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Mexican church sparks debate on forgiving killers

Tuesday - 1/29/2013, 3:50am  ET

MARK STEVENSON
Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- An order of Roman Catholic priests in Mexico has produced a video urging relatives of drug cartel victims to adopt a Christ-like forgiveness by pardoning even the killers, hitting a sensitive nerve in a country that has suffered an estimated 70,000 estimated drug gang killings or more.

The 10-minute video entitled "Brother Narco," presented this week, tells the story of Miri, a 13-year-old girl who cowers in her bedroom as a gunman and his gang kill her parents one night. The killer in a black cowboy hat later bursts with his henchmen into the church where her parents' funeral is being held. The gunmen carry a funeral wreath for the couple, and the killer lays a hand on the coffin, and then turns to leave.

Miri walks up to him in the church and hugs him.

"My uncles and aunts told me .... that when I grow up, I have to do the same thing to your children," Miri says to him, speaking of revenge. Instead, she decides to forgive him, reasoning, "Maybe somebody did the same thing to your parents, or maybe they never hugged you."

The killer is shown returning the embrace, but it is unclear what he does next.

The scriptwriter of the short film, Pauline Father Omar Sotelo, said he won't reveal if the killer ever repents of his crime. Sotelo says his group is already in pre-production for the second of a planned 12 short features, filmed in high-definition video, which will be distributed on the Internet and on social networks.

Sotelo acknowledged that such a scene might be improbable in real life, but insisted that "as mystical and utopic as it may seem, this project comes out of real-life stories."

He told of one woman he met who decided to forgive her sons' killer.

"She said "I don't want to see anyone else's children killed. That is why I pardoned my son's killer'," Sotelo recalled.

Anti-crime crusader Isabel Miranda de Wallace had a different view: "I don't think people can forgive if they don't even know what happened to the victims, if justice hasn't been done."

Miranda de Wallace led a decade-long fight to bring to justice the gang that kidnapped and killed her son. But they haven't been sentenced yet, and they delayed so long in telling where they left her son's body that the lot was built over by the time authorities could search it.

She said even getting answers is hard in a country where drug gangs have routinely dissolved the bodies of their victims in chemicals or dumped them in unmarked mass graves.

"There are a lot of people who cannot even mourn, because we haven't found the bodies of our relatives, " she said, "so how are you going to go through the process of loss and reach forgiveness if you can't even get justice?"

To some extent, it is surprising how much tolerance victims' relatives have shown. In 2011, when victims banded together to form the Movement for Peace and Justice With Dignity, the relatives of dead drug gang suspects and the relatives of drug gang victims often marched and rallied side by side, to demand answers about their loved ones' fates.

Sotelo hardly thinks his production is the last word on the debate. But in a nation where tens of thousands of young men have been recruited to drug gangs, he said forgiveness is something the nation is going to have to deal with. The only other alternative would be to arrest or kill all of the gunmen, and -- apart from humanitarian concerns -- Mexican authorities haven't proven very capable at doing either.

"By attacking the criminals with guns, what we have done is taken violence and produced more violence," he said.

"What we have found is that these criminals have undergone a process of dehumanization," Sotelo said. "What we need to do is to reverse that process of dehumanization. How you re-humanize someone, is, well, by treating them as what they are, a human being."

Miranda de Wallace, too, acknowledged Mexico will one day face the task, but in a country where an estimated 98 percent of crimes go unprosecuted, said that day has not yet arrived.

"Without doubt, we will have to reach forgiveness," she said, "but I don't think we are at that stage yet in the national process."


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