The boldness of forgiveness

European Conference of Justice and Peace Commissions at Vilnius

The international meeting of the European Conference of Justice and Peace Commissions, the European network that now brings together 31 national commissions, met at Vilnius, in Lithuania, from 17 to 19 September. The theme of the meeting was: “the gift of freedom: a history of transitions and challenges”, in recognition of the fact that 2010 is a special anniversary for Lithuania, marking the twenty years that have passed since the re-establishment of independence and the end of Soviet rule in the country. “Lithuania – says the final communiqué – is a nation whose strong faith and cultural identity have enabled it to survive the many occupations it suffered in the twentieth century, culminating in almost 50 years of Soviet domination”. “Understandably, the scars of the past are still visible in Lithuanian society today. We have been encouraged, however, by the efforts made to tackle the injustices of the past through processes of reconciliation, which give tangible proof of the will to give recognition to the victims of injustice”. “Our experiences have led us to reflect on the meaning of freedom and the responsibilities that accompany it. Real freedom is not achieved in an instant, but is a continuous process. Threats to freedom may assume many forms: they may be of military, political, social, economic or moral type. All of us, in Europe, must be vigilant about new forms of threat to freedom”. We give below some excerpts from a reflection with the title “The Europe of martyrs and sinners” presented at Vilnius by Mgr. Gérard Defois, President of “Justice and Peace” Europe. I must admit that ‘Justice and Peace’ shows us every day situations of injustice and deprivation, faced by the fact that migrants and the poor, those excluded from democracy and clandestines of all races, knock in vain at the doors of States and the governments of our countries. That’s why I sometimes ask myself whether our European ambition is equal to our hopes and our responsibilities. What can we expect from this old continent, however rich its Christian roots may be? That’s what many of our interlocutors ask. Will the Europe of the future have to reinvent itself and rebuild new walls or define sealed territories to maintain peace for the benefit of a privileged few and protect them from the violence of the victims of their own injustices?Our Europe is at the same time a land of martyrs and a land of sinners. Europe cannot forget that she is the daughter of a generation of martyrs, men and women, even children, who have risked their life so as not to lose their soul. But today Europe, drowned in a delirium of possession and consumerism, risks losing herself. Democracy and citizenship in fact have no force if they are not founded on the values of the Spirit by which man lives not by bread alone, but by the words and promises that come from God. Our Europe has a compelling need for the prayer of martyrs, if she is to dare still to believe in the promise of European solidarity which alone can ensure her of fidelity in love, truth in justice and solidarity in peace. It is equally clear that there cannot be a Europe without the constant dynamic of reconciliation. More than ever I think that forgiveness is the boldest act of courage in the years ahead. We are strongly convinced of this because our memories remain in us as wounds and from the North to the South of Europe we still find unhealed wounds whose suffering still remains strong. It has been said: “Europe is sick of memory”. And it is in truth that a worthy and brotherly solidarity will be manifested. Otherwise, we shall fall into the vicious circle of vendetta and violence. We know that our faith is a covenant and a reconciliation that were given to us by God. It is He who promises. In this sense Europe has become, thanks to all believers, a promise and a gift. So, inspired by listening to our brothers of Lithuania, we appeal to all those who share our concern for the Europe of the present and the future: Europe of businesses and markets, what are you doing for giving and sharing? Europe of nations, what are you doing for solidarity without frontiers and for the dignity of man? Europe, what are you doing for culture and for the values of other peoples? Europe of martyrs, what are you doing for your memory? The fidelity of martyrs and the boldness of forgiveness can be the leaven in the dough of European society.

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