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McVeigh will meet unimaginable mercy


When the Oklahoma City bombing took place, I was on sabbatical in Jerusalem. I was just about to walk over to Calvary, the place where tradition tells us Jesus died, when the news broke. After watching the news, I walked over to the Old City and into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Calvary is located. I thought of those who lost their lives and of their families; I thought of the then-unknown person who had bombed the building.

I knelt down before the altar that commemorates the death of Jesus and remained in silence for a long time, with the victims and whoever did it held in the silent prayer of my heart. No words, just sadness of heart, waiting for the Lord to speak. Slowly, Jesus’ words came into my heart: “Father, forgive them.” Forgive whom, Lord? “Forgive them.”

In silence I listened. “Those who are dead are already with me in the joy and peace of the Kingdom. In the embrace of my mercy, they have already forgiven the one who killed them. They await his arrival to invite him to sit down with them for a wonderful meal on the holy mountain of God like the prophet Isaiah spoke of. He will be surprised, but they are waiting for him with love and joy. It will take time for their families to realize the immensity of my love. Their pain, tears, anger, vengeful rage do not exist here. Everyone came here so quickly, it surprised them. And the little children are so happy. They want to sit down on his lap and give him a hug. You, their families and he can hardly imagine the power of God’s mercy that is everything here. Here, my loving forgiveness makes everyone see things in a new way. You and they will learn it. Just remember, forgive them.”

That was the dialogue of prayer seven years ago in Jerusalem the day of the bombing.

Six years later, I again approached Calvary in the prayer of Holy Week. But this time, having worked in the U.S. Federal Penitentiary, I have met Tim McVeigh. I have met Bud Welch, who lost his daughter on April 19, 1995, and heard his story. On the other side, daily I hear the anger, the hate and the rage of others toward Tim. It surrounds me on all sides. How would I have ever known six years ago that today I would be in Terre Haute, Ind., a neighbor a five-minute drive away from Tim McVeigh?

Only the mysterious providence of God could have unfolded this. So this year I approached Calvary again in the prayer of Good Friday and I heard the same words I heard six years ago: “Forgive them.” Something profound has changed in my life. The immense mystery of God’s love, his rich mercy, has forever changed my heart, day by day more deeply, and this year more deeply than ever.

This Holy Week I celebrated God’s redemptive love again. This Holy Week, St. Margaret Mary Parish, within whose boundary Tim McVeigh lives, celebrated God’s redemptive love in an unforgettable way. In Terre Haute, on May 16, Tim McVeigh will be executed for the bombing. Unlike six years ago in Jerusalem, now there is a personal face to much of the story.

Daily I remember the victims’ families and pray for their healing. I embrace Tim McVeigh as my brother and await with sadness his execution. But I often dream of the children sitting on Tim’s lap and giving him a warm hug and saying to him, “Let’s go to the banquet now. There are 168 of us who have prepared it for you. We have been waiting. It is good to have you home.”

How powerful is God’s rich, forgiving love. It changes our hearts and our lives.

Fr. Ron Ashmore is pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Terre Haute, Ind.

National Catholic Reporter, May 18, 2001