Some years ago a friend of mine and his wife were shocked to the core when they heard that their beautiful daughter had been raped and brutally murdered by a man who broke into her unit.
The following days were like hell for them. But they turned to the Lord for help. When the media inevitably descended for a story, Brian and Lorraine spoke words of forgiveness towards their daughter’s killer, but hoped he would be brought to justice.
They received phone calls from talk-back radio stations, even from other countries, incredulous that anyone in their circumstances could really forgive.
How is it possible? Why would you forgive anyway?
When the Bali bomber, Amrozi, nicknamed the “smiling assassin”, was finally executed for master-minding the terrorist attack which took 202 lives, 88 of them Australians, some thought that at last they may have “closure”.
While there were many who did not support the execution, and some of the families of victims who had publicly expressed forgiveness, others marked the occasion with a round of parties, lifting their champagne glasses to “justice done”.
But the families of the victims were still left with their pain, which could not be resolved by justice alone, whatever shape the justice should have taken.
Faced with such a wound inflicted so unfairly, we only discover genuine peace through the mystery of God’s mercy rising in our hearts, and finding the will to forgive. In 1980, only two years after becoming pope, John Paul II wrote an encyclical entitled Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy).
It became the central theme of his papacy. He was well aware, through his early life-experiences, of the brutality that human beings are capable of bringing upon one another.
During World War II, living in occupied Poland, he saw many people rounded up and sent to concentration camps and slave labour. Many of his own Jewish friends from his town of Wadowice perished in the gas chambers.
At this time, while a clandestine seminarian, he was introduced to the writings of Sr Faustina who was in a convent in the suburbs of Krakow, in an area called Lagiewniki.
This young nun died at the age of 33, but had written her revelations in a diary called Divine Mercy in My Soul. Karol Wojtyla, as a priest and then as Bishop of Krakow, would reflect on this message of Divine Mercy.
Then as Pope John Paul II, he felt that the keynote of his pontificate was to spread the message of God’s infinite mercy.