Pope John Paul II's example of forgiveness was incredible
I was captivated by the coverage recently of the Canonisations of the two 20th-century popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. It is 33 years ago this week since the assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II happened in St Peters Square in Rome.
Many people remember how horrified they were to hear of the events unfolding that day, and how the world came together to pray for the safety and recovery of the beloved Holy Father. The Pope was shot and wounded by Ali Agca while he was entering the square. Thankfully he survived and after a slow steady recovery he returned to active ministry in a relatively short time. Agca was apprehended immediately, and later sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court.
Following the shooting, Pope John Paul II asked people to 'pray for my brother whom I have sincerely forgiven'. In 1983, he and Agca met and spoke privately at the prison where Agca was being held. It was an incredible act of mercy and forgiveness on behalf of the Pope, and a rare example of what it truly means to be Christian.
Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian Message, it's so important that Christ Himself used the phrase 'your sins have been forgiven' even when people hadn't sought forgiveness for their sins. Many times when Christ cured someone of their illness, or when he cast out demons, he would tell the person 'your sins have been forgiven'. Many people nowadays look for healing, be it physical or emotional or spiritual. I would go so far as to say that there isn't any one among us who is not in need of healing at one level or another, sometimes we're acutely aware of it, sometimes it barely registers with us, and maybe sometimes we need others to point it out to us.
A lot of people suffer from depression, where the darkness and gloom seems to envelop them and they don't think they can cope. Many times these people will seek counsellors and psychotherapists, people to listen to their problems and offer some gentle help, and the help they receive truly helps them.
I've met many people in similar situations, and it strikes me that sometimes their biggest need is for forgiveness - be it for a past guilt, a current grudge, a hurt they've received or given, a situation they cannot control, a person they cannot live with, something they have done or failed to do, or many other things.
The forgiveness they need may be something they need to give, or something they need to receive, it might be due to themselves or another, it might even be God's forgiveness. Once they have done that, the sense of relief and freedom they feel is incredible; a burden is lifted, a weight is removed form their shoulders, a blockage has been freed and a breath of fresh air penetrates the staleness of their lives. In many cases, the forgiveness comes after a long times, sometimes years, and people have carried the burden unnecessarily.
Pope John Paul II's example of forgiveness was so incredible that millions were captivated by his goodness and mercy. And yet, all he did was to imitate God, all he did was to live out his true Christian calling.
It's not always easy to forgive, and maybe there are things that are even more difficult to forgive that shooting someone, but even though its not easy it is always possible, and it is always necessary. Whether or not the person being forgiven actually deserves forgiveness doesn't matter, it's the act of forgiving that is so powerful.
Nature is unforgiving, man is sometimes forgiving, but God is always forgiving. As Pope Francis put it recently, 'God never tires of forgiving us'. Go on, reach out and forgive - you'll feel a whole lot better for doing it!