#207: Johan van Parys: Thoughts on Forgiveness

Dr. Johan van Parys is Director of Liturgy at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, and the lead article in the Sunday June 27 church bulletin was this powerful commentary.
Thoughts on Forgiveness
Paris is one of those magical cities. No matter what time of year one visits, the city has a way of capturing a person’s imagination. I don’t quite remember how many times I have been to Paris. Growing up in neighboring Belgium it made for an easy trip. Surprisingly, there was one monument never visited until my last trip there: the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, the memorial to those deported from France during World War II.
My grandfather and the other men working in my grandmother’s shoe factory were deported to Nazi camps because she refused to make shoes for the Nazi army. The family home was occupied and my grandmother and great-grandmother were made to work for Nazi officers. When my grandmother died, I inherited her papers including the moving letters my grandfather sent from the camp as well as letters from one of the officers who had occupied my grandmother’s house. The latter include descriptions of the devastation of his village; about the death of his two sons; and about the horrors of the war. Most striking was his plea for forgiveness.
Until I read these letters I had been unable to visit any death camps or memorials for those who died in the Second World War. After getting a glimpse of the power of forgiveness that was revealed to me through these letters, I was moved to learning and visiting. Thus I went to the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation. It was an amazing experience.
At the edge of one of the islands in the river Seine a narrow and steep stairway leads down to the memorial courtyard. A low-level fenced-in window is the only place that allows a glimpse of the outside. A severe sculpture representing imprisonment and torture hangs in front of this window. On the opposite side, a narrow door guarded by two oppressive columns barely allows entrance into the memorial itself.
The main installation, on the far end of the foyer, is a long narrow corridor lined with 200,000 quartz crystals, one for each man, woman, child deported from France by during the Second World War. A rod-iron gate prevents entrance. An eternal flame burns at the very end of the corridor.
This extraordinary building captures those who enter it from the very first moment, guiding them down the narrow steps, through the courtyard, into the foyer, to the wall of remembrance and the eternal flame. This journey takes each person through the reality of the suffering of these particular people and all human suffering, to the light of hope for humanity which too often seems untenable and almost absurd.
My walk back to the hotel took me past Notre Dame Cathedral. I could not but enter and light a candle for all those who are suffering at the hand of other people. I stayed for Vespers and prayed “Thy Kingdom Come” with more fervor than ever before.