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The InterVIEW

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A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today's Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.

Photo courtesy of Journey Films

On Oct. 2, 2006, five young Amish girls were shot to death by a milk truck driver in their one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa. The driver, Charles Roberts, then shot himself. With days, members of the Amish community made their way to the Roberts home, offering forgiveness and support to his family.

That remarkable event is one of several cases examined in “The Power of Forgiveness,” a new documentary from Martin Doblmeier, founder of Journey Films.

Doblmeier has produced and directed more than 25 award-winning films on topics of faith and spirituality since 1983, including “Bernardin” (1998) and “The Heart Has its Reasons” (2001), a documentary on L’Arche. “Bonhoeffer” set a record at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago in 2004. “The Power of Forgiveness,” ran Nov. 30-Dec. 6 at the center. It’s expected to be back early next year, and a shortened version will run on PBS in March.

Doblmeier spoke with Catholic New World assistant editor Michelle Martin in advance of its Chicago run.

The Catholic New World: Do you see forgiveness as a religious issue?

Martin Doblmeier: I think we’re at an interesting moment now. For thousands of years, the great faith traditions and their sacred texts have spoken about the importance of the virtue of forgiveness, the Catholic and Christian tradition, certainly, but also Buddhism, Judaism, Islam.

Now, for the last few years, the health sciences have discovered the importance of forgiveness. It’s the confluence of those things that I thought made for an interesting film.

The difference is this: The health scientists talk about forgiveness as something that’s good for yourself. It lowers your blood pressure, slows down your heart rate — all of these things are good for living a longer and better life.

But they are not thinking about the transformation of the world. The faith communities are looking at the transformation of the world. Forgiveness has the power to transform the evil into good.

TCNW: What’s your religious background, and how did it influence your understanding of forgiveness?

MD: I’m Catholic. I think growing up in a culture that speaks from a sacramental viewpoint about penance — now the sacrament of reconciliation — really helped me interpret what I was hearing. I heard the need for people to confess their guilt over a particular tragedy, to accept the confession of another person. Even growing up as a child and learning about penance, central to it was the equation that God forgives us for what we do, and we forgive others for what they have done to us.

In terms of forgiveness, Christianity is a tough pill to swallow. Given the example of Jesus Christ, it is assumed that everything is forgivable. If Jesus Christ on the cross can forgive those who nailed him to the cross, who killed him for no reason at all, how do we find cause to withhold forgiveness from anyone for anything? It’s part of the mystery.

TCNW: You talked about the difference between the health scientists’ view of forgiveness and the religious view of forgiveness. What about the difference between people who say you have to be ready to forgive, and those who say you make a decision to forgive?

MD: The film, by intention, is filled with a lot of contradiction. For some it’s a process: “We have to work through the issue.” For some it’s what they’re expected to do. That was the case with the Amish. They granted forgiveness without having extensive therapy, without having long drawn-out meetings, because they felt they were called to forgive. That’s living out what you feel you’re expected to live out because you believe. It’s putting your trust in God.

That for me is what I really wanted to accomplish in the film. I did not want to come up with a simple prescription for forgiveness. Forgiveness makes it easier for me to accept people for who they are and come at the world a different way.

TCNW: How can forgiveness change the world?

MD: Forgiveness can be one of the devices that we can use to stem the tide of the deep-rooted anger that you see. We’ve become a very angry culture. You see it in the movies we make, you see it in the nightly news, you see it on the highways. People want and are hopeful that human nature calls us to something different. But we just accept the anger more and more.

I’ve done a number of college campuses now, and we draw a big crowd, but they tend to be older people who come out. The younger people don’t seem to resonate with the theme of forgiveness. I see that as a sign of the future, and it’s troubling.

TCNW: In the film, one of the people who study forgiveness says people tend to become more forgiving as they get older.

MD: The older we get, we are more accepting of our own failures and the more we cannot hold other people accountable. Younger people are trying to define themselves. The old axiom of seeing forgiveness as a sign of weakness is one of the key elements that holds them back. If forgiveness is weakness, then Christ was as weak a character as we’ve ever known in western civilization. His constant openness to forgiveness, his calling others to forgive, is seen as a sign of strength and courage. To see it as a weakness is to really miss the virtue of forgiveness.

In addition to being slated for television and public screenings, the film is available on DVD from