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Football at the Front

30 January 2015

AMONG the thousand ways the beginning of the First World War was remembered last year, it was the momentary Christmas truce that caught the imagination at Christmas time, not least that of the Queen herself.

In Lille, France, not many miles from the front line, the Council of European Churches decided to commemorate the several Christmas truces that broke out spontaneously at different points along the front line; so they organised a pilgrimage just before Christmas to where one of them took place.

On 20 December, people from the English-speaking Christ Church, Lille (in the diocese in Europe), l'Église Protestante Unie de France, and the Orthodox Churches, together with well-wishers from other churches, started in the village of Houplines, close to the Franco-Belgian border, and walked the three kilometres along the front to Frelinghien, where, as the soldiers had in 1914, they sang carols and played an improvised football match.

It was an example of the international co-operation and ecumenical understanding that reigns in the area, Frances Coester, of Christ Church, says. "It arose from the happy coincidence of the English Canon Debbie Flach, Priest-in-Charge at Christ Church, and German Pastor Eckhart Altmüller, of l'Église Protestante Unie de France, both wanting to mark this anniversary. In addition to Britain and Germany, Holland, Greece, and France were also represented, and the local Roman Catholic diocese warmly welcomed participants at both ends of the pilgrimage."

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