... I wish to appeal to everyone to seek peace along the paths of forgiveness. I am fully aware that forgiveness can seem contrary to human logic, which often yields to the dynamics of conflict and revenge. But forgiveness is inspired by the logic of love, that love which God has for every man and woman, for every people and nation, and for the whole human family.
As I have said, the modern world, despite its many successes, continues to be marked by contradictions. Progress in industry and agriculture has brought a higher standard of living to millions of people and offers great hope for many others. Technology has shrunk distances, while information has become instantaneous and has made possible new advances in human knowledge. Respect for the environment is growing and becoming a way of life. A great army of volunteers, whose generosity often remains hidden, is working tirelessly in every part of the world for the good of humanity, sparing no effort especially in meeting the needs of the poor and the suffering.
How can we fail to acknowledge with joy these positive aspects of our times? Unfortunately, however, the present world scene also presents more than a few negative signs. These include materialism and a growing contempt for human life, which have now assumed disturbing proportions. Many people live their lives with no other allegiance than to the laws of profit, prestige and power.
As a result, many feel imprisoned in a deep inner loneliness. Others continue to be deliberately discriminated against on grounds of race, nationality or sex. Poverty is driving masses of people to the margins of society, or even worse, to extinction. For too many people war has become a harsh everyday reality. A society interested only in material and ephemeral goods is tending to marginalize those who are not useful to its purposes.
How many situations today call for reconciliation! In the face of this challenge, on which peace to a great extent depends, I appeal to all believers, and in a special way to the members of the Catholic Church, to devote themselves in an active and practical way to the work of reconciliation.
Believers know that reconciliation comes from God, who is always ready to forgive those who turn to him and turn their back on their sins (cf. Is 38:17). God's immense love goes far beyond human understanding, as Sacred Scripture says: "Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Is 49:15).
Divine love is the foundation of the reconciliation to which all of us are called. "It is he who forgives all your guilt, who heals every one of your ills; who redeems your life from the grave, who crowns you with love and compassion. ... He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults" (Ps 102:3-4,10).
In his loving readiness to forgive, God went even to the point of giving himself to the world in the Person of his Son, who came to bring redemption to every individual and all humanity. In the face of human offences, which culminated in his condemnation to death on the Cross, Jesus prayed: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34).
God's forgiveness is the expression of his loving kindness as our Father. In the Gospel parable of the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:11-32), the father runs to meet his son as soon as he sees him coming home.
He does not even let the son apologize: everything is forgiven (cf. Lk 15:20-22). The intense joy of forgiveness, offered and received, heals seemingly incurable wounds, restores relationships and firmly roots them in God's inexhaustible love.
Throughout his life Jesus proclaimed God's forgiveness, but he also taught the need for mutual forgiveness as the condition for obtaining it. In the Lord's Prayer he makes us pray: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" (Mt 6:12). With that "as", he places in our hands the measure with which we shall be judged by God. The parable of the unforgiving servant, punished for his hardness of heart towards his fellow servant (cf. Mt 18:23-35), teaches us that those who are unwilling to forgive exclude themselves by this very fact from divine forgiveness: "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Mt 18:35).
Our prayer itself cannot be pleasing to the Lord unless it is preceded, and in a certain sense "guaranteed" in its authenticity, by a sincere effort on our part to be reconciled with our brother who has "something against us": only then will it be possible for us to present an offering pleasing to God (cf. Mt 5:23-24).
Jesus not only taught his disciples the duty to forgive, but he also intended his Church to be the sign and instrument of his plan of reconciliation, making her the sacrament "of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all humanity". In the light of this responsibility, Saint Paul described the apostolic ministry as the "ministry of reconciliation" (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20). But in a certain sense every baptized person must consider himself a "minister of reconciliation" since, having been reconciled with God and the brethren, he is called to build peace with the power of truth and justice.