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Challenge of reconciliation

As Hong Kong, along with the rest of world, slips deeper and deeper into political and social polarisation, calls from Churches and other community groups for reconciliation have become both more numerous and louder.

But reconciliation can be slippery and even within the ranks of those who are calling for it, polarisation and division can proliferate.

At the opening of the Year of Mercy in Hong Kong on December 12 last year, John Cardinal Tong Hon described the moment as a prelude to a profound experience of grace and reconciliation that awaited the Church.

But at the dawn of the closing of the same Year of Mercy in Rome on November 19, Pope Francis told those being raised to the rank of cardinal, “The virus of polarisation and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting.”

The pope described the polarisation he sees within the Church as being contrary to its witness to universality, limiting its ability to fulfill its mission to promote reconciliation among divided groups in society.

The call for reconciliation is based on a desire to promote peace and justice in society, and bring an end to the divisive practices that sow bitterness among people.

But Mirosalv Volf, a professor of theology at Yale University, argues that a prerequisite to justice and peace is a society in which all groups are valued and their contribution to the evolving conversation appreciated.

He says that until this happens there can be no concept of what justice is and no vision of the peace people desire.

The pope’s words to the new cardinals speak plainly about where he expects the Church to locate itself. “The call of the apostles is linked to this setting out, descending to the plain to encounter the multitudes who, as the gospel says, were troubled.”

The gospel narrative of Zacchaeus gives another insight. It is set in a divided community and speaks to justice, peace-making and repentance.

In their vision of reconciliation, both the pope and Volf see the need for conversation, listening and compassion, as evidenced by the dynamics at play in the narrative of Zacchaeus.

In the politics of the city and the Church, there are blacklists detailing who people may not meet, be seen with or talk to, but Jesus broke the taboo and mixed it with Zacchaeus in the street, right in front of his enemies, not with an accusation, but an invitation, “I must stay at your house today.”

For Jesus it was an imperative. Unless the two sat at table together there would be no justice, no peace, no repentance and no reconciliation. For Pope Francis it is also an imperative, although he is being criticised for talking to people acceptable politics (mostly western) do not approve of. But his interest is bringing people together, not keeping them apart.

Volf advises, “If you want to discover and discern what God is doing, stop trying to answer this from within the walls of your churches… Sit at table with the other and there you will hear what God is doing.”

Scapegoating and criticism does not encourage people to consider the implications of their actions and decisions on society or the social environment. Jesus has shown us the way, sit at each other’s table. JiM