Pope Francis has made mercy and forgiveness key themes of his six-year pontificate. I asked four prominent Catholics to discuss mercy and forgiveness as it relates to their lives and work.

 

Immaculée Ilibagiza (https://www.immaculee.com/) is a Catholic who survived the 1994 Rwandan massacre when a Protestant pastor hid her and seven other women in a small bathroom in his home for three months during the carnage.

I actually decided back when I was hiding in the bathroom that I was not going to harbor anger or thoughts of revenge toward those who committed murder in my village. Harboring angry thoughts contaminates your mind; it gets into your blood. We need to learn to forgive. 

Now, that doesn’t mean that you don’t punish crime or make yourself a victim. We need to avoid, for example, places and situations where harm can come to us. But if we keep anger in our hearts, it will poison us and bring us down.

… The pastor who hid us gave me a Bible to read. From it, I know that there is a heaven, and that our time on earth is short. When I believe in heaven, this life becomes less of a burden, and I resolve to do what it takes to get to heaven. The Bible tells me we must love and forgive one another. And, if I want to be forgiven when I offend others, I must forgive, too.

 

Actor Jim Caviezel discusses the theme of forgiveness in his 2018 movie Paul, Apostle of Christ.

… forgiveness is the heart and soul of the movie: forgiving at all costs. It’s hard for Christians, whether we’re working in the film business, or living in the Third Reich, but that’s why we’re Christian. Our Lord has told us to pray “… forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us …”

We may feel this is hard, but how we feel has nothing to do with it. What is important is obedience; we must obey Christ’s command. Is following Christ’s command easy? No. But it is the way of the great.

 

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, discussing his work in prison ministry and his giving the Sacrament of Confirmation to Oregon convicted murderer and death row inmate Gary Haugen.

When I was a parochial vicar in Marquette, Michigan, one of my responsibilities was prison ministry. When I first began and was still “wet behind the ears,” I was very nervous about it. I was afraid of it, in fact, and didn’t know what to expect.

But I immediately fell in love with prison ministry. Many prisoners have a great openness to Christ and want to hear the Good News, despite the bad things that brought them to prison in the first place. They’re hungry for it.

Of all the places where I have ministered, I have seen the greatest impact among those in prison. I’ve seen incredible transformations and profound conversions, with some inmates becoming saintly men.

Prisoners are so often forgotten men, cast aside, thrown away and not worth our concern. But God’s mercy needs to reach all people, including the men and women in prison …

Confirming Gary Haugen was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had as a priest. When I first met Gary beforehand, I was stunned. He dropped to his knees, prostrated himself on the floor and said, “I am not worthy.” Here is a man, notorious for his crimes, humbling himself before me, who he sees as a representative of God and the Church. I reassured them that he’s very worthy of God’s love.

I’ve visited Gary twice since then. I keep a photo of him on my desk in his cage [for safety reasons, prison officials had Haugen stand in a cage throughout his confirmation] to remind me to pray for him, for all those in prison and anyone else in special need of God’s mercy and love.

 

Deacon Steve Greco of Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry discussing the theme of his soon-to-be-released book Miracles through Forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a state of being. It is a desire to want to have a heart of forgiveness. We must ask for forgiveness and expect that we will receive it. To have a forgiving heart changes everything. To have a forgiving heart is to have the heart of Jesus. If we let it, it transforms us into warriors for Christ.