Three commemorations being held this year make the theme of this symposium, “Roads to Reconciliation,” especially timely. In November, we will mark twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event emblematic of the collapse of Communism in Europe. It was perhaps this event more than anything else that set off a renewed and intense interest in reconciliation. While the theme of reconciliation had been explored intermittently in the decades before, much of the advances in our understanding of reconciliation can be traced back to what happened in Berlin and throughout Eastern and Central Europe in those days. The undoing of forty years of repression—in many instances a repression that was built upon a prior history of fascism—seemed a daunting task then, and continues to be so today.
2009 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Reconciliation. This proclamation was prompted by the awareness that that protracted armed conflict has devastated and continued to devastate so much of the world. A renewed effort to overcome the trauma of war and to build a different kind of society—both locally and globally—seemed a particularly apt undertaking at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Focused more closely on a single continent, a third event brings the theme of reconciliation into the foreground of our attention. In October of this year, the Second Special Synod for Africa will be celebrated in Rome. Its theme is: “The Church in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.” The lineamenta and instrumentum laboris both recognized how poverty, exploitation, and war have colluded to make contemporary Africa anything but a site of justice and a haven of peace. What is especially significant, from a church perspective, is that the instrumentum laboris appears to take the theme of reconciliation beyond its more traditional theological boundaries of sin and penitence.