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Issue Date:  October 13, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

Profound example of forgiveness

My older sister went to nursing school in Lancaster, Pa., “Amish country,” during the early 1960s. Many a Sunday night I rode with my father as he drove her the 50 miles west from Pottstown to return to school. Somewhere on the outskirts of the city of Lancaster we would come upon horse-drawn buggies, sometimes one or two, sometimes a long line. I loved being able to get a close-up look at the horses; the people existed largely in my imagination. You didn’t see much of them, going by the buggies. The men were always bearded and wore hats; the women covered head to toe.

Many Augusts my father and I would head for Amish country again, this time to fill the bed of a pickup truck with baskets of tomatoes and peaches. For the next two weeks my siblings and I would be commandeered to the basement for the annual “canning” session, the closest we’d ever get to the kind of family industry so much a part of life in the quiet sect just the other side of the mainstream.

My only other contact with the Amish was one of the most ridiculous “assignments” I ever received. After a few months at a hometown paper, the editor decided that I and a young woman on the staff would go to Philadelphia dressed in Amish garb to record the reactions of people in the big city to innocents abroad, as it were. The rather inconsequential conclusion of that little exercise was to write that people were overly solicitous to two pretenders in costume followed by a photographer.

The way Amish are treated as curiosities, of course, came home to me this week with the force of a fist to the gut, after five of the community’s children were killed in yet another of those inexplicable spasms of violence that leaves us all shaking our heads and a little more wary than we were the week before.

The force of their lives, however, arrived more profoundly in what the Amish spoke right after the shooting: “We forgive.” From our earliest sacred texts, the Christian community is put on notice that the proof of what we believe is in the living.

And so it was with a grace and quiet assurance that can only come from a deeply lived experience that the community urged forgiveness of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts. A family spokesman told The Associated Press that an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family within hours of the shooting.

Another member of the Amish community, woodworker and artist Daniel Esh, said, “I hope they stay around here and they’ll have a lot of friends and a lot of support.”

Whatever the seeming quirks of a people who shun contact with modernity in every way possible, the Amish have set a profound example for this age. It is, immediately, disarming. It is what we might want to do, or think we should do, but rarely what an entire community does because of its faith.

Gertrude Huntington, a Michigan researcher and expert on Amish children, told AP, “The hurt is very great, but they don’t balance the hurt with hate.”

~ ~ ~

As the campaign season heats up, we can all expect to be deluged with all of the reasons we should vote a certain way. One of the newest voter’s guides takes a broader view than many that have been produced. It is put together by a new group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. The guide, “Voting for the Common Good: A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics,” can be obtained by downloading it from the group’s Web site at the or by ordering copies online.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, October 13, 2006

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