"And forgive us of our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." Matthew 6:12
How many times have I prayed these very words without realizing the magnitude of what they asked of God and for us as individuals. Many times, when I ask for forgiveness I am referring to those times when I have been selfish or when I have been insensitive towards others, but it was on this pilgrimage to Colombia that I finally came to a more profound appreciation for this prayer. It is one thing to forgive those who may have been selfish, insensitive or have lied, or even stolen, but it is quite another to forgive those who killed your loved ones - your father, mother, husband, brother, sister or child. Yet, this was the reality of what the Global Ministries delegation, which visited Colombia from May 16-22, witnessed as we sought to understand the peace process in Colombia.
After 51 years of civil war and the loss of approximately 250,000 lives and 8 million people being displaced, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of Colombia, with the support of the United Nations, have come to the table to work out what makes for peace within Colombia and how all sectors may participate in the political process.
On August 25, 2016, the Peace Accords were adopted, only to be rejected by voters on October 2, 1016 by a slim margin. Yet, this did not stop Colombia's President, Juan Manual Santos, and the leaders of FARC from their pursuit of peace. On November 25, 2016, President Santos signed a new revised peace agreement with FARC. Although the implementation of the Peace Accords is progressing slowly, it is obvious that these two parties want to end the violence.
The most amazing part of the Peace Accords is related to restorative justice, and this is where forgiveness is a key to its success. There is general agreement that Colombia had for many years a culture of violence, and now to have what is an unprecedented pursuit of peace and reconciliation may be seen as a miracle. "Restorative Justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished though cooperative processes that allow all willing stakeholders to meet." (Sherman, LW and Strang, H Restorative Justice: The Evidence.) What does this mean concretely? It means coming face to face, victim and perpetrator, to share in dialogue with one another in order to understand the life driving force within each individual, and, how that force has brought them together in an extremely painful reality. They share their stories and hopefully, there is an act of confession, which is followed by forgiveness. Both sides are in pain because both sides have been victimized. It is only through forgiveness that a new community may be birthed, a community based on justice, peace and reconciliation.
The delegation heard the story of a young woman who lost her father and uncles in an attack launched by FARC. She tearfully shared with us how her father had been murdered. As we stood there, a young man stepped forward and shared that he was a member of the unit which attacked the community, which resulted in the death of her father. He tearfully apologized and the two embraced. I do not know what the future holds for them. I do not know if this was a symbolic representation or if it has deeper roots in the building of a new just community where the dignity of all is respected.
Forgiveness is a gift from God. Just as God forgave the world for the crucifixion of God's son, the people of Colombia are working in a process of restorative justice. Let us be open to demonstrate forgiveness toward others as we work to overcome injustice in our communities and the world
"Lord forgive me of my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me."
Julia Brown Karimu
President, Division of Overseas Ministries and
Co-Executive, Global Ministries
Sherman, LW and Strang, H. (2007) Restorative Justice: The Evidence. The Smith Institute: London.