by Sue Woolmans
28 June – undoubtedly one of the most important dates in history. In 2014 it is sure to be dominated by the football World Cup. But this year of all years, we should stop and think about what happened 100 years ago and what a maelstrom of misery it started.
Because 28 June, 1914, was the date on which the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated, along with his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg. Their deaths triggered the diplomacy, or more accurately the lack of it, that led the world to war. But 28 June is also St Vitus Day, or Vidovdan in the Serbian calendar, a religious holiday that commemorates those who died defending their faith against the Ottomans at the battle of Kosovo in 1389 – another maelstrom of misery that the Austrian court should have thought about back in 1914. Had they done so, they might not have sent their heir to the city of Sarajevo on that day – a city that contained an ethnic Serb population.
This year, on the momentous 28 June, I shall be in the basilica of Maria Taferl in Lower Austria, attending a memorial service for the Archduke and his Duchess. Later, bells of peace will be rung at local churches. It was 28 June, 1919, on which the Treaty of Versailles was signed, bringing peace between Germany and the Allies. The Archduke was a man of peace; he would have been horrified to think his death led to the shattering of Europe. We shall undoubtedly be praying for peace in his memory at Maria Taferl.