By Cedric Prakash, SJ
We live in a world today which is broken and fragmented; where divisiveness and discrimination rule the roost; where xenophobia and jingoism polarise ethnicities and religions, classes and castes; where exclusion and exploitation are no longer empty jargon but the painful reality of millions. We have divisions between ideological groups: the left and the right; the progressives and the conservatives. In the Catholic Church, there are traditionalists (who are for a pre-Vatican II Church) as opposed to those who welcome the changes brought by Vatican II. Our world today cries out for healing and peace, based on justice and truth; this, however, will be achieved only if there is reconciliation at all levels.
Reconciliation is defined as “the process of two people or groups in a conflict agreeing to make amends or come to a truce.” There is much more to reconciliation than a textbook definition which could theoretically be relegated to an ‘agreement’ between two warring groups or even a ‘handshake’ after two little boys have quarrelled on an inconsequential matter. Reconciliation is essentially an attitude, a way of proceeding, a radical action, a conversion, a transformative experience, a movement. It is vibrant and leads to the betterment of and for all; it is the way one perceives reality in a given context and how one responds to that, given the inherent conflicts
What then are the challenges to reconciliation which emerge from the dangerously polarised world of today? To understand these challenges, one needs to look at certain pre-conditions which include:
- Reconciliation never condones or absolves any wrongdoing.
The classic case in recent times is that of George Floyd in the United States. A white police officer pressed his knee now on the defenceless Floyd till life ebbed out of the latter. It brought to the fore the racial divide in the U.S. of how the blacks are, by and large, still treated in a society which professes equality. No amount of hand-holding or ‘forgive and forget’ will ensure healing if the systemic problem is not addressed and condemned at every level.
2. Reconciliation envisages an environment which not only calls out the wrong but where effective sanctions exist – official and unofficial- to address the wrong.
In India, gender discrimination is mainstreamed: women are harassed everywhere and in every way; domestic violence is on the increase; women have unequal opportunities for employment and are paid less than men. Existing legislation remains toothless, if there is no attitudinal change in a highly patriarchal society which is permissively ignores female foeticide
3. Reconciliation is never actualized, in a selective, one- sided approach which is enveloped in hypocrisy.
The Catholic Church in the United States is currently polarised as to whether President Joe Biden (a devout Catholic) should be publicly allowed to receive the Eucharist – given the official stand of the Democratic Party, which supports the right to choose. The proponents of this position make a case that abortion is not permitted by the Church; strangely enough, these very vociferous ‘Catholics’ see absolutely nothing wrong if their society promotes a ‘culture of death’ in other spheres: the military industrial complex which produces deadly weapons ; the abuse of guns which kill innocent people; nuclear proliferation; continuation of the death penalty in some States; the way illegal immigrants are treated; the consumption patterns of the average American which negatively impacts climate with disastrous consequences to the lives and livelihood of the poor across the globe.
4. Reconciliation necessitates a transparent and consistent search for truth and justice on the part of the perpetrator and the powerful
Conflicts never take place in a vacuum. Neither do injustices. It is, therefore, incumbent on those in power or the actual perpetrator, to take the first step towards healing. This does not mean that the suffering of the victim will disappear; but it does help. Some years ago, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd dedicated a day in his country as ‘the National Day to Say Sorry’. In doing so, he wanted every Australian citizen to acknowledge the harm they had done to generations of aborigines in Australia. That act began a journey of healing; merely saying “sorry” does not wipe away centuries of injustice but when it comes from those in power it does help the process of reconciliation.
5. Reconciliation needs a heart of forgiveness on the part of the victim.
One can never forget the pain and suffering one has gone through; for healing, one needs to ‘let go’ of the resentment and the revenge which gnaws at the heart of the victim. Whilst the due process of law and justice needs to take place, (so that crimes are not repeated), the one who has suffered also needs to internalise (however difficult) an attitude of forgiveness in order to move on.
In this Ignatian Year, dedicated to the 500th anniversary of the conversion of St Ignatius, one needs to look into the challenges in internalising and radiating reconciliation in our polarised world of today. GC 36 in ‘Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice’ states, “we recognize the signs of God’s work, of the great ministry of reconciliation God has begun in Christ, fulfilled in the Kingdom of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. GC 35 recognized this mission. The letter of Father General Adolfo Nicolás on reconciliation and the teaching of Pope Francis have given this vision greater depth, placing faith, justice, and solidarity with the poor and the excluded as central elements of the mission of reconciliation. Rather than ask what we should do, we seek to understand how God invites us – and so many people of good will – to share in that great work.” (D.1 #3). Earlier GC 32 was unequivocal stating, “the mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement. For reconciliation with God demands the reconciliation of people with one another”. (D.4 #2)
GC 35 spells out these challengesthat“as servants of Christ’s mission we are invited to assist him as he sets right our relationships with God, with other human beings, and with creation.” “Our world is the theater of a battle between good and evil,” the Holy Father reminded us: and so, we again place ourselves before the Lord in the meditation on the Two Standards. There are powerful negative forces in the world, but we are also aware of God’s presence permeating this world, inspiring persons of all cultures and religions to promote reconciliation and peace. The world where we work is one of sin and of grace”. (D.3#18)
The challenges to promote this ‘great ministry of reconciliation’ in our world which is one of sin and grace include:
- To begin with oneself
Beginning with his own conversion- the cannonball movement, St Ignatius shows us that reconciliation begins with oneself. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, we have the dynamic of realisation, remorse, repentance, restoration and reconciliation. The Church gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Fifty years ago (June 1971), the Synod of Bishops in the document ‘Justice in the World’ said,”in the face of the present-day situation of the world, marked as it is by the grave sin of injustice, we recognize both our responsibility and our inability to overcome it by our own strength. Such a situation urges us to listen with a humble and open heart to the word of God, as he shows us new paths toward action in the cause of justice in the world…while the Church is bound to give witness to justice, she recognizes that anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes. Hence we must undertake an examination of the modes of acting and of the possessions and the life style found within the Church herself.”
- To take sides
In the Spiritual Exercises, the exercitant is invited to take sides. Our stand must be visible and vocal: on the side of God, his suffering people and our common home. It cannot be otherwise. This is easier said than done; to live the gospel without compromise is a difficult mission. Fr Stan Swamy did so all his life and had to pay the price. Only when we make it clear on whose side we are, we will be able to begin the movement towards reconciliation.
- To be inclusive
The reality which grips India today impinges on the rights and freedoms of all citizens: the migrant workers and farmers; the incarcerated under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and citizens reported to be under surveillance. One can no longer indulge in the “sin” of diplomatic niceties and correctness. Jesus never did so. We have to get out of our comfort zones typified by our ‘compound walls’. We need to make common cause with like-minded people and movements of our times – to collaborate with all women and men of goodwill.
- To engage in advocacy
Reconciliation is also a matter of being aware of facts, of the truth. It means maintaining public relations, interacting with the media and leveraging with decision-makers who can determine policy. GC 35, “urges all Jesuits and all partners engaged in the same mission, particularly the universities and research centers, to promote studies and practices focusing on the causes of poverty and the question of the environment’s improvement. We should find ways in which our experiences with refugees and the displaced on one hand, and people who work for the protection of the environment on the other hand, could interact with those institutions, so that research results and advocacy have effective practical benefits for society and the environment. Advocacy and research should serve the poor and those who work for the protection of the environment.”(D.3 #35)
- To be prophetic
Reconciliation is a call to play a prophetic role in today’s ‘dark times’ plagued by growing communalism, casteism, corruption, consumerism and criminalization of society. In order “to announce the good news”, one has“to denounce what is wrong.” We have been complicit by our silence. Prophets take a stand – we have to do likewise! We need to encourage prophetic voices and to create prophetic approaches, to respond to the reality around us.
Reconciliation then is both a possibility and a must. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis provides us with a cue, “Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure, which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle, while others have to make do as they can. Demands involving the distribution of wealth, concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed under the guise of creating a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority. The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised.” (# 218)
Fr. Cedric Prakash, SJ (GUJ) is a well-known human rights, reconciliation and peace activist. He is a writer who writes regularly for Catholic and secular magazines. A recipient of several international and national awards, Cedric is currently engaged in Advocacy work.