Peace requires forgiveness, Eames tells TOPIK conference in Seoul

November 18, 2007

Forgiveness is a cornerstone of peace, Robin Eames, former Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, told the worldwide Anglican conference, Towards Peace In Korea (TOPIK), on November 19 in Seoul, South Korea.

Reflecting on his experiences in Ireland, Eames said he believes one of the most powerful ingredients in peace "has to do with forgiveness, has to do with saying 'sorry.' Also the word 'regret.' You will rarely get a government to say 'sorry.'"

Eames, representing the Archbishop of Canterbury, is serving as president of TOPIK, which has drawn more than 150 primates, clergy and lay leaders from throughout the Anglican Communion, including South Korea, the United States, Japan, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Cyprus, Palestine, and the United Kingdom.

Citing some examples where the Anglican Communion has addressed peace and reconciliation, Eames said, "We belong to a Communion which is both global and local.

"Reconciliation can never be a definite point in time," he added. "It is a process with several ingredients -- a journey, a process and so on."

The impetus for TOPIK was a 2005 Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) resolution calling for peace, reconciliation and reunification of Korea.

His powerful voice filling the auditorium, Eames addressed the concept of peace. "Peace is in the eye of the beholder. The guns are silent, we say about my country. Is that peace? The killing has stopped. Is that peace? The boundaries between men of violence and normal society is gone. Is that peace?"

Working with Governments
Eames said working with governments for peace is critical, but difficult. "To be able to convince governments of the nature of trust says a great deal, I believe, about the nature of the church," he said.

When governments try to enforce reconciliation "usually by legislation," it is never effective. "You can never legislate for reconciliation," he stated. "You can, however, provide the framework for reconciliation."

He added, "You can prayerfully move people to reconciliation."

Dealing with the past
A key element in reconciliation, Eames said, is dealing with the past and coming to terms with history. But even that, he said, is a process.

"What ought we remember and what ought we forget?" Eames asked. "What will be baggage and what should be left?"

He offered a suggestion on dealing with the past. "Only when you can convince a sufficient number of people to stand where their enemy stands, to understand why that enemy did and said the things they did, sometimes the greatest contribution is giving people space to answer that question."

Eames concluded, "Reconciliation is a process and we will only know with hindsight when it has really moved the hearts of people."

Eames' paper, presented in writing to the conference, is available here.

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