at Calais and those impacted in Dover. One of the key focus areas of CTID is bringing Christian perspectives and resources to aid in the refugee crisis, which is very complex.

When I asked how I could help, she simply replied, “Pray.”

“We need many prayers now,” she said. “Please ask the Sisters of Providence to pray for all we are trying to do.”

So, Sisters, Associates and all readers of this blog, I ask you to join me in praying for CTID and other groups worldwide that are using their time, talent and treasure to assist refugees and migrants in Europe and in our own country.

Each of us can be a change agent in history if we stay informed, use our votes wisely, and remember that each of us is a leaf on the family tree of all humanity. Standing on the sands of history at Dover recently,

I deeply felt that connection. I will always treasure the gift of Dover I received that morning.

I wish you a similar time of awakening.

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Sister Cathy Campbell

Sister Cathy Campbell

Sister Cathy Campbell, SP, is a freelance writer and editor. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Spirituality from Catholic Theological Union/Chicago. Sister Cathy also ministers as a retreat facilitator for the Providence Spirituality and Conference Center with special interests in scripture and the mystics.

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