A Mass of Reparation for harm done to Slovene Catholics at the end of the Second World War was held at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the village of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, on Friday October 29.
Canon Timothy Russ is the parish priest there and the Mass was his idea. The Great Missenden parish has a long association with Slovene priests who have often served at the church. In addition, Canon Russ had heard about the plight of the Slovenes from Keith Miles, a parishioner, and his wife Slava, who comes from Slovenia.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien sent prayers and blessings in a message and said: “A Mass of Reparation is not just sincere sorrow and a spiritual compensation for what happened but a recognition that something spiritually significant happened, something positive, healing and of value to us today as we seek to make a more brotherly and sisterly future.
“Every offence committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation. The focus today is on one erroneous decision by the British Army in May 1945 to send back 12,000 mainly Slovene Catholic soldiers to their enemies in Yugoslavia. The discovery of many graves confirms conclusively that all of them, except a very few, were murdered upon their return.
“May the Father of us all, who attends to the great sacrifice of His Son, attend to the sacrifices of these Slovenes. May he attend to the humble offering we make today. May he gather things together that His Kingdom comes.”
The Mass was celebrated by the Bishop of Northampton, with the Archbishop of Ljubljana, Dr Jože Plut, the military vicar of Slovenia, Canon Russ, and Fr Cikanek of the Slovene British Chaplaincy.
The service had an ecumenical element with the Anglican Bishop of Buckingham taking part. Also taking part was the minister of King’s Church Prestwood.
Special visitors were members of the European Parliament, including a former prime minister of Slovenia, Count Tolstoy, the chairman and deputy chairman of Buckinghamshire County Council, and other dignitaries as well as relatives of victims.
Messages of support were received from four cardinals, four archbishops, members of the House of Lords and two senior generals. Prayers were said in many parts of the world at the time of the service.
The archbishop blessed the memorial behind the church to Our Lady of Missenden.
At the short presentation after the service Mr Miles said a few words. “G K Chesterton, who is buried in the Catholic cemetery just over the hill in Beaconsfield, wrote a poem called “The Secret People”.
He said: “The penultimate line says: ‘But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.’
I think we the people of England have spoken today to the people of Slovenia.”
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster commended the Mass of Reparation as an “important commemoration” of a “tragic episode”.