During the past weeks while massive protests in Egypt captured headlines worldwide, a reporter’s eyewitness account from Tahrir Square caught my eye:
A young policeman who moments earlier had been smashing protesters with a baton was forced to fall back, dropping his shield and helmet as he fled. Two protesters of the same age picked them up, ran towards him and handed them back. “We are not your enemy,” they told the terrified conscript. “We are like you. Join us.”
The words and actions of these young Arab men affirm a simple but vital truth: those we might call enemies are people with fears and hopes just like us. Imagine if people on both sides of the world’s conflicts would make this recognition. Wars would be over.
Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” The potential for love or hate is in every human heart and that is where the change begins. How do we react to the people whose mannerisms or opinions rub us wrong, the impatient boss, the intolerable neighbor, the inconsiderate words or deeds of someone close to us? Sometimes seemingly small grievances can spawn bitterness or anger.
Not so long ago, a coworker’s comments and callousness left me feeling hurt and betrayed. The human tendency is to take offense and make it known when we feel our rights infringed, and naturally that is what I did with vigor. When an apology was not forthcoming I was further offended. Suddenly I saw the hypocrisy of my reaction. Had not I also sometimes spoken in anger or acted carelessly? Once again I could see a brother just like me. To make peace I had to take the first step and forgive.
Jesus showed the way. He taught: “Love your enemies do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27) and on the cross he prayed for his executioners: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” There are many who have followed his example.
The late Bishop Samuel Ruiz of Chiapas Mexico received death threats, and experienced attempts on his life. When asked how he could forgive his enemies he simply replied: “I have no enemies.” While courageously condemning the atrocities committed against his parishioners, he refused to hate the perpetrators, seeing in them fellow sufferers and brothers.
Salvadoran martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero, whose people were victims of a brutal war of repression waged by his country's ruling elites, challenged the armed forces to refuse to obey the sinful order to kill, and called those in power to repent. He too had compassion for the men who would eventually assassinate him:
And so, brothers and sisters, I repeat what I have said here so often, addressing by radio those who perhaps have caused so many injustices and acts of violence, those who have stained themselves with the blood of so many murders, those who have hands soiled with tortures those who have calloused their consciences, who are unmoved to see under their boots a person abased, suffering, perhaps ready to die. To all them I say: No matter your crimes. They are ugly and horrible… but God calls you and forgives you.
Not all face forgiving physical aggression like the young Egyptians, Ruiz, or Romero, but when we see a person like ourselves in those who offend we overcome the differences that separate them from us. Forgiveness and love can bridge the barriers of race, religion, and culture that divide our world. When we find in every person, a fellow child of God, created in His image and equally in need of His love and compassion, then we begin to build peace.