Advice on How to Love a Terrorist

Interview With Bishop Echevarría, Prelate of Opus Dei

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ROME, APRIL 5, 2004 (Zenit.org).- How can one live the commandment to love one's enemy, especially a terrorist?



"By praying for his conversion, that is, by praying for his redemption, beyond his just punishment in this life," says Bishop Javier Echevarría, the prelate of Opus Dei, in this interview with ZENIT.

The second successor of St. Josemaría Escrivá, Bishop Echevarría speaks in the light of the Gospel and of the experience of Opus Dei members affected by terrorism.

Q: In your statement after the March 11 attacks, you appealed for prayers for the terrorists. Is it possible to pray for people who can kill in such a brutal way?

Bishop Echevarría: It is enough to look at Jesus Christ, the permanent model for man. In the light of his example, the answer is yes. It is possible to pray when one can distinguish between the crime and the one who commits it.

In praying for those who kill in a brutal manner, we are not denying the evil of their action or the need for them to be judged according to the impartial norms of law. There is no justification for evil; violence cannot be defended.

But this intransigence in regard to evil itself is compatible with something that is at the heart of the mission of the Church: the forgiveness of sinners. Justice is not in bitter struggle with mercy.

Q: In the Gospel, Christ says, "Love your enemies." What does it mean, in practice, to love a terrorist?

Bishop Echevarría: Jesus Christ encourages us to be merciful not only with those we love but also with our enemies; not only with the one who does evil, but also with the one who harms us directly or unjustly.

In fact, we are before a mystery which is impenetrable, although it is in some way understood through the prism of the wonderful virtue of charity. How to apply it in the case of a terrorist? By praying for his conversion, that is, praying for his redemption, beyond his just punishment in this life.

Q: Is it possible to forgive one who does not want to be forgiven? How can such forgiveness be lived in practice?

Bishop Echevarría: I think that it is necessary to begin with the practice of the spirit of forgiveness in ordinary life.

We need to learn to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, "on a small scale," in family, professional and social relations.

I would dare to paraphrase the Gospel: Whoever forgives in little things, will be able to forgive in great things. That attitude yields fruits on "a large scale."

It is something I can say that I saw myself in the conduct of St. Josemaría Escrivá, who never felt himself an enemy of anyone, including those who mistreated him.

Q: I imagine that in Spain, in recent decades, members of the Prelature of Opus Dei or close to it have been affected by terrorism. What has your experience been in this respect?

Bishop Echevarría: I had the opportunity to share this tremendous experience with some faithful of the prelature and with other Catholics, not only in Spain, but also in other countries, such as Colombia, to give but one example.

They are moments of great distress and pain. The blow is so strong that it can lead to a loss of control over one's own emotions.

But, thanks be to God, I have witnessed how people affected in their family or in themselves have been able to overcome themselves and address the situation heroically.

Deep down, they refuse to rebuild their life on bitterness -- to sow the seed of hatred is perhaps the most diabolical effect of terrorism -- and these people decide to continue on their Christian path as they did before, and perhaps better than before.

I am convinced that the victims of terrorism have a special grace from God, which gives them fortitude. And so, they end up by being a light in darkness for those around them.

Q: What do you think are the fundamental elements of the Christian response to Muslim terrorism?

Bishop Echevarría: It is important not to take a part for the whole, not to disqualify a group of countries made up of millions of people, a whole culture, because of the action of a minority. This is why I a resist using the expression "Muslim terrorism."

I think that, in the victory over terrorism, the Muslims themselves must have an important role, those many peaceful citizens who love freedom and life -- their own and others' -- and who practice their religion sincerely without fanaticism.

Moreover, my experience is that Arab Catholics have an essential task, because they have the ability to build bridges of understanding.