Barrie Hibbert sent me this comment on the formal apology to Australia’s indigenous people and this powerful story:
[Australian] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the three little words slowly, deliberately and repeatedly.
It was a dramatic and powerful moment in the history of the parliament and the nation.
Yet there are many Australians who question the "wisdom" of such an apology or the need for it. Like the previous Prime Minister, they feel that it's just empty rhetoric which doesn't achieve anything and is also potentially dangerous...and could end up being very expensive.
But such a viewpoint, either wilfully or out of ignorance, ignores a fundamental reality of our human experience. In both our personal and our corporate life, there are situations where saying sorry is the only way we can begin to address a painful situation. And while those who have been aggrieved need to hear the words said to them, even more does the aggriever need to hear him/herself/themselves say those three little words.
In July 1998 at the memorial service in Westminster Abbey for Bishop Trevor Huddleston, Alan Webster, the former Dean of St. Paul's shared this story:
Following the end of the Apartheid era in South Africa, arrangements were made for the inauguration of the new President, Nelson Mandela.
One of the overseas guests of honour at the inauguration ceremony was Bishop Trevor Huddleston, the English Anglican priest who had fought tirelessly against the old regime, and whose book, “Naught for your comfort” had been so influential in awakening the wider world to the suffering and injustices endured by the oppressed non-white majority of the South African population.
Though he was by this time an old man and confined to a wheelchair, Huddleston was determined to be part of the historic occasion. Arriving from the U.K., he was given a room in a top-security hotel: a necessary precaution in this time of disorderly transition when there was often chaos on the streets, and much talk of a violent backlash from the extreme right.
As he was being wheeled down to breakfast, a black bodyguard on each side, he saw standing at the end of the corridor, a white soldier with a Kalashnikov sub-machine gun. Everyone, including Huddleston, tensed.
As they came up to him, the soldier said: “I would like to touch the Bishop” whom he had seen on television the previous day.
He went on: “I am an Afrikaaner and I represent my people. I am also a Dutch Reformed minister, and I represent my church. I want to say on their behalf how deeply sorry I am for the terrible things we have done to the black people of this country.”
Trevor replied: “This is now the new South Africa and we must put the past firmly behind us and learn to forget.”
“That isn’t good enough,” said the soldier. “There is need for penitence.”
Then putting his gun down and kneeling on the floor, removing his cap, he asked Bishop Trevor to bless him. Trevor said afterwards that he was so near to tears that he could hardly speak.
Image: Bishop Trevor Huddleston and President Nelson Mandela.