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Could you forgive your son's murderer?

by Brandon Lowrey to The Armenian Reporter


PASADENA, Calif.7 – Leticia Aguirre never got to throw her son his 18th birthday party.

On May 5, 2000, Raul Aguirre, 17, didn’t come home from school. Leticia Aguirre grew worried as she began making dinner. The school called, saying he had been hurt. Raul was stabbed once in the back and twice in the heart by teenage Armenian gang members as he tried to break up a fight involving one of his friends. He died just a few hours after his family rushed to the hospital.

Raul was not involved with gangs.

During his sentencing, one of the young killers begged Leticia’s forgiveness. And for just a moment, she put herself in his shoes – he was scared, and practically a child. The 19-year-old, who was 15 at the time of the murder, was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Justice was served, and it was time to forgive him, she told listeners Saturday at the Forum on Forgiveness.

The forum operated on a simple principle: In order to break the cycle of violence, one must learn compassion, sympathy, and forgiveness.

Father Vazken Movsesian, a priest at Saint Peter Armenian Church and Youth Ministries Center, founded the group as a way of dealing with the Armenian Genocide.

Armenians, Movsesian said, have been caught up in seeking recognition for their genocide.

“In a sense, we don’t need the recognition. We already know it happened,” he said. Meanwhile, the atrocities in Darfur are ongoing. “It’s the only genocide we can actually do something about.”

His group looks beyond political or ethnic lines to provide relief to fellow human beings.

“We’re trying to help anyone who suffers,” said Father Movsesian, “and the reason is because we at one time suffered, too.”

Perhaps 150 people attended the forum on Saturday. The significance of the date – 7-7-7 – came from the words of Jesus, the group said: “Lord, how many times must I forgive someone who has hurt me? Not seven times, but seven times seventy-seven times.”

Among the speakers featured was Ben Kayumba, field activities coordinator for Solace Ministries, which tends to orphans and widows in the devastated African nation of Rwanda. He had lost 152 members of his family, including both of his parents, during the 100- day genocide. But he said that forgiveness has allowed him to cope with his pain.

The forum was hosted by In His Shoes, a group founded by young people, who in light of the Armenian Genocide, say that those who have suffered evil have a responsibility to take action against injustice to others. Artist Gregory Beylerian photographed each of the forum’s participants in a stance symbolic of forgiveness, which he will use to patch together a piece of art in honor of the event’s theme.

Armenian rock star Gor Mkhitarian played his signature blend of modern and Armenian folk music for the crowd at the forum.

On Friday, the group showed the film Sand and Sorrow to an audience of more than 200. The documentary, produced by Paul Freedman – who attended the event – and narrated by George Clooney, explores the atrocities currently unfolding in Darfur. An estimated 2.5 million people have been displaced there, and more than 400,000 have died so far.

And the filmmakers also examine the international community’s failure to act.

In addition to examining historical atrocities, the group has focused on trying to draw attention to contemporary tragedies, like those taking place daily in Darfur.

The Pasadena-based In His Shoes is dedicated to anyone who suffers for any reason, including all of those affected by genocide, war, or other strife. It recently joined an antiwar protest in Los Angeles, lamenting the fact that nearly 4 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the war’s start.

He said that instead of sending in “peacekeeping” troops with guns and bombs, those who seek peace should instead try to place themselves in the shoes of those who are suffering.

“We tried it in Iraq and it didn’t work,” he said. “You can’t just send in troops anywhere you have problems.”




All Content Copyright © 2005 Fr. Vazken Movsesian and In His Shoes, Intnl.