This year marks my 20th year at National Review magazine. Maybe some of the most emotional days there were Sept. 11, 2001, and the many days after, including the long run-up to war in Iraq and the continuing story.
I write, as it happens, while sitting across the road from the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which includes, as you might expect, exhibits about Iraq and freedom and decision-making. During my time at National Review, we’ve voiced and hosted a whole host of opinions on what to do in Iraq.
But this year, I wished those voices I called upon as online editor there included Baghdad-born Father Douglas Bazi, whom I only met this year.
Father Bazi taught me a lot about forgiveness. I found myself sitting next to him, interviewing him, and only wanting to ask for it. God bless him; he couldn’t have been more pastoral. “I don’t want you to feel guilty,” he insisted.
“It is enough for us that you are praying for us. You are not forgetting us, so we feel we are not alone,” he continued. Father Bazi overflows with thanksgiving; in fact, when you talk with him, it would seem that he couldn’t be further from what would be understandable bitterness. Instead, he is grateful to Americans for caring about their plight, victims of genocide.
“Let’s talk about this,” he said at the point of my apology. “I don’t want you to feel guilty.” Further, he consoled and challenged all of us: “Many people in the West say to me: ‘You are really living the real faith.’ Look, we are where we are. If the same thing happened to you [referring to his torture in the hands of Islamic militants], I believe you would be strong, more than us.” But, he said, “we are not looking for you to suffer like us, but we want actually to be safe like you. This is what we are looking for. Please don’t feel guilty about that. ”
This issue of forgiveness is one that Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart from Aleppo, Syria, stresses. Around the feast of Pentecost last year, he visited New Haven, Connecticut, and talked about St. Paul. Note that Paul did not convert the Syrian Christians, but they baptized him — their former tormenter.
Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, recently added: “They had to forgive him before they baptized him. When asked to visit Paul, Syrian Christian Ananias’ first reaction was to remind the Lord that Paul had persecuted Christians.”
Ananias had to forgive, then embrace his former persecutor.
As Pope Francis has put the call: “Here lies the secret of [the Christian’s] mission … to proclaim [God’s] love and mercy even in the most resistant areas.”
This is why we need Christians in the Middle East. Not just the living history these ancient communities provide, but also their witness. As Anderson put it: “They forgive, and by doing so, they open the path to peace.”
He mentioned Father Bazi, too. His teeth were knocked out and his back was broken during his 2006 kidnapping. What did he do in response? He prayed the Rosary using the chain that bound his hands. Between the violence done to him, he would be a pastor to the torturers, helping them with their marriages, among other things.
As Anderson recounted, “When one of the torturers asked what Father Bazi would do if they crossed paths on the street at some point in the future, Father Bazi said, ‘I will buy you a cup of tea.’”
This is a different way to live. And we need it.
There and here.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).