Sunday, September 17, 2017

Preaching forgiveness in the midst of violence and impunity

This morning I went to preside at a Celebration of the Word with Communion in a community that has suffered violence – and impunity.

A few years ago, one young man was arrested and two young men were killed by the police. The young man is still in prison and I think there has been no trial for the policeman who killed the two young men.

A little later, a jilted lover came and killed the woman and her two kids by locking them in a room and setting it on fire. They survived briefly but died. He is in prison.

A bit later, a couple related to people in this village and to one of those imprisoned was killed in their home in a machete attack in a different village.

How do you preach in a place touched by violence and injustice when the readings are about forgiveness? Here are some notes on what I shared.

I started by expressing my trepidation of preaching on forgiveness in the face of the sufferings of the people.

I asked them to remember, above all, that our God is compassionate and merciful, as we prayed in the responsorial, psalm 103.

First, I tried to explain that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring. In many societies, we try to ignore offenses and so never face them. Ignoring or claiming to forget an offense really leaves no place for real forgiveness.

Ignoring or forgetting an offense, a crime, can lead to the impunity that surrounds us here in Honduras – where the poor suffer and no one is held responsible.

But, real forgiveness can lead to reconciliation, to finding a way to live in peace with others. It is above all a way to leave the offended and the offender free to grow, to change.

The person who suffered can leave aside feelings of anger, revenge, resentment. These often tear at the heart of those who are offended, like a parasite depriving the person offended of peace, of the possibility of new life and growth. This pain, unattended to, can eat us up - from the inside. It can also lead, when resentment is allowed to fester, to feuds between persons, to fights, and even to deaths. When there is no justice, many take “justice” into their own hands – resulting in a cycle of pain and violence.

But forgiveness is liberating.

It can leave the offender free to change, to ask forgiveness, to make amends, to begin anew.

Forgiveness leaves a space for reconciliation and even solidarity between the person offended and the offender.

To help them think and pray about all this, I shared two stories. 

I spoke of a man whose little boy had been violated. He brought a complaint against the perpetrator to the justice system. The man was arrested. Some condemned him for doing this: “You are a delegate of the Word and have to forgive.” I told him that what he had done was good, especially since it cam out later that the man who violated other children and so he was preventing future harm. But, as I saw it, the delegate brought the charges without anger, without a desire for vengeance.

The other is the story of a Spanish missionary priest in Chile, Joan Alinsa, who was killed on September 19, 1973. (I wrote about him in a blog post three years ago.)The soldiers came and sought him out in the hospital where he worked. They were going to blindfold him before shooting him; but he told them “Please don’t blindfold me, kill me face to face, because I want to see you to forgive you.”

These are contrasting examples of how to deal with the call to forgive.

I closed emphasizing that our God is merciful and compassionate, but also noting that in the Lord’s prayer, which were about to pray before Communion, we ask our Father to “forgive us our offenses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”


We experience forgiveness from God, every day. We are called to forgive every day, especially in the little details of life. And thus God will forgive us even more.

And so I prayed that the forgiveness that leads to reconciliation will help regenerate this and all other places beset by violence, death, and injustice. 

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