Throughout the centuries, politics, international relations and diplomacy have shown that that which seemed unalterable is not so at all; when a new paradigm was offered, explained, and instituted in minds and spirits, issues that had seemed impossible to resolve, instead enjoyed unexpected breakthroughs. Negotiation, mediation, restitution, international institutions, the commitment of religions to peace – before they came about, they seemed to be unachievable objectives. And instead they have become so essential that life without them is now unthinkable. Today several old and new disputes have found in conflict a rather tragic stability, and in violence, a predominant given. Yet there is an instrument that has begun to penetrate the international scene – the processes of forgiveness and reconciliation, having already been applied to situations that would have otherwise been condemned to the status quo.
Thus, in the face of an already broad bibliography and of well known cases, it seems to us necessary to ask those with the most political and intellectual responsibility, as well as those with the widest spiritual sensibility, to ask themselves where and how forgiveness could be a means for coming together. In so doing, we seek to refine the concept of forgiveness, strip it of its ideological residue, and render it less ambiguous. The questions that follow seek to build a parallel, collective interview to show the convergence of the great spirits of this tattered world, the synchronization of the generations. The contributions will be discussed in a permanent forum which will be launched in Rome as a laboratory for action and reflection.
01Peace negotiations are, for the most part, focused on the political and economic dimensions. What is your perception of the necessity of touching deeper and more genuine aspects of reconciliation and how can this be achieved?
In my experience it is important to address how people “feel” about what has happened to them as well as the political and economic dimensions. There will be no lasting peace if people ‘s hearts are filled with hatred and desire for revenge. Complementary to the political and economic are the psychological, emotional and spiritual impact of conflict and division on individuals, communities and nations. It is also important that hurting people are provided with a platform where they can speak about what has been done and it can be respectfully acknowledged. This is where publically conducted Truth and Reconcilations Commissions have a role to play. However such commissions need to be linked with comprehensive forms of rehabilitation, reparation and restorative justice for the relatives of victims and survivors. Nor should we underestimate the power and importance of publc apology for past wrongs by the leaders of nations.
02What are the conditions in which, beyond securing the interests of parties to conflict, a process that is centered on a sense of fairness and dignity can be established?
A great deal depends on the context and it can be difficult to generalise. Always there is a need as far as possible to “level the playing field”. It is desirable that there should be an “honest broker” - person or persons who are seen as neutral and objective – dealing consistently, transparently and fairly with all the parties to the conflict. Sadly, often it is when the people have becme “war weary” that leaders realise that they cannot win militarily and seek a negotiated settlement.
03To what degree is forgiveness an essential dimension of reconciliation? At the root of your political culture and religious faith, what are the principles that either imply or exclude forgiveness? Which verses or sayings that are part of your personal spiritual heritage could in your opinion have a universal significance?
Reconciliation can be seen as the fruit of a journey of forgiveness. However one side may decide to forgive and the other side may not choose to reciprocate. For Christians, forgiveness is central to their faith – it is there in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” and also in the prayer Jesus offers on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. Problem is that forgiveness is spoken of as if it is something cheap, and simple and glib whereas for most people it is something costly, painful and difficult. For most of us it is not something small, it is smething big. It is interesting to note that the Greek word in the New Testament for forgiveness is the same word as untying a knot. When people are hurting, it may not always be forgiveness which is paramount but much more importantly, the acknowledgment of the wrong that was done.
04Does forgiveness require some form of repentance on the side of those to whom forgiveness is offered? Does forgiveness have conditions or is it unconditional? Based on your experience on working with reconciliation and forgiveness what are the structure and activities you would suggest for a universal council on reconciliation?
I believe that part of the journey of forgiveness is repentance – to be truly sorry for the harm caused and an ernest desire not to repeat. I once read that to say “I forgive you” is also an accusation – you are telling someone that they did it – but maybe the person being forgiven is not convinced that they had done any wrong. I believe that reparation and restitution are part of the journey of forgiveness – it is reductionist to say that forgiveness is simply saying “sorry”.
I think a universal council should be a simple structure made up of people with very high integrity, deep listening skills and a great deal of wisdom from a wide variety of contexts. Representivity would also be important. The activities would arise firstly out of a deep reflection of the present situations of conflict facing the world.
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