The Forgiveness Project
A Review by Canon Sarah Hills
Forgiveness is a word that seems to be more and more heard. But what does it mean? Why can some people forgive and others seem not to be able to? On whose behalf can forgiveness be granted? Is it possible to heal without forgiving the perpetrator? These and other questions are beautifully examined in Marina Cantacuzino’s book, ‘The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age’. This book brings together stories of those who have wounded and been wounded; those who have forgiven and been forgiven.
These stories have been brought together in the ‘Forgiveness Project’, started by Marina Cantacuzino in 2004, with an exhibition entitled ‘The F Word’. The exhibition shows around the world, portraying both victims and perpetrators in a moving and painful acknowledgement of hurt given and received. Desmond Tutu, in his foreward to the book writes, ‘It is a powerful contribution to the understanding that all of us, given certain circumstances, are capable of the most ghastly atrocities. It is also a testimony to the fact that all of us have the capacity to rise to a generosity of spirit that can transform the world’.
This book combines human stories with a deep engagement with some hugely difficult issues. It is written from within the secular paradigm, but it has many overlaps and insights for theology. Concepts such as forgiveness, vengeance and reconciliation and how we address them are common to all of humanity, and this book with its telling of many human stories provides a good way in to reflecting deeply on these issues.
At Coventry Cathedral, we try daily to understand such stories; to work through them; and to provide a space for the journey of reconciliation. This book speaks closely to Provost Howard’s message of ‘Father, forgive’ after the bombing of the Cathedral in 1940. In using only these two words, rather than ‘Father forgive them’, he acknowledged the complicity and brokenness of all of us in being both perpetrator and victim. This book provides us with a glimpse into the living out of this prophetic message, how hard it is, and how necessary. Marina Cantacuzino quotes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them form the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?’ (page 29).
This book is essential reading for anyone involved in the work of healing. It has the potential to be transformative.
Canon for Reconciliation