“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”, Mahatma Gandhi.
We are often amazed and moved by stories about forgiveness. It is deeply moving to read individual stories of how people came to forgive those who wronged them grievously, for example during strife and wars such as those in Liberia, Rwanda and Northern Ireland, etc.
Joedafi is a Liberian who was caught up in the terrible war in is own country. He was taken prisoner, he witnessed violence, atrocities and the soldiers disregard for life – “They made us drink from human skulls, bury dead bodies, and live on leaves. Yet Psalm 23 was giving me the feeling that out of this valley of the shadow of death, God would deliver me.. I took faith in the teaching I heard, that the Lord delivers those who trust Him, and commit their ways to Him. Truly Jesus saves! While laying down one evening, as I was dozing off to sleep, I heard a silent voice call my name, commanding me to rise up and walk away from my captors. It was so commanding, I obeyed instantly, and walked past sleeping guards out onto the main road and to freedom. ….I have found new life in Jesus and have forgiven those soldiers. Though it was not easy, but I understand from the Bible that I should forgive and let go of bitterness.” Jodafi found his way to Ghana where he lives as a refugee.
This story has many similarities with that of St Patrick whose Feast Day we celebrate on March 17th. He was captured as a young boy and brought across the sea from England to Ireland. There he was sold as a slave and spent his days and nights on the bleak hills, in harsh weather, minding sheep. But what is really remarkable about Patrick is that after he escaped and had become adult, he answered a call to return to this inhospitable land as a Christian bishop, to bring to the people the love of God. His experience had not made him bitter, but gave him a capacity to grow in understanding and compassion for those who had caused his suffering. He forgave and this forgiveness led him to greatness.
Jodafi, now a refugee, also had the strength to forgive. How many of the refugees in Ireland have experienced suffering like Jodafi? How many of them have been able to forgive? In the future how many of them will achieve greatness? We do not know - we cannot answer these questions. But, what we do know is that they left their own lands to get away from something bad, their leaving was not a choice freely made but one forced upon them. Let us not put further obstacles in their way but let us nurture the hope that they will be able to forgive and that they will achieve greatness. Let us be strong in resisting the temptation to judge or to reject – may we hear the Gospel call to welcome the stranger.