Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
2 August 2018
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

In 1983, Pope John Paul II met in prison with Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot and wounded the pontiff in St. Peter's Square two years earlier. The pope publicly forgave him. (photo: CNS)

This year on Sunday 5 August—and on the first Sunday of August every year—many people around the world observe International Forgiveness Day. Although the observance is not connected with any specific religion, organizers note:

”Most world religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings provide an underlying basis for many varying modern day traditions and practices of forgiveness. Some religious doctrines or philosophies place greater emphasis on the need for humans to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own shortcomings, others place greater emphasis on the need for humans to practice forgiveness of one another, yet others make little or no distinction between human and divine forgiveness.”

Since much of CNEWA’s world is home to the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—it’s worth considering how each of these faiths treats the notion of forgiveness.

The three religions all differentiate between God’s forgiveness of humans and human beings forgiving each other. Each of the three monotheistic faiths strongly emphasizes that God is merciful and ready to forgive.

In Judaism, this idea recurs repeatedly. Almost like an antiphon, the phrase “tender and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent” (Joel 2:13) is applied again and again to God in the Hebrew Bible. The entire book of the Prophet Jonah is dedicated to God’s mercy.

In Christianity, God’s mercy and forgiveness are a constant theme of the preaching of Jesus. In the New Testament, God is presented as a loving Father who is always ready to forgive. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ connects the forgiveness of God with our own readiness to forgive: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

In Islam one finds the Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God. They are God’s titles and characteristics. The first two names of God for Muslims are: rahmani and rahim, “the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.” For Muslims these are the two primary and most important characteristics of God. Of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an, all of them except one (Chapter 9, al-Tawba) begins “In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.”

Of course, almost all religions have a form of the “Golden Rule:” do unto others as you would have them to unto you. Nevertheless, forgiveness of those who harm and offend us is treated slightly differently in the three monotheistic traditions. Part of this may be due to the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures and the Qur’an contain legal material and are concerned in some cases with retributive justice. In these scriptures, the action of the offender is important: the offender must repent and ask for forgiveness. The Qur’an 42:41 is, however, instructive here. After reiterating the Law of Talion (an eye for an eye, etc.), it adds “but whoever forgives and brings about reconciliation, his reward is with God.”

But in Christian teaching, the New Testament is unique in its call for “gratuitous forgiveness.” In Matthew’s Gospel (6:14-15) Jesus connects his followers’ willingness to forgive with God’s willingness. When in Matthew 18 Peter askes Jesus how often he must forgive, Jesus responds “seventy times seven” or indefinitely. .” In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus demands something unique in the monotheist faiths: love of one’s enemy. Jesus challenges his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In Luke 6:27-35 he expands the challenge and says “love your enemies and do good, lend without hope of return.” While dying on the cross Jesus asks God to forgive his executioners, although they clearly have not repented of what they are doing.

In our world today, mercy and forgiveness are needed perhaps now more than ever. There is a saying which is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian pacifist: if it is an eye for an eye, it won’t be long before the whole world is blind. Gandhi recognized that while forgiveness is very difficult and at times seemingly impossible, it is ultimately in our own self-interest too.

The world in which CNEWA works has seen more than its share of evil and violence. Genocidal attacks against Yazidis in northwestern Iraq, persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, destruction of churches, monasteries and sacred places, rape and slavery as tools of war and other atrocities are all crimes which cry to heaven. The drive towards vengeance can be very strong and very understandable.

But regardless of how strong or how understandable, vengeance must be resisted and must give way to mercy.

Wherever we work, CNEWA tries to be promote understanding, rebuilding of relationships, reconciliation and forgiveness — not only on International Forgiveness Day but every day.

In the words of a well-known commercial: it’s what we do.

Tags: Christianity Islam Judaism

2 August 2018
Greg Kandra

The Adi-Harush refugee camp shelters some 12,000 people. Learn how they are patiently waiting for a better future — and how the church is trying to give them hope — in This, Our Exile in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

Tags: Ethiopia

2 August 2018
Greg Kandra

Men in India gathered recently to protest the draft list which has rendered some four million people without citizenship in northern India. (photo: Vatican News/AFP)

Israel claims Syrian civil war is effectively over (CNBC) Israel claimed Syria’s long-running civil war had effectively come to an end Thursday and predicted the Golan Heights frontier between the two countries would be much quieter over the coming months. Syrian President Bashar Assad has sought to restore central rule in several southwestern areas of the country in recent weeks, with a particular focus on reclaiming Golan Heights — an area of strategic and political significance for both Damascus and Jerusalem…

Israel halts fuel supplies to Gaza (AP) Despite renewed cease-fire efforts, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that, starting Thursday, he is halting shipments of fuel and natural gas to Gaza in response to incendiary balloons that have targeted southern Israel. Israel also suspended fuel shipments to Gaza temporarily in July for similar reasons…

India renders four million people without citizenship (Vatican News) In a bid to identify illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the Indian government released a draft list on Monday which has rendered about four million people without citizenship in the north-eastern state of Assam. Hundreds of thousands of people fled to India from Muslim-majority Bangladesh during its 1971 war of independence, settling down mostly in Assam and West Bengal…

Bishop Olmsted named apostolic administrator of Byzantine eparchy (CNS) Latin-rite Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix has been appointed apostolic administrator of a Byzantine Ruthenian eparchy also based in Phoenix, the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy. The appointment by Pope Francis was announced on 1 August in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Vatican nuncio to the United States…

Pope revises catechism to say death penalty ’inadmissible’ (CNS) Building on the development of Catholic Church teaching against capital punishment, Pope Francis has ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and to commit the church to working toward its abolition worldwide…

Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank

1 August 2018
Greg Kandra

CNEWA's president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, visits the Home of Faith in Kerala, India, which cares for children with disabilities. Read Msgr. Kozar’s reflections on how CNEWA evangelizes in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)

Tags: India

1 August 2018
Greg Kandra

In the video above, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien expresses his concern over a new law he says limits the rights of non Jews. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)

Cardinal expresses concerns over new law that grants exclusive rights to Jews in Israel (Rome Reports) Israel has passed a law that affords exclusive rights to Jewish people and removes Arabic as an official language. There are 1.8 million Arabs in Israel, which account for 20% of the total population. Israel’s new law has led to further fears of discrimination towards Arab minorities, with many Israeli neighborhoods and towns already effectively being segregated making it tough for an Arab to move in. According to Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, this new law has taken away full equality for non Jews…

Syria says road to Jordan crossing is ready (Reuters) The road to Syria’s border crossing with Jordan, closed by conflict in 2011, is ready for use and Damascus is looking at prospects of reopening it after recovering the border from rebels, the Syrian transport minister said…

Palestinian muftis bar participation in Jerusalem elections (Haaretz) The council of Palestinian muftis has issued a religious ruling barring Muslim residents of Jerusalem from participating in the city’s municipal elections this fall, either by running for office or by voting. In a statement issued on Monday, the council accused Israel of never ceasing its attempts to subdue the city’s Palestinian residents in various ways ever since it gained control of East Jerusalem in 1967…

Starvation deaths haunt India ( Increasing starvation deaths in India show the failure of state and federal governments to implement welfare measures and enforce a law that ensures the right to food, say church leaders and activists. The recent deaths of three children, all aged below nine, in New Delhi have brought to the fore the plight of nearly 191 million Indians who go to sleep on empty stomachs despite economic growth…

Indian tourism department to launch microsite on Christianity (Times of India) State tourism department, in a couple of weeks, will launch a microsite on Christianity in Kerala to lure more international travelers, especially religious scholars, historians and pilgrims…

Tags: Syria India Jerusalem

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