I have noticed that in both Hebrew and Christian scripture the central stories of person-to-person forgiveness focus on family issues only. Does this imply that we are to forgive only family members because of the love we share? Maybe it is too hard to forgive strangers.
While the story of Joseph forgiving his 10 half-brothers in the Hebrew scriptures and the story of the father forgiving his Prodigal Son in the Christian scriptures center on family issues, there are other passages showing the importance of forgiving people who are not family. Consider the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew chapter 18. In this story, the king forgives a servant who owes a large debt. That servant then refuses to forgive the debt of another servant, who is not a family member. The king is very unhappy about this lack of forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father in Matthew chapter 6, people are exhorted to forgive and this is not centered on family members only. Thus, it appears that scripture does not focus on family only when teaching us about the importance of forgiving others.
For additional information, see the “Faith and Religion” page on this website.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert Enright, the man Time magazine called “the forgiveness trailblazer,” just returned from a European forgiveness-teaching tour that included sessions in Edinburgh, Scotland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Rome, Italy. Here is an update on his activities in the first of those locations:
Edinburgh, Scotland – Earlier this year, Dr. Robert Enright and colleagues began a two-phase forgiveness research project with homeless individuals in Edinburgh. Many of those individuals receive services from the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to the poor, that has taken a strong interest in the forgiveness project and that has become a full-partner with the IFI in the Edinburgh research initiative.
The Missionaries of Charity was founded more than 60 years ago by the late Mother Teresa, now known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work with those she characterized as “the poorest of the poor.”
Initially established in Calcutta, the organization quickly expanded into countries outside India and at the time of her death in 1997, Mother Teresa had created over 750 homes in more than 135 countries, providing food pantries, orphanages, homes for AIDS patients and people with leprosy, as well as shelters for battered women, people addicted to drugs, and the poor.
The religious order has now grown to more than 6,000 Missionaries of Charity Sisters, 400 Missionaries of Charity Brothers, 40 Missionaries of Charity Fathers (priests), and 100,000 Lay (non-religious) Missionaries of Charity volunteers. Their services are provided, without charge, to people regardless of their religion or social status.
As part of the Edinburgh campaign, Dr. Enright and others are collaborating with Missionaries of Charity volunteers who are in the process of conducting interviews and administering a variety of anger, injustice, worth, and dignity scales to men and women who do not have stable home situations in Edinburgh.
“So far, we are seeing two distinct patterns emerge from those interviews and self-assessments,” Dr. Enright says. “One of those behavior patterns is pretty much what we expected but the second one presents a significant challenge related to how we address it through an appropriate forgiveness intervention.”
Most or the homeless interviewed in Edinburgh are deeply hurting because of past injustices/trauma and about one-third of them readily admit to being treated unjustly and they admit their pain, according to Dr. Enright. “These are the ones, we think, who may significantly benefit from having a forgiveness program,” he adds.
The second group, again about one-third of those interviewed, are characterized by Dr. Enright as deeply hurting because of past injustices–a pain that is so traumatic that they are not quite yet ready for forgiveness programs because they are in deep denial about what happened and about their depth of pain.
“I think this denial of the pain, the inability to yet see it and face it, keeps them imprisoned in their homeless pattern,” Dr. Enright observes. “They need much love and encouragement to break through their own barriers so that they can confront the injustice, forgive, heal, and then become resilient.”
Dr. Enright and colleagues are in discussions with the Missionaries of Charity volunteers about the structure and the Edinburgh-specific refinements for the forgiveness intervention that will be deployed in phase two of the project. Those guidelines could establish a precedence for a world-wide set of forgiveness interventions for the poor with direct instruction for both adults and children.
Members of the Missionaries of Charity order designate their affiliation using the initials, “M.C.” A member of the congregation must adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and a fourth vow, to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” They are identified by wearing the traditional white religious habits with blue trim. In the U.S., a full 20% of American nuns are members of the Missionaries of Charity.
In Scotland, homelessness is called “rough sleeping.” For those rough sleeping, the risk of assault and theft are high. The weather can do real damage to their health and the stress of survival living takes a huge toll on their mental and physical health. The estimated lifeexpectancy of a rough sleeper is 43, pretty much half that of the general population.
The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) was set up in 2017 to recommend to Scottish Government Ministers the actions and solutions needed to eradicate rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation in Scotland. The group’s final report, issued in June 2018, says that “homelessness must be seen as a public health priority” and makes more than 70 recommendations on ending homelessness in Scotland including those on welfare reform, ensuring adequate affordable housing, homeless assessment and intervention (much like the IFI is doing in Edinburgh), tackling child poverty, and others. ◊
- Read the HARSAG Final Report “Ending Homelessness in Scotland.”
- Watch a 4:53 video of Mother Teresa’s Biography and Life Story.
- Learn more about the Missionaries of Charity.
Profootballtalk.com, New York, NY – The Atlanta Falcons chose former University of Pittsburgh running back Qadree Ollison in the fifth round of this year’s National Football League (NFL) draft. Ollison is no stranger to news headlines not only because of his all-star performance at Pitt and his entry into the NFL, but also because of his personal story of forgiveness.
On Oct.14, 2017, a Saturday when Ollison was playing in a football game at Pitt, his 35-year-old brother Lerowne “Rome” Harris was shot and killed outside a gas station in Niagara Falls, NY. Police soon arrested Denzel Lewis for the murder based on security camera footage that clearly showed Lewis shooting Harris three times.
Lewis later pleaded guilty and at his sentencing hearing last August he was shocked, as was the entire courtroom, to learn that Ollison forgave him for killing his brother. Since he was unable to personally attend the hearing, Ollison wrote a letter that was read aloud at the hearing by his father:
“When I heard what happened, I was devastated like most would be when they hear that their brother’s life was taken. During that time, though, I didn’t feel an ounce of hate for whoever had did it.
Every single life is precious, no matter what they’ve done. I truly believe that. I truly believe that God hand-crafted and molded each one of us and gave us this life. We are all his children. We are all sons, and we are all daughters….
Now here I am, and I have this choice to hate you or not. I choose not to. I don’t hate you, Denzel. I hate what you did, most certainly. But I still think your life is just as precious as the next person’s. No life means more than another’s. None of us are perfect.
I can’t hate one of God’s children. I truly hope and pray that you get better from this. I hope that this time is what you need and what makes you love and not hate.”
At Canisius High School in Buffalo, NY, a Catholic college-preparatory school, Ollison set school records for rushing yards (4,117) and touchdowns (57) during his football career there. He was a two-time Class AA all-state selection and shared Buffalo News Player of the Year honors with teammate Ryan Hunter (now an offensive lineman for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs) after Canisius went undefeated and won the state championship his junior year.
Regarded as the top running back prospect in the state as a senior, Ollison had 14 Division I college scholarship offers when he committed to Pitt. After redshirting his first season, Ollison continued his success as soon as he hit the field for the Panthers. Coming in for an injured starter, Ollison, ran for 207 yards on 16 carries (all in the second half), a record for a Pitt freshman in a season opener.
Ollison was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and became the fifth Pitt freshman to achieve a 1,000-yard season. In an effort to pay tribute to his brother, Ollison switched to a No. 30 jersey for his final year of eligibility at Pitt. No. 30 was the number Harris used to wear as a youth football player. Ollison gained 1,213 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 194 carries in that jersey.
Yet perhaps even more impressive than Ollison’s ability as a 6-foot-1, 232-pound running back, now at the professional level, is his willingness to make forgiveness a priority.
Following a May 8, 2019 news article about Ollison’s act of forgiveness on the website Profootballtalk.com, an NBC Sports affiliate, a reader identified only as “mjtn” commented:
“Having forgiveness in one’s heart instead of hatred is a rare and highly admirable occurrence. The world would clearly be a better place if we could all live in such a way. This young man is wise beyond his years and already a role model. I thank him for showing the rest of us that it can be done.”
- Falcons rookie Qadree Ollison expresses forgiveness to his brother’s killer
- Atlanta Falcons rookie RB Qadree Ollison chooses forgiveness over hatred after brother’s murder
- Football, family and forgiveness: Qadree Ollison overcoming obstacles to honor late brother at Pitt
With mid-morning temperatures approaching 86° on Palm Sunday in April 2017, the security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Egypt, approached and redirected a young man rushing for the church’s main entrance. Seconds later, the bomb strapped to the man’s body detonated, killing both him and the guard while dozens inside the church were spared harm by the guard’s quick actions.
Just days later, after the bomber had been identified as an ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) terrorist, the widow of that security guard was interviewed by an Egyptian television station. As she pulled her young children close to her side she announced:
“I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’
“You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.”
While millions of Egyptians across the country marveled at what the grieving woman said, it was far from the first time in recent history that Coptic Christians have expressed forgiveness rather than revenge.
A 2011 New Year’s Eve attack in Alexandria’s Church of Two Saints killed 23 Coptics, for example. In February 2015, the Islamic State in Libya kidnapped and beheaded 21 mostly Coptic Christians on the shores of Tripoli.
A December 2016 attack at a chapel of the flagship St. Mark’s cathedral in Cairo killed 29 mostly women and children–the deadliest terrorism attack against Egyptian Christians until attacks at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt’s Nile Delta killed more than 45 people and injured more than 100 others during Palm Sunday services in 2017.
But even in death, the Copts forgive. While Egypt’s president pledged retaliation following those tragedies, Coptic Christians continued to spread their message of forgiveness and love..
On the night of the Palm Sunday bombings, for example, Coptic priest Fr. Boules George said he thanks and loves those who did this crime. Speaking to a congregation in Cairo’s Cleopatra neighborhood, he first addressed the terrorists and said:
“I long to talk to you about our Christ, and tell you how wonderful he is.” But then he asked those in the church, “How about we make a commitment today to pray for them? If they know that God is love and they experience his love, they could not do these things—never, never, never.”(Watch Fr. George’s entire sermon including his explanation of why he thanks the terrorists, at this video link with subtitles.)
The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient churches in the world, founded in the first century in Egypt by Saint Mark the Apostle during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. A conservative Church that shares many beliefs and practices with both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, it has carefully preserved the Orthodox Christian faith in its earliest form. Today the Church has 18-22 million members worldwide with more than 75% of them in Egypt–the country’s largest Christian denomination.
Learn more at:
• Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
• Libya’s 21 Christian Martyrs: “With Their Blood, They Are Unifying Egypt”
• ISIS Church Bombings Kill Dozens at Palm Sunday Services in Egypt
This article was inspired by a blog post titled “The Scandal of Forgiveness in a Time of Terror” by R. H. (Rusty) Foerger on his website More Enigma Than Dogma. In his post, Foerger asks if forgiveness is ever wasted. He answers his own question with this: “On the surface I suppose forgiveness is a losing game; so is terrorism and retaliation. But go deeper and you will find forgiveness comes from a endless well – available for an ocean of need.”
WOODTV.COM, Grand Rapids, MI – A 23-year-old man who shot and killed a teenager last year learned at his sentencing earlier this week that he will spend the rest of his life in prison. He also learned that the teenager’s mother has forgiven him for his crime.
“In order to get through this process, I had to forgive you,” said Javika Hawkins, mother of Andre Hawkins, the teen shot in a case of mistaken identity. “And I have forgiven you from the bottom of my heart.”
Vicente Rodriguez-Ortiz was convicted of murdering two people 10-months apart last year including 17-year-old Andre, someone he thought was romantically involved with his ex-girlfriend. As required by Michigan law, his mandatory sentence was life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“As a mother, you’re a child to me and in my heart, I have no anger or bitterness toward you,” Javika said in a tear-filled statement at Rodriguez-Ortiz’s sentencing April 23. “As a mom, I just want to hug you because I know there is something that’s not connected that made you feel so angry for a person you didn’t know.”
The grace with which Javika Hawkins delivered her words stunned those gathered in the Kent County Circuit courtroom.
“I just really want other young kids to really take this to heart,” she added. “Somebody’s innocent life was taken over a jealous rage.” ♥