The Healing of Nations

The healing of fractured societies demands extraordinary vision, patience, and forgiveness. A history of strife constantly beckons for more. But people determined to leave the past behind and persist toward peace can triumph.

This process of redirecting a society's energies is vividly at work in Northern Ireland. This week's turmoil contrasts with the hopes stirred by successful peace negotiations.

The Protestant Orange Order clings fervently to its tradition of mid-summer marches to commemorate a victory over the Catholics 300 years ago. The authorities block one route, but allow another - courting possible reaction from Catholic neighborhoods. Extremist youths attack British soldiers and police.

It's an all-too-familiar scenario. Will it derail the peace? Not if leaders, and average people, on both unionist and nationalist sides adhere to the vision of a shared future. That vision led to breakthroughs like a new assembly that represents both communities and could enhance justice and opportunity all around.

The same reaching for a better future is at work in other parts of the world. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is forging ahead despite criticism that justice is being shortchanged by the panel's grants of amnesty. But that country must have a means of moving beyond apartheid's legacy of hatred. The commission may not be a perfect vehicle, but it moves in the right direction.

The Oslo peace process in the Middel East and the Dayton Agreement in Bosnia are also vehicles. They too can move with the right fuel of commitment, moral courage - and prayer.

It should never be forgotten that the quest for peace is supported by a higher than human power. "The healing of the nations" is a promise unfettered by history.

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