ON Ash Wednesday, a radical group of Brisbane Christian activists took extraordinary action.
Members of the Catholic Worker movement allegedly attacked the Cross of Sacrifice, which has stood in Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery since 1924.
The word “allegedly” is used to describe their actions, however the men willingly admit what they did; in fact they shot photos and video and even left a note with their names and contact details to assist police in their investigations.
They allegedly removed a copper sword from the stone cross, placed it on an anvil and reshaped it into a garden hoe.
They then allegedly hung a banner across the memorial cross which read “Beat Swords into Ploughshares”.
A 61-year-old man, and a second man, 22, are due to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on March 16, each facing one count of wilful damage.
Members of the Catholic Workers movement resist war and social injustice.
They believe Christians should not go war.
Military veteran Deacon Gary Stone, who ministers to Brisbane’s ex-services community and leads Veterans Care, described the action at the memorial as a “desecration”.
“It’s an act of vandalism and should be dealt with by the community,” he said.
“The issues they raise about ‘Christians refusing to kill their brothers and sisters in war’ is an issue of opinion by those concerned, and is not consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Deacon Stone quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2265: “Legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others”.
“On that basis, Catholic and Christian soldiers in the Australian Defence Force have protected the lives of the innocent and their own comrades in conflicts for more than 100 years,” he said.
In a statement, the two accused men defended the action, and quoted from the Bible:
“And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)
“‘Put away your sword,’ Jesus told him. ‘Those who use the sword will die by the sword.’” (Matthew 26:52)
“We believe Christianity has blessed wars for far too long and this sword on the cross was a terrible symbol of it. That’s why we felt cause to remove it.
“The ploughshare is a symbol of life. The sword is a symbol of death. We choose life.
“We willingly accept any consequences of this call to repentance, as we remove and convert the blasphemous sword from the cross.
“We pray that other Christians will join us in recognising our past and present sin in bearing the sword while worshipping the non-violent Jesus.”
Deacon Stone said the description of the war memorial cross as “blasphemous” was patently wrong.
He said the symbol of the cross and the sword was the same in every Australian war memorial across Australia and worldwide.
“The sword is downturned. It represents symbolically that we have put our swords away and we have come to a moment of peace,” he said.
Deacon Stone also looked to the Old Testament prophet Joel for justifiable use of a sword – “Prepare for war, and hammer your ploughshares into swords.” (Joel 4:10)
“We would all desire peace, and any veteran would desire peace more than civilians can imagine,” he said.
“But there are times we’ve had to go to war to protect the lives of innocent people. And we are going to have to continue to go to war in this fight against ISIS.”
Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk was among civic leaders “appalled” at the vandalising of a memorial honouring all fallen soldiers, particularly since Canon Garland Place, where the incident happened, had great historical significance, as it served as the focus of Queensland’s Anzac Day commemorations until the completion of the Anzac Square in the CBD in 1930.
RSL Queensland was also appalled by the vandalism of “of one of Brisbane’s most sacred war memorials and sites”.
Authorities are confident the memorial will be repaired in time for Anzac Day.
A spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane said the Catholic Workers were a “group of lay people” with no ties to the archdiocese.
“The archdiocese supports any police investigation into this matter,” he said.
“The cemeteries of Brisbane mean a lot to the families and friends of the deceased.
“These sites should be treated with the utmost respect.”