The event opened with a prayer invoking God’s mercy and blessings. ‘The Power of Forgiveness and Reconciliation in our Contemporary World’ was the title of the forum on peace held on 4th February 2017 by the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation. The event was attended by a diverse audience with people from many different faith groups and parts of the world.
The event supported by Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) and hosted by the Nishkam Civic Association, took place during World Interfaith Harmony Week (UN resolution of 2010). The Charter has been supported and developed by a number of organisations including the Fetzer Institute, Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, and Religions for Peace.
Dr Josef Boehle, Director of the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, spoke first, reading out part of the Statement of Vision and Purpose, which states that “the activity of forgiving is vital if healing and reconciliation is to take place, as part of our collective efforts to seek restorative justice and sustainable peace.”
“Fostering and practicing forgiveness has the power to transform deep-seated responses
to memories and legacies of injustice, conflict and war. It can liberate people from being imprisoned in their pasts and long ingrained mental and emotional conditions created by such legacies.”
Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh OBE KSG, Chairman of the Nishkam Civic Association and Co-Convenor of the Charter, spoke of forgiveness as originating from the Divine, and said a prayer, which spoke of seeking God’s help. He went on to speak about how forgiveness is essential in a fractured world, and that “the whole of humanity is one family” who are all “interconnected and interdependent”. The root cause of conflict was also touched upon: “everything starts in the human mind. Humanity needs to start address the human mind very seriously”
Tariq Jahan, who suffered a personal tragedy when his son was killed during riots in 2011, gave a touching speech about his feelings and questions over forgiveness: ‘Do I forgive? How much do I really forgive? Then I think, how much does God forgive? He forgives all of us, on a daily basis. We all make mistakes.” Following the event, Tariq Jahan stated that “events like this soothe the heart”, and added that “we need to include the youth into these processes. As it is the younger generation who are the future and also need to learn about forgiveness.”
The bombing of Coventry Cathedral in 1940 led to an astonishing example of forgiveness
and reconciliation. The Dean of Coventry Cathedral, John Witcombe, was among the speakers, and reflected on the values of “honesty, hope and healing” which were integral to the rebuilding of the Cathedral following the bombing, and how the ruins represented a “physical embodiment of what happens in a world where we cannot work together.”
Ciaran Norris, Director of Rising Global Peace Forum, which is based in Coventry, spoke about having the capacity to forgive in a society where “things we have taken for certain are no longer certain”, and where facts are often distorted and the truth becomes difficult to find.
Rana Nazir, founder of the British Kashmiri Women’s Council, reflecting on the long history of suffering and violent conflicts in the world and in Kashmir, highlighted the urgency that we “need to make our world a peaceful sanctuary for everyone. Reconciliation is forgiveness in action – forgiveness and reconciliation can lead to a stronger bond than previously existed.”
Jorge Ravagli Cardona, a PhD Student from the University of Birmingham, provided an overview of the history of the decades-long conflict in Colombia and the recent peace agreement reached there between the government and the FARC. Looking forward he emphasized that “the messages themselves of dialogue for conflict-resolution and of forgiveness have to transcend the
political realm directly involved in the negotiation and reach the people, in order to transform the vicious circle of hate, insensitivity and exclusion.”
Mr Bill Ozanne conveyed greetings from the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, and recalled parts of an address Pope Francis gave at the Interreligious Audience on 3rd November 2016 during the Jubilee Year of Mercy of the Roman-Catholic Church.
Professor Pal Ahluwalia, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Portsmouth, stated that “forgiveness and compassion are powerful instruments”, and underlined the importance for both individuals and the whole world to “rise above malice”.
The forum featured video clips of His Holiness Pope Francis, HM Queen Elizabeth II, and as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, sent his apologies for the event, his New Year 2017 message talking about forgiveness and reconciliation was shared with all the attendees. This was followed by other religious leaders from different faiths speaking on the subject of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. Pope Francis, in his speech at Clementine Hall on 3rd November 2016, said “forgiveness is surely the greatest gift we can give to others because it is the most costly. Yet at the same time, it is what makes us most like God.”
Speaking about the forum, Dr Josef Boehle stated “The Peace Forum on Forgiveness and Reconciliation takes place today as part of World Interfaith Harmony week in Birmingham. The vision of the Charter is to make a contribution to processes of forgiveness and reconciliation not only between individuals, communities and states, but also between faith traditions.”
Bhai Sahib, also speaking on the forum and the nature of forgiveness, stated that “the highest and the best form of human generosity and benevolence is forgiveness”. He then summarised and closed the event a prayer of thanks.
The event was clearly a landmark development in the journey towards sharing, inviting input and inspiring collaboration from like-minded people in support of the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation. The participants left the event full of praise having been part of World Interfaith Harmony Week 2017 event at the Nishkam Centre.
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