Forgiveness breaks through and gives Forgiveness breaks through and gives a new look

Publish date 30-03-2023

by Redazione Sermig

Every time a new year begins, we cherish the hope that the future will be better than the past. Never like today do we need hope to face the present and what will happen

Hope is not an illusion, it is an authentic opportunity for a new look. A look that starts from forgiveness, opening a breach in resentment, in the desire for revenge towards those who have hurt us and, at times, have taken almost everything away from us.

There are examples that show that it is possible.

It is the experience of Elvira Mujcic, Italian-Bosnian writer. Her family affections affected by the Srebrenica massacre, she reflects on how to build one's life without being immobilized by the past.

It is the lesson, never understood enough, of history.

Renato Bonomo and Gianni Oliva remind us of her civil value, which can reconstruct the relationships of a torn social fabric through the recognition and overcoming of opposing memories.

A third reflection comes from brother MichaelDavide Semeraro, prior of the Benedictine abbey of Novalesa. With him we rediscover the strength of forgiveness and reconciliation, which allow us to rediscover in the other the face of the brother and no longer of the enemy.


Pain doesn't win

The testimony of the writer Elvira Mujcic, a little girl in the Bosnian war

There are few places in the world to define the abyss. Srebrenica, in Bosnia, is one of them. An endless expanse of white tombstones. All men and boys. The same date of death: July 1995. The coordinates of the first genocide in Europe after the Second World War. Over 8 thousand Bosnian Muslims victims of the lead of the army and Bosnian Serb paramilitary gangs. The victims separated from their families, taken to secluded places, shot, then buried in makeshift mass graves. After almost 30 years many bodies have still not been found. Behind the numbers, the story of people like us, of lives erased and other lives suspended, those of family members, of those who today have only memories and in many cases not even a grave to cry over. War is also this. The writer Elvira Mujcic is 42 years old today. She was a little girl at the time. «We left a few days before the siege with my mother and my brothers – she says while my father, my uncle and the other men of my family stayed. It was impossible for them to leave the country, surrounded everywhere by paramilitary groups. They disappeared into thin air like so many». For Elvira, her mother and her brothers, the beginning of a new life in Italy as refugees, welcomed in a small town in Val Camonica. Today that story remains inside. Impossible to forget her.

Despite everything, she says today that she doesn't want to get stuck in the role of victim and prisoner of that tragedy, because it would mean losing sight of the future. What does it mean?

Witnessing is fundamental, but it cannot be done forever because the risk is not allowing lived experience to be transformed into memory. If this doesn't happen, you remain closed in a kind of cage and you can't distance yourself in any way. Writing has helped me a lot as it allows an elaboration of the past into something new. I like to remember the sentence from a beautiful novel by Christa Wolff, The beams of childhood, where it is stated that the past is never dead, it has never passed, because memory allows us to make it grow and also to transform it. This task is much more complex than mere witnessing. An experience like the one I went through can sink you and make you lose sight of any kind of future. The right thing, however, is to make it an opportunity for you and for others to enter into relationships and not fall into rhetoric.

On a journey like this, how do you handle the pain?

Perhaps we have a misleading image of making peace with pain. I say this because perhaps we never really make peace with lived experiences, we never completely mend what is interrupted, broken. In my personal experience, I think of my childhood. Some things will never come back: my home, my world, everything I lost. It's a certainty. The pain does not erase it.

What can we do then?

You have to be aware that the pain changes form, fortunately also intensity, otherwise it would not be possible to continue it over time. In my opinion, peace is made by continually interacting with the things that have happened to us because each lived experience continually challenges us. It's as if he presented us with new dimensions each time. This is why I say that it is not possible to come to terms with the past once and for all, because the accounts will never add up and because we never live up to the things we have been through. The wounds are there and it is not possible to circumvent them or remove them. We can only try to fix them.

Like, how?

I am starting from a very concrete example linked to language. Until the age of 14, my mother tongue was Bosnian, then when I arrived in Italy, I learned Italian, which was a great learning tool. Speaking Italian made everything lighter, so much so that today when I return to Bosnia in a certain sense, I find another myself, the petrified 14-year-old kid there who never grew up. A paradox because, on the contrary, in Italy I am a woman who did not have an "Italian" childhood, if I may say so. How do you bring these two completely different people together? This is my daily commitment, with falls and recoveries. A method that works for everyone.

In which way?

That's life, even if you weren't a war refugee. To live is to go through your pain every day, to carry it with you, to try not to be crushed, but to know that you cannot get rid of it. It is impossible to think of being completely resolved. Someone may take these words for resignation, but for me it's not like that. Indeed, this is the beautiful side of our experience. Each step is part of our life journey. So, I repeat, the important thing is not to do the math but to try to stay in reality to get somewhere.
In July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serb army and paramilitary gang leaders. Victims separated from their families, taken to isolated places, shot, then buried in makeshift mass graves

Redazione NP


Recognized memories

The civic value of history as an opportunity to recompose the social fabric of communities

In the summer of 2019, the San Francisco School District, the elected body that decides school programs and activities in the city, decided to remove from the walls of Washington High School some scenes from the murals that, from the years 1930, recount the life of the first president of the United States. According to the district, these murals had to be removed because they depict Washington being a slave owner and an enemy of the Indians. On June 24, 2021 in Barranquilla, Colombia, the statue of Christopher Columbus was pulled down with ropes: his head was then carried in triumph through the streets of the city. Colombo is a rather popular target: in recent years, in the United States and in many Latin American states, there have been many destructions of its statues with the motivation that it is not possible to celebrate the initiator of the genocide of the American indigenous peoples. These examples of “cancellation culture” hide a revisionist intention that aims at a radical reinterpretation of history. Almost a desire to purify the past of its errors and negative elements to generate a new humanity. Apparently laudable intention, but extremely dangerous and decidedly inhumane.

Perhaps it is worth taking a step back and asking a basic, almost banal question: why history today? Why in the midst of so much revisionism and denial (from the Holocaust, to Covid and vaccines, to election results like in the Trump affair), do we need history? And what story do we need?

All political regimes (even democratic ones) and opinion movements make political use of history, aimed at legitimizing their position of power. Let's be clear: all political systems "use" history to a greater or lesser extent. It happened with fascism and its recourse to the Roman Empire, it also happened in the kingdom of Italy which wanted to present the Risorgimento linear and without contradictions, it happens today in Putin's Russia and in Zelensky's Ukraine. How legitimate is this attitude? When is it propaganda? What tools do we have to prevent history from becoming a mere instrument of political struggle, an ideological bulwark to be pitted against our adversaries? In our case, then, it is central to investigate the relationship between democracy and history: the fact that we all have the right to express our opinion does not mean that all opinions are founded and adequate. History was perhaps the first discipline that had to systematically confront systemic denial and revisionism and had to develop antibodies to be able to combat these pseudo-historical drifts that are now invading various areas of our lives.

In particular, the decisive barrier to any relativistic-negation drift is to remind us that history is a "scientific" discipline. Obviously not in the natural science sense. Unlike these that produce predictions, history is subject to interpretation because it has to do with man, his actions and thoughts about him. But the interpretations must be carried out with criteria and must be based on rigorous factual reconstructions and documentary analyses, according to procedures and methodologies shared by the scientific community. Interpretation does not mean arbitrariness, it does not mean accepting any statement! The comparison between historically based interpretations is the sense of the historiographical narration.

These considerations then allow us to clarify the distinction between history and memory (let us never take it for granted). If individual and collective memories are divisive by nature (fascists/anti-fascists, Bosnians/Serbs/Croats in the ex-Yugoslavia), only a scientific approach to history can unite: «If memory is a place of power, if it authorizes conscious manipulations or unaware, if it obeys individual or collective interests, history, like all sciences, has truth as its norm» (Le Goff, History). The civil value of history lies precisely in this: recognizing the value of different memories, but at the same time allowing a society to overcome fragmentation, the one-sidedness of points of view, the opposition through articulated historical understandings free from partisan interests .

Every era is called to rewrite history, even ours. The dialogue with the past must remain alive and continuous, each generation is called to make sense of and appropriate past events as they are driven by the needs of the present to question what has happened in order to be able to orient themselves in the future. Not a mere re-proposition of what was, but a conscious, careful and responsible creative effort. Because every story is always – as Croce reminded us – contemporary history.

«If memory is a place of power, if it authorizes conscious or unconscious manipulations, if it obeys individual or collective interests, history, like all sciences, has truth as its norm»(Jacques Le Goff, History)

Renato Bonomo


From memory, a common heritage

On 13 July 2020 SERGIO MATTARELLA and BORUT PAHOR (President of the Republic of Slovenia) lay a wreath of flowers at the Slovenian war memorial at the iron plate covering the entrance to the Basovizza foiba photo Presidency of the republic

Shared memory is a bit tricky to implement, as everyone has their own memory. What one should arrive at is recognized memory: «I have my memory but I also recognize the rights of your memory». I recall, with regard to relations with the former Yugoslavia, that there was recently a significant gesture, when last year the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella and Borut Pahor, President of the Slovenian Republic, went together to the Basovizza foiba, which in some way is the symbol of the violence of the Tito regime against the Italians and then they went on a plaque commemorating four young Slovenian anti-fascists sentenced to death and executed in 1930. And who therefore are the symbol of the violence that fascist Italy committed against the Yugoslav population. Sergio Mattarella on that occasion stated that "history cannot be erased: we can cultivate it with rancor, or make suffering a common heritage in memory". These are the types of memory that can be recognized. In history, wrongs and reasons are not divided in half like a stick of butter but – as Manzoni already said in The Betrothed – they fade into each other and so what we can do is have memories recognized through the recognition of the reasons for where the stories happened.

Gianni Oliva (storico e scrittore)


Forgiveness will save the world

Reconciliation has the power to heal ourselves and the relationship with the other

We all remember Dostoevsky's famous text in which Prince Myshkin, who had stated that "beauty will save the world", is urgently asked: "What beauty will save the world?". Echoing the novel, we can state with a little emphasis that "forgiveness will save the world." More precisely we can proclaim that «without forgiveness the world will not be saved», but we must honestly add: «What forgiveness will save the world». As Father Timothy Radcliffe explains: "We ask for forgiveness not because we are radically evil, but because we are made for what is beyond all expectation. [...] We need forgiveness, but we know that forgiveness is given and was given well before we sinned: we just have to welcome it» (Faites le plongeon, Cerf, Paris 2012, pp. 198-199).

Forgiveness is certainly offered to us by God in an unconditional, unilateral and primary way so as to be the cause and stimulus of the concrete path of conversion to become capable of forgiveness in order to be builders of peace and craftsmen of reconciliation. We ask this constantly when we repeat the Lord's Prayer which was solemnly entrusted to us immediately after Baptism: "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors".

Of all the invocations of the Our Father, certainly the one on which we linger now is the most "therapeutic". Forgiveness not only "rests" - as Caesarius of Arles said - but frees the heart, making it light of everything that risks not only weighing it down, but even petrifying it. Forgiveness rests, because it helps to look at events in a broader way by renouncing a partial understanding of history for the benefit of a growing awareness of that part of our own and others' vicissitudes whose truest and deepest meaning escapes us. Forgiving is possible only to the extent that one is capable of taking a step back from the illusion of knowing everything and controlling everything: of life - first of all ours - we are always missing some piece. This renunciation rests and this disarmament gives relief. Forgiveness allows us to grasp and welcome what we have been able to do for what has been possible for us. In the harsh context of the Holocaust, Etty Hillesum seems to have learned this fundamental life lesson: "We must live with ourselves as with a whole people: then we know all the qualities of men, good and bad. And if we want to forgive others, we must first forgive ourselves for our shortcomings. It is perhaps the most difficult thing, as I see so often in others and once in me too, not anymore: knowing how to forgive one's faults and mistakes. Which means first of all knowing how to accept them generously» (Diary, pp. 765-766).

The ability and willingness to enter into the dynamism of forgiveness is the unequivocal sign of our belonging to Christ and authenticates our discipleship. So it happened for the protomartyr Stephen, made in everything and to the very end similar to his Master and Lord, who: "he bent his knees and cried out with a loud voice: 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'" (Acts 7:60). . Until we know how to forgive, we are not yet really disciples of the Lord Jesus nor can we consider ourselves trained in his Gospel school. Forgiveness is the testing ground of the disciple of Christ, because, evangelically speaking and living, it becomes necessary to be able to go beyond reasons and beyond justice. Forgiveness is always paradoxically "unjust" precisely because it surpasses and completes all "justice" (Mt 5:20). You are never obliged or forced to forgive, but you choose it freely, unconditionally. Forgiveness is an act of absolute freedom which demands, and at the same time creates, liberation from any expectation of reciprocity. The Koran itself reminds the faithful of Islam that: "The return of evil is only another evil equal to the first. But whoever forgives and is reconciled finds his reward with Allah »(Sura XLII, 40).

One of the greatest deceptions of evil is to create the need for a return which, unfortunately, makes it chronic. When the evil received requires the care of retribution to heal, in reality it only gets worse until it becomes a vicious circle that leaves no way out, taking away any possibility of reconciliation as a style of relationship and form of inhabitation of the world and pilgrimage in history. The only true barrier to evil is forgiveness which deprives the flame of vengeance of oxygen to prevent it from spreading while waiting for it to die down until it goes out. It is not a question of renouncing justice, it means recognizing that no justice can replace the necessary forgiveness. The Lord leaves us no escape: "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:20). We are certainly not dealing with a super-justice: we are placed before the mystery of mercy, which does not subtract itself from the long work of justice, but always goes beyond it, thus bringing it to its real fulfilment. Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting or entering into a sort of denial of events and behaviors, but it means never identifying anyone with the evil they have done or have done to us. It is a question of always leaving space for the mystery of the other, as well as for ours which is never identified with the mathematical sum of the completed, omitted or half-done acts. As Plato recalled: «He who understands everything, forgives everything».

For this reason, if justice is a topic that can be talked about to the point of fighting for it to be done and recognized, forgiveness instead is decided and chosen in the presence of God. Forgiveness is one with prayer and for this reason one lives in the intimacy of conscience. Both the Jewish tradition and its Christian re-understanding place forgiveness at the basis of the existence of the world which cannot hope for a sustainable future without an openness to reconciliation. Forgiveness makes it possible for creatures to live and to complete their existence side by side: «Rabbi Eliezer said: "Until the world was created, there was the Saint, blessed be he, and his big name only. He went up out of his mind to make the world, and he shaped the world before him, but it didn't stand. An example. It is like a king who wants to build his own palace: if he does not dig his foundations and the pillars of his arches and exits into the earth, he does not begin to build. Thus the saint, blessed be he: he modeled the world before him, but it did not stand until he created forgiveness» (M. Buber, I Racconti dei Chassidim, Garzanti, Milan 1985, p. 567).

Starting from this rabbinical text we can say that the creation of forgiveness allows creation not to be satisfied with existing, but to know the joy of "being" and of "being there" in the full sense of the term. Ambrose of Milan, when he contemplates the mystery of creation, seems to agree radically with Rabbi Eliezer: «Our discourse stops here because the sixth day has taken place and the whole work of creation has ended; I want to talk about man and his perfection: in him is the principle of all animated beings and in some way the totality of the universe and all the beauty of creation. Let us therefore be silent, since God has rested from all the works of this world. He rested in the secret of man's heart, in his spirit, in his thought... I give thanks to the Lord our God, whose work has come to an end! He made the sky and did not rest. The sun and the moon and the stars and he did not even rest in them; but having become a man, he rested because he had one whom he could forgive!" (Hexameron, X, 75).

Created in the «image and likeness of God» (Gn 1, 26) we can only imitate our Creator to be worthy of being disciples of our Lord and Master who says: «Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth» and adds «Blessed are peacemakers because they will be called children of God" (Mt 5).

"We need forgiveness, but we know that forgiveness is given and was given long before we sinned: we just have to welcome it" Timothy Radcliffe

fr MichaelDavide Semeraro*


The grace of reconciliation

Elisa Springer, Auschwitz survivor, Artisan of Peace prize 2003

Many times I am asked where God was in Auschwitz. I answer that God is always there, God is everywhere, we mustn't blame God. In God's heart there is room for all of us, but today we need to ask ourselves how many of us still have room for him in the heart, to change hate into love. Hatred is useless, it's like a great river that when it overflows drags everything it meets along its path and then the man is left alone, looks around and wonders how it could have happened.

This is still the purpose for which I am here today: to implore the grace of reconciliation – from God above all who alone can open and purify our hearts; then by the men who suffered here, and finally the grace of reconciliation for all those who, in this hour of our history, suffer in a new way under the power of hatred and under the violence fomented by hatred.

Benedict XVI in Auschwitz, May 28, 2006


Redazione NP

NP Gennaio 2023

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