Pope John Paul II had hoped that his meeting with his would-be assassin in 1983 would serve as an example to the world of the healing powers of forgiveness and reconciliation. He had hopped also that it would serve as an example to the world that conflicts could be solved without the use of weapons. But the escalating violence in the Middle East in particular between Israel and Palestine does not show that the world is learning from the mistakes of the past.

War has never solved any problem. In the world today we find that the act of forgiveness is amazingly complex. It becomes difficult when the spirit of forgiveness is expected to take centre stage for public policy. Pope John Paul II’s gesture in regards to visiting his would-be assassin in prison to reiterate the forgiveness he uttered soon after he was shot was to enunciate an exemplary message to the world. His action seemed to raise the question whether forgiveness was simply a personal transaction, or could it be used politically to reconcile enemies? Could the Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian Leader forgive each other and come to some reconciliation as did Menachem Begin, and Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat in 1977 when Sadat made his dramatic journey to Jerusalem? I am of the opinion that if Pope John Paul II could forgive the man who shot him, could sit with him and hold his hands, then this is possible for any other person. Pope John Paul II through that act showed man’s more brutal impulses that are prevalent in many countries today that peace is possible without violence.

Following his visit to Rebibbia prison, in a sermon in Eire, a town in Northern Ireland, the Pope elaborated his message and said that violence was evil. He continued to say that violence was unacceptable as a solution to problems and that violence was unworthy of man. Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales put it that the outcome of violence is uncertain. He added that there is honour in peaceful settlement. Pope John Paul II’s rejection of violence did not just stop at that. He said that violence was a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith and the truth of our humanity. The Pope’s meeting with Agca, his would-be assailant, showed the world that it is possible to combine the moral action of public duty with private dimensions of simple  human activity.

At the time in Milan, a Catholic daily Newspaper Avvenrie wrote that, there had been so many voices raised to ask for negotiations between the superpowers on the basis of equilibrium of strength. Amid these voices, there had been the chorus of pacifism which proclaims that it is only peace that counts, everything else is relative. Pope John Paul II had the courage to utter the ancient statement: “the responsibility for each evil rests in man as a sinner.” This has been the case since Adam, the first man, was created. God, in His attempt to show man the way, gave humanity, through Moses on Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments. This is God’s moral law to humankind as a whole. The constitutions of all countries of the world embody these commandments; whether these countries are religious or not.

The knowledge won by the labour of man reveals that all the events of our life confirm that God is our Father and that all humankind are God’s children, therefore we are brothers and sisters. That being the case, what stops a peaceful settlement of dispute? In any settlement there must be give and take.

It is important to note that, forgiveness in the case of Pope John Paul II as he visited his would-be assassin in prison to reiterate the forgives he uttered at the time he was shot was born out of grace because Agca did not ask for forgiveness. The Spirit of the Lord led the Pope to do so. Jesus Christ did a similar thing for us when he shed his blood for humankind on the cross of Calvary. As Jesus was on the cross he said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34).

Take a look at the words of Jesus: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and come and offer your gift,” (Matthew 5:23–24). It is important to note here that Jesus said to drop your gift and go and make peace with your brother if your brother had something against you; what if you have something against your brother? This would demand more. It was probably the above text that Pope John Paul II, in spite of his busy schedule, bore in mind when he did what he did.

I wish other leaders in countries where there is civil strife or war could take their cue from this because no one can claim to love God if he or she does not love his or her neighbour. If you are holding something against your neighbour your prayers might not be heard or answered. This applies to all religions that worship a monotheistic God (the Muslims and the Jews). I believe that Israel could live at peace with her Arab neighbours if her Arab neighbours would leave them alone and stop attacking them. They must keep the question of dividing Jerusalem out of the terms of the settlement.

If leaders in war-torn countries had showed the same line of action as did Pope John Paul II, the world would have been a better place today. Christ preached forgiveness and love for one’s enemies. Some of the people of the world and those who are perpetrating violence do not seem to have forgiveness in their dictionary. President Gerald Ford, in extending pardon to Richard Nixon in 1974, said that he believed with all his heart and mind and spirit, that he, not as President, but as a humble servant of God, would receive justice without mercy if he failed to show mercy. It would seem for those who are unforgiving as if they are imprisoned by their past, by old grievances that might not permit life to proceed with new business. Being unforgiving in fact makes one yield to another’s control. Forgiveness therefore frees the forgiver.

Violence will not solve the problem between Israel and Palestine. The more attacks and counterattacks there are the more peace will elude the area. The leaders of both countries should shun outside interference. I believe that the Israeli Prime Minister, Palestinian Leader and Hamas leaders could forgive each other and come to some reconciliation as did Menachem Begin, and the Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat in 1977 when Sadat made his dramatic journey to Jerusalem.  This is possible; all that needs to be done is for one side to take the first step, but pride from both sides may deter such action. But if they think of the devastation, loss of life and disruption of daily ways of livelihood for the people involved, that might make them willing to take the necessary bold step.



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