Fr Arturo Sosa, the newly elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus, in his homily on 15/10/2016 mentioned ‘a reconciled humanity in justice,’ implying that the Jesuits ought to strive to incorporate this objective more vigorously into their varied ministries. Obviously, reconciliation is a foundational theme in Christian life and theology and it is incarnated continuously in the diverse ministries of the Church. Apart from all that is being done, Fr Sosa’s reflective comment reminds us that there is an urgent need in our contemporary world to find creative ways to reconcile peoples who are estranged from each other for various reasons. The Jubilee Year of Mercy –the writings, gestures, speeches and initiatives of Pope Francis in particular- helped many people to reflect on the theme of reconciliation, and, in light of that, large sections of Catholics began to find deeper meaning in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This write-up intends to bring into focus the theme of ‘reconciling peoples,’ an under-explored subject that has immense potential in all types of contexts, Indian, Asian or global. The laity and clergy, gifted with creativity and imagination, can involve themselves and find ways to reconcile people and thereby contribute to the peaceful and harmonious living of peoples.
A cursory look at the people at the level of parishes or communities, villages or towns, cities or states reveals that people within these ‘social units’ are divided for a multitude of diverse reasons. In places like Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Kandhamal, the causes for division may be obvious, but in many other places the divisive forces operate in much subtler ways. Caste, tribe, race, language, ethnicity, religion, region, poverty, gender and many other factors draw the lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and the division denies the ‘outsiders’ access to dignity, equality, freedom, just wages and even the means to livelihood. Violence (state-sponsored or otherwise) consolidates divisions, increasing suspicion and fear of the other among all sections of society.
What divides and estranges people from one another is a very complex socio-cultural phenomenon and there is no easy solution to tide over this problem. However, if one desires to think of an action plan to reconcile peoples, it may be important to look at reality in its small manageable units: the ethnic or caste divisions in a particular village, the religious divide among the people living in this part of the town, divisions among the supporters of rival political parties in a parish-constituency, etc. These are just few examples but many issues polarize people and engender animosity among them. At times the divided may all be of one religion or of a social class. Whatever be the nature of the division or its scope, the question is, how prepared are the Church’s personnel to take steps to reconcile people in concrete situations!
Many problems such as an act of violence or a long standing rivalry between families or groups could open a window to enter and explore the possibilities in this regard. When taking a step in this direction, surely, one is entering into an unknown area, bordering the impossible, and it is difficult to have control on the process as well as the outcome. Reliance on faith and hope and holding on to belief that God at times works miracles through human instrumentality is crucial! Tired of living estranged, people might be looking for a little opening, a small initiative by a credible person to bring the rivals together for a sharing. Of course, while reconciling peoples one cannot ignore the prevailing realities that sustain and reinforce inequalities and injustices or overlook the crimes committed or sufferings endured by groups. Learning lessons from little known or well-known initiatives taken in the past in this area (like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa), action plans may be adapted to the local context.
Mahatma Gandhi offers us an excellent model in reconciling peoples. For instance, when the communal clashes were destroying property and lives, not only did he fast and pray but also he exhorted the Hindus and the Muslims to reach out to the best in themselves and their Scriptures that endorse the virtues of reconciliation, forgiveness and peaceful coexistence. With people’s support or all alone, Gandhi was able to undertake this mission of reconciling the divided people, always convincingly and often successfully. He relied on the inner spiritual strength and courageously spoke against violence and hatred.
Often, in contexts like India, many priests, apart from being ministers of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, do not take seriously their potential to be reconcilers of divided peoples. For various reasons, many members of the clergy and the Religious (without prejudice to what the laity can accomplish) are held in high esteem by people of various castes and classes and religions and social groups. The values and the virtues they espouse and embody, the services they render, the commitment they display put them at an advantage and with this they can easily bring various groups of people to a common platform. The ‘evil one’ may be ever ready to foil any such attempts to reconcile people but the Lord’s grace and guidance can help us to pursue such attempts. Collaboration with the educated and enlightened laity, committed and open-minded religious leaders (of other religions) and youth will make the attempts of reconciling peoples a shared mission. More and more people with imagination and creativity -and employing cultural and religious symbolism- are needed to embrace the Church’s mission of reconciling peoples so that together we all can become builders of peace and live in peace.
Stanislaus Alla, SJ,