Thank you, Charleston, for your remarkable witness of mercy

We can’t say whether our Christian brothers and sisters at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, know that the Catholic Church will soon begin a special Holy Year of Mercy. We do know that the grieving, African Methodist Episcopal faith community provided us all with a powerful witness of mercy that Catholics would do well to remember as the jubilee year called for by Pope Francis approaches this December.

For that, we thank, honor and admire them.

Imagine the unthinkable: that a family member was killed in cold blood while praying at Sunday Mass. Within two days, we see the alleged killer in court and are invited to address him. Would these be our words?

“I forgive you. My family forgives you.”

“You took something very precious from me . . . but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul.”

“Every fiber in my body hurts and I’ll never be the same . . . but may God have mercy on you.”

“We have no room for hate, so we have to forgive.”

One by one, representatives of the nine families devastated by the violent actions of alleged killer Dylann Roof spoke those words and others like them to him via video link June 19 in the Charleston courtroom.

Two days later, on Father’s Day, the Rev. Norvel Goff explained that remarkable witness of mercy and forgiveness in an engaging sermon carried live nationwide during the church’s first service since the shootings.

“Many in the media wonder why the nine families all spoke of forgiveness and didn’t have malice in their hearts,” said the Rev. Goff. “Well, on this Father’s Day, you ought to know the nine families’ Daddy,” meaning God the Father.

Despite broken hearts and a multitude of questions, the victims’ families, the members of the historic church, and the Charleston community turned a violent tragedy into powerful moments of evangelization. In the most difficult of circumstances, they lived the Scriptural theme of the approaching Holy Year of Mercy: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

We should keep the power of those Charleston moments in mind as we prepare for the Holy Year.

The life and action of the church, Pope Francis wrote in proclaiming the special year, “is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy,” a mercy that “knows no bounds and extends to everyone without exception.”

The pope also said that mercy is “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sins.”

As part of Charleston’s healing, its citizens linked arms and walked across the city’s iconic Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. May we be ready to link arms with others who, like us, need to meet God on the bridge of mercy. — Thomas J. Dermody

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