Each year, two Sundays before the first day of Advent, Germans worldwide observe Volkstrauertag, the country’s national day of mourning.
It’s a “silent holiday” for many who pass the day in quiet reflection. Their thoughts turn to those who died in wars or who were victims of tyranny.
Counted among the formal observances of Volkstrauertag was a Nov. 17 Sabbath morning gathering at Fort Douglas Military Cemetery near the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Scores from Utah’s German-American community, along with many military personnel in uniform, attended the annual event.
During the observance, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, placed a commemorative wreath at the base of a memorial located at the west end of the cemetery. The memorial was erected decades ago to remember the German prisoners of war who are buried at Fort Douglas Cemetery. During World War I and World War II, 41 German soldiers died here while interned as POWs.
President Uchtdorf, who served as a fighter pilot in the West German Air Force, was joined at the wreath ceremony by Col. Sanford Artman, deputy commander of the 76th U.S. Army Reserve Operational Response Command, and Charles W. Dahlquist II, honorary consul for the Federal Republic of Germany and former Young Men general president.
President Uchtdorf’s wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, accompanied him at the Volkstrauertag observance.
The Church leader offered brief remarks at the event, explaining that Volkstrauertag, in its modern form, is not only to mourn the dead but also to remember the tragedy of war while advocating peace.
“Commemoration and mourning must not be done for history only, but (also) to work for reconciliation and peace in the present and for the future,” he said.
Empathy and action are needed to influence that future. Dignity, honesty and eternal values are required among communities, regardless of differences in politics, religion, race or cultural traditions, he said.
“We remember the past not just to yearn for peace, but in an effort to craft it.”
President Uchtdorf said the victims of the recent typhoon in the Philippines, along with those who suffer in other parts of the world, need global support and help. They are brothers and sisters who need comfort, service, prayer and material assistance.
“This kind of commemorating and mourning will best express the pure love of Christ to our fellowmen.”
In His Beatitudes, the Savior said it is a “blessing to mourn.” To many, that may seem contradictory.
“It may be that pain and suffering are essential parts of our mortal experience,” taught President Uchtdorf. “Through suffering we often discover the value of eternal life, and that there is always hope in life.”
Christ-like compassion and empathy, he concluded, will change the future of the world. “Our desire and action to help someone who is sick, hungry or in trouble will bring peace to individual lives, to communities, and to the nations of the world.”