How Does Forgiveness Feel?

When you hear the name Nelson Mandela, what comes to mind?

That’s the question The Washington Post asked me when Mandela passed in 2013. You can watch my full answer here. 

What I didn’t say? 

Yes, Mandela was our Living Light and a pivotal founder of our country. Every South African has a right to be proud of his name and life’s work. But. And this is what I didn’t say–-his legacy is often hijacked by some white South Africans to keep black South Africans from fully dismantling apartheid’s ongoing inequality. But Mandela said we should forgive, such white factions argue. 

You can’t leapfrog to forgiveness without first confronting the ugly injury that begets forgiveness in the first place.

Cue: Pope Francis’ apology this week in Canada, “for the wrongs done by so many Christians to Indigenous peoples.”

Gregorio Borgia, Credit: AP

Like you, I watched the ceremony and was filled with emotion.

I was moved by First Nation Elders’ resilience and their harrowing memories of the Catholic Church’s torture camps (trigger warning: linked video includes child sexual abuse).

Something in my soul and my ancestral line knows the gravity of the evil those elders and their people have survived. And even though the apology wasn’t for me, still, I wonder:

Did Pope Francis offer a sincere apology? Enough to ask for reconciliation?

Nope. Not according to some of those Elders themselves, and the Canadian government particularly (side note—😳😱waaaaay complicit in said evil). And honestly, I heard that! Cause where was dude’s naming the Catholic Church’s institutional culpability? And where in the apology was there a full reckoning of the sexual abuse those children suffered? And how exactly, does the apology stack up against ongoing cases of sexual abuse by members of the Church today?

Look. I believe in forgiveness. I’m the girl who brought you Love As A Kind of Cure, for chrissakes!

I also believe truth and restorative action are the prerequisites to forgiveness. Talk is cheap. You gotta back that shit up with repentant action, across the board and without reservation.

And you gotta start inside out. You have to confront how you’ve been complicit–even in the smallest ways and even without conscious awareness—in systems of oppression.

Confronting internalized evil is hard AF.

In my book, the Pope is between a rock and a hard place. He’s seemingly leading an institution that’s not as ready as he seems, to do the hard work. To confront and uproot the evil, from the inside out. I am moved by his apology. It is meaningful, it does amount to something.

But is his apology enough? Nah, babe. Let’s not even pretend.

What about you? What did you make of that apology? Write—I’d love to hear what you think.

Mandela visiting his Robben Island cell, 1995. There were no plants or sunglasses when he was held here for 18 of his 27 year prison sentence. Credit: AFP


p.s. want more? check out this piece on what was missing from the apology from Native News Online.