Volume 12 Number 1
No Time Like Now to Forgive

01 February 1999

Nobody said that healing history or treading the path of forgiveness would be easy.
A French friend of mine used to sing a song expressing his love for Britain, with occasional wry comments. Describing the size and variety of English breakfasts he would say, 'No wonder we call ours un petit déjeuner.' He would also object lightheartedly to the fact, as he said, that London's squares and streets are named for French defeats.

This matter is now getting less light-hearted. I have been told that campaigners in France are demanding that Waterloo Station, the London railway terminus for the Channel Tunnel Eurostar service, be renamed, to spare their feelings over the defeat inflicted on Napoleon by the Duke of Wellington in 1815. Some French politicians have written to British Prime Minister Tony Blair calling on him to intervene. They suggest renaming the terminus after Sir Winston Churchill.

Nobody said that healing history or treading the path of forgiveness would be easy.

Observe the experience of Argentine President Carlos Menem and his recent visit to Britain. An article by him in the British press was headlined there as an apology for the war. The next day he had to deny to Argentinian journalists that it was an apology.

In fact, his visit was a reconciling time. The Times of London paid tribute to his work in fostering rapprochement and said that he had come 'to heal old war wounds'.

Many nations are making sincere attempts to make a new start as we approach the Millennium. In October the Japanese government offered an apology for its 35-year colonial rule of South Korea in a pact heralding a new partnership between the two countries. Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said at the signing, 'It is my conviction that this joint declaration will be a new start. I feel acute remorse and offer an apology from my heart.' South Korean Prime Minister Kim Dae-jung said, 'We must settle the accounts of the 20th century as we enter the 21st century.'

In October, too, Ecuador and Peru ended Latin America's longest territorial dispute, which had sparked three wars and caused hundreds of deaths. Ecuadorean President Jamil Mahuad declared, 'After so many decades during which both sides tried to win the war, today our two countries will together win the peace.' Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori said similarly, 'Both countries are winners because both have achieved peace.' The US State Department praised the presidents as an example of statesmanship.

Two nations who have in this century healed some of the bitterest antipathy in history are France and Germany. Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume, from Northern Ireland, told the European Parliament how, on the bridge across the Rhine from France to Germany, 'I thought: 30 years ago, if I had stood on this bridge and said, "Don't worry, although there are 25 million dead for the second time in a century, and for centuries these peoples of Europe have slaughtered one another, now it is all over, and in 30 years they will all be together," I might have been sent to see a psychiatrist. But it happened.'

He went on, 'What we all have to learn is that... difference--whether it is race, religion or nationality--is an accident of birth, and is not something we should be engaged in conflict about. It is something that we should respect.'

Even as we see again the spectre of hostilities in the Middle East let us not forget the progress that is being made in settling accounts. Even in the Balkans. Towards the end of 1998 an interreligious meeting was held in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka, the first such meeting since the war began. Father Andrija from the Cursillo movement, underlining the importance of forgiveness in healing the past, said, 'A process of reconciliation may take some time as the other side has to recognize their faults also. With forgiveness, however, I don't need to wait and waste time. Forgiveness gives me the freedom to love now. When we attain this freedom we do not lose anything, rather we receive a gift.'

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