was a school shooting on October 2, 2006. That alone, sadly, is no
longer impossible to imagine; but what the public did find nearly
impossible to imagine was the response of the victims’ families and
Because before they even grieved, they forgave.
victims were all Amish girls between the ages of six and 13; their
killer was a non-Amish man named Charlie Roberts. But the Amish
community didn’t cast blame. No one
pointed a finger, no one held a press conference with attorneys at their
side. Instead, the community reached out to the killer’s family with
grace and compassion.
The very afternoon of the shooting
one of the girls’ grandfather expressed forgiveness toward the killer.
That same day Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them
in their sorrow and pain. There were more Amish than non-Amish at
Charlie Roberts’ funeral: "Several families,” writes author Donald
Kraybill, “Amish families, who had buried
their own daughters just the day before, were in attendance, and they
hugged the widow and hugged other members of the killer's family."
And the world looked on in shock.
yourself, forgive others. Be grateful for all you are, all who have
touched your life, and for God’s many blessings. Surrounding us all is a
padding called forgiveness. Reach for it like a wish, then feel its
Carol Gordon Ekster
outlet after news outlet rushed to account for this extraordinary
behavior. Amish culture, they explained, adheres to the teachings of
Jesus, who told his followers to forgive one another, to place the needs
of others before themselves, and to rest in the knowledge that God is
still in control and can bring good out of any situation. Love and
compassion toward others are life’s theme. Vengeance and revenge are
left to God.
the Amish, it was simple. The Gospel says to forgive: they forgave.
Every day they pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who
trespass against us.” The thing is, we pray those same words,
but most of us don’t live them out that completely in our lives. We say
that we have to draw the line somewhere, that there are actions that
simply cannot be forgiven.
Like the shooting of ten little girls?
our Catholic tradition, there are people who take the Gospel as
seriously as the Amish do, who live Jesus’ teachings every day. And that
is so extraordinary that we call those people saints. But Jesus’
words aren’t just for the Amish, or the saints: they’re for us. We have
the same expectation of forgiveness, and the same opportunity to follow
the Gospel’s mandates. Forgiveness is not optional. Learning to forgive
may take a lifetime, but it is an essential lesson.
Lord, as we remember this anniversary of the worst a human being can do
to others, help us to learn from our Amish brothers and sisters, and
truly forgive with all our hearts. Amen.