JOHN GRIFF COLUMN: Youngsters unite to lead the way to a brighter future

Amid the death, destruction and horror of the past three weeks, on Monday there was at least a glimpse of something positive here in the UK, writes John Griff.

The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William leave Westminster Abbey after Monday’s Commonwealth Day service
The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William leave Westminster Abbey after Monday’s Commonwealth Day service

A celebration of collaboration, unanimity and common goals, Commonwealth Day was marked by a largely secular service in Westminster Abbey.

Attended by senior members of the Royal Family, readings, reflections and music, both ancient and modern, were delivered by participants from around the globe. Visually, from the tv coverage, the pride of those taking part was clear to see, not only through the event itself, but also in recognising the kind of ‘one family’ concept which brought the 54 countries making up the Commonwealth together.

The imagery was powerful too through the display of national flags, both into and out of the abbey, paraded past a congregation largely made up of children and younger people, reflecting the fact that over 60% of the Commonwealth is now inhabited by people aged under 30. They will be the future champions not only of their own countries, but of a Commonwealth whose population is almost one-third that of the entire planet.

Championed by Her Majesty the Queen, who, for health reasons, was bitterly disappointed not to be present in person, the event nevertheless paid its dues to a woman who celebrates her Platinum Jubilee this year.

The sight of so much youth celebrating that international family won’t have been lost on the next in line to the throne. Prince Charles is already almost three times the age his mother was when she took on the monarchy at just 25, and beyond him Prince William is almost 40. Critics have long said that the Commonwealth is really not much more than a post-colonial Old Boys Club, but with a membership that changes from time to time, most countries that leave usually apply to rejoin further down the road. Truly, there is strength in membership.

Watching the coverage of the service, I was struck by the degree of positivity and

tone of optimism in those who took part.

The last couple of years have taken their toll on all of us and, against current world events, we are witnessing deeply dark days. But without hope we would be truly lost.

The sense of hope coming from Westminster Abbey on Monday afternoon was a much-needed counterpoint to the grim news coming from Ukraine.

Collaboration between global partners has always been crucial to the world order. Right now there are recognised international bodies... the European Union, Nato, The Commonwealth and even Great Britain itself. Of course ‘The Commonwealth’ is not the only commonwealth; there’s also the Commonwealth of Independent States which was set up by Russia and former members of the Soviet Union in 1991 (the same year Boris Yeltsin was elected to the post of president, the first presidential election in Russia’s history).

There’s irony there perhaps when you look at what is being directed from the Kremlin right now.

It would be foolish to say that the horrors currently being played out in the east will soon be over; we can only hope and pray they will be.

A long period of rebuilding will be needed, whatever the final outcome of the war. Just like the rest of us, the young people in Westminster Abbey on Monday were witnesses to the invasion of Ukraine.

But maybe the virtues of our Commonwealth can help in the wider healing of wounds inflicted on a nation so grievously affected; healing brought by a younger generation inspired by global masterclasses in collaboration and unanimity.