The Power of Forgiveness


In a recent column I wrote about the need for all of us to find forgiveness and reconciliation in our lives.  It is my sincere belief that this is central to our spiritual life and holding back forgiveness, even for small things, will hamper that growth and harm us in the long run.  Just a few days ago in Rome we saw the power of forgiveness play itself out.

Wednesday, May 13, 1981 is a day that will long stay in my memory.  I am not sure exactly what I was doing on that day but it is the day that Pope John Paul II was shot in an attempted assassination attempt while he rode through St. Peter’s Square after his weekly Wednesday audience.  He was shot four times and suffered massive blood loss and if it was not for the skills of the doctors who treated him, and lots of prayers, he would have died on that day.

Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish citizen, was 23 years old when he drew the pistol that he had hidden in his jacket and took aim at the Pope as he drove by in an open jeep.  He pulled the trigger four times and hit his target.  He was later apprehended and taken to jail.  He describes himself as a mercenary with no political connections who has been charged with murdering a journalist in 1979.

In July of 1981 Ağca was found guilty in an Italian court and sentenced to life in prison for his actions in the assassination attempt. On that day, Pope John Paul II said, “pray for my brother, whom I have sincerely forgiven.” In 1983 the Pope traveled to the prison that had become the home of Ağca when he met privately with him.  It was widely reported after that the Pope assured him of his forgiveness.  The two stayed in contact during his incarceration and the Pope even had contact with Ağca’s family.

After serving 20 years of his life sentence Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi pardoned his and he was deported to Turkey and after fleeing the country was returned where he served more time in prison for other crimes he had committed.  Upon hearing of the death of John Paul II Ağca grieved deeply at the loss of his friend.

This is a shining example of the power of forgiveness.  At some time, after the visit of Pope John Paul to the prison, Ağca converted to Christianity.  I have no doubt that this would have happened if it was not for the example of forgiveness.  Pope John Paul did nothing more that all Christians, dare I say all people, are required to do and that is offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

When we withhold forgiveness we injure ourselves twice and we give power to the person who has harmed us.  As long as we hold on to the anger associated with the lack of forgiveness we will not heal emotionally or spiritually.  Sure the physical scars will fade overtime but the dame that is being done to us on the spiritual level will continue long after those scars heal.  Spiritual healing is just as important, if not more important, than physical healing.  There is no pill or operation that can be given to aid in this healing only the power of forgiveness can do this.

I will note here that although Pope John Paul forgave his attempted assassin he did not ask for his sentence to be reduced or forgiven in any way.  Forgiveness does not include forgetting what happened and the person who has harmed us still must face the consequences of their actions.  Forgiveness starts the healing process for all involved but the person must still be held accountable for their actions.

The end of the story came just a few days ago when Mehmet Ali Ağca returned to the Vatican and placed flowers on the tomb of his friend and now Saint in the Roman Catholic Church John Paul.  December 27th was the 33rd anniversary of the meeting of the two men in a Roman prison and he came to honor the man who forgave him for what he had done.

How many of us need to let go of the anger that we hold deep inside and offer forgiveness for wrongs that have been done to us.  Perhaps the person is no longer with us so we cannot forgive them face to face but forgiveness still needs to be offered.  Spiritual health is important to our physical health and if we are withholding forgiveness that health will not be achieved.

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