The picture here is one I took at the Shrine of St. John Paul II in Krakow, Poland of his bloody cassock which he wore during his assassination attempt in 1981. He forgave the man who tried to kill him and visited him in prison to offer him forgiveness and to embrace him and kiss him and pray with him. April 2 is the anniversary of St. John Paul II's departure to heaven in 2005. I recall today the many lessons this saint taught me; amongst them is the need to live a life always seeking forgiveness first. In 1965 the then archbishop of Krakow, Poland was one of the principal authors of the a letter from the Polish people to the German people seeking their forgiveness, writing: "We forgive and ask for forgiveness" (for the crimes of World War II). Remember it was Germany that invaded Poland in 1939 and began World War II and slaughtered millions of people including millions in gas chambers, sterilized Polish women, destroyed the capital Warsaw leveling it to the ground and many other horrific atrocities; and here St. John Paul II is begging the German people for forgiveness on behalf of the Polish people? What? Are you kidding me, asked many in Poland at the time, including the Godless communists who in their anger retaliated against the Polish Church.
But St. John Paul II knew that the road to peace is through forgiveness and even if you think you are right, it is better to be peaceful and so go ahead and ask for forgiveness from those who have wronged you. You make the first step; don't wait for them. You do it. Not tomorrow: today! Do it! Then see how peace is brought to your home through forgiveness flowing first from you. This is what happened in Poland which today is flourishing in peace with its neighbor Germany so much so that now we have no borders and two of my aunts, my mom's sisters, and countless cousins and other family members work in Germany and travel back and forth regularly. Once again through forgiveness peace is restored and people live side by side as brothers and sisters; Germans and Poles with different languages, often different religions (60% of Germans are Lutherans and 95% of Poles are Catholics) can now after centuries of bloodshed and wars and hatred, because of forgiveness began by St. John Paul II, see each other again as brothers and sisters. The ultimate sign of reconciliation was St. John Paul II choosing Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to preside at his funeral for the whole world to see and for Poles to see especially and then in His wisdom God even chose a German to succeed St. John Paul II as pope, (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is from Germany); Poles welcomed him by the millions when he visited Poland and cheered as he spoke broken Polish with a German accent.
Let us all love another recognizing each other's humanity first and listening to the Bible which instructs us in Romans 12: to "Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves. Wish good for those who harm you; wish them well and do not curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad. Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Do not think how smart you are but always regard others as smarter than you. If someone does wrong to you, do not pay him back by doing wrong to him. Do your best to live in peace with everyone. My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you. It is written: "I will repay them," says the Lord. But you should do this: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. Doing this will be like pouring burning coals on his head."
Father Adam Kotas