By Sister Ruth Bolarte, I.H.M.
In the movie “Invictus,” Francois Pienaar wonders how Nelson Mandela could spend 30 years in prison, come out and forgive the men who put him there.
Some of us may wonder how people who have been victims of violence can ever become instruments of peace. In the movie, Mandela would not settle for a country spanided where the “whites cheer for South Africa and the blacks for England.”
The president of South Africa understood that reconciliation is the fruit of liberation – liberation of the oppressor and the oppressed. Only a united South Africa would be truly free.
This month, we celebrate Black History Month – the history of a community who experienced the dehumanizing force of slavery, racist prejudice and oppression. The African-American bishops of the United States, in their letter “What We Have Seen and Heard,” urge their African-American Catholic brothers and sisters “who are the children of pain be now a bridge of reconciliation. Let us who are the offspring of violence become the channels of compassion. Let us the sons of daughters of bondage, be the bringers of peace.” Again, some of us may ask, how can this be?
Often, our brothers and sisters who have suffered denial of freedom and abuses against human dignity cherish highly the gift of freedom. As any God-given gift, freedom implies responsibility. We are accountable to God for this gift in the lives of others. Perhaps, this was the force that moved Mandela and so many others in their efforts to challenge injustices in society “for unless all are free, none are free” (“What We Have Seen and Heard”).
The Gospel message of Jesus calls us to forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation is possible because Christ made it possible through the Paschal Mystery (Col. 1:20). Thus, reconciliation is God’s work within us, which lead us to be reconciled with our brothers and sisters.
Truth and justice are essential dimensions of reconciliation. Only when we can face and articulate the truth of the injustice perpetrated toward the other and make attempts to offer reparation for the harm done is that reconciliation starts to happen.
As we reconcile with one another, victim and oppressor become a new creation. Together they can create a new way of life where there is mutually perceived equality.
During this coming Lenten season, let’s look for opportunities to seek reconciliation – with God and one another – because by the blood of Christ we are one.
Sister Ruth Bolarte, I.H.M., is the director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization in Philadelphia.