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The origins of Ara Pacis

When I was a child, I spent many nights awake, wondering why the world was
not just, why some had everything and even more and others had less than nothing; why there were men, women and children who had no education, no prospect or possibility; why their dignity was trampled upon and, in many cases, their human rights denied. I wondered why there was war, why the leaders of the world couldn’t share and apologize as we were taught to do at home.
Most of the time, I would cry myself to sleep.
The years went by, I was older and all the questions were still there. Then came my son, Milo Joseph, and I couldn’t keep wondering, I had to move – for him and for all the innocent – including the children who stare out from the fear-filled eyes of men and women whose lives are pained with humiliation and conflict. But there was a new aspect to the injustices I brooded over in the days of my childhood – more and more, people kill, humiliate, terrorize in the name of God
– not the God who stayed the hand of Abraham… but a god who encourages the
slaughter of our children, a blood thirsty god, a god of revenge.
My days as a theatre actress came back to me one summer, in the tragically disputed region of Istria. I thought of Orestes and the Furies, of how he was hounded for having killed his mother Clitemnestra guilty of the murder of her husband, Orestes’ father, Agamemnon. Unable to comprehend why the furies are persecuting him, driving him to the brink of madness, since he had only done that which the archaic law of revenge exacted, he turns to Athena, goddess of wisdom asking to be tried justly, not by gods but by men. Athena creates an Areopagus and ap-
points the wisest men in Athens as well as herself and Apollo to serve on a tribunal which symbolically determines the end of an eye for an eye the ius talionis of the old divinities and introduces the dawn of human justice.
Perhaps, I thought, the world needs a new Areopagus composed of wise and authoritative human beings who could lead us out of this godless cycle of misery, hatred and blood. Yes, but who, today, are the wise? And who the authoritative? “I cannot speak of reconciliation until the mother who has seen her child’s blood spilled on the streets of Jerusalem forgives”, these words, uttered by the daughter of a religious extremist stuck in my mind and brought me to the answer I was seeking.
The wise are the men and the women who have suffered inhuman tragedies and yet are able to rise above the hatred and the calls for revenge, those who forgive or reconcile with the enemy. Their authority lies in the fact that they themselves, their fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children grandmothers grandfathers, close and distant family members have been humiliated, raped, tortured, beaten and killed and yet they did not succumb to the darkness which claimed their hearts.
It is these ordinary and yet extraordinary human beings who must sit on the Areopagus, listen to the victims and to the perpetrators, and seek to bring healing through endeavors focused on dignity, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is they who are a scandal to the greed, the spiritual obtuseness and the oppression which plague the world reducing millions to objects, deprived of livelihood, dignity and oftentimes of life. It is they who will represent the core, alongside experts on the different aspects of conflict transformation, of the Council for Dignity, Forgiveness and Reconciliation, a modern day Areopagus, which proposes a new form of justice. A council which symbolically unites the human family and is at the service of peoples in conflict, that they should not be left alone in the folly of hatred and injustice, so that dignity and forgiveness can be striven for even in the heart of darkness, so that voices of sanity and of light may be heard when calls for punishment and revenge suffocate even the remotest desire for peace. So that historical wrongs, contemporary greed, spiritual derailment and the power to humiliate can be revealed and addressed in order to create space for reconciliation.
This is the mission of the Ara Pacis Initiative, which takes its name from the altar to peace erected by decision of the Roman Senate on the 4th of July 13 B.C. and inaugurated by Emperor Augustus 30th January 9 B.C. to celebrate the pax romana: the known world conquered with weapons. On April 21, 2010, on the occasion of Rome’s 2763rd birthday, the Ara Pacis will be symbolically rededicated by the City of Rome to a pax humana, a world conquered by dignity, forgiveness and reconciliation, the only true guarantee for lasting peace.

taken from the “Meditations on Forgiveness” – Rome 2010

MARIA NICOLETTA GAIDA

Founder and President of Ara Pacis Initiatives for Peace

Il sito della Fondazione Pax Humana è in arrivo!