After speaking of the traumatic aftermath of his abuse in a Yugoslavian prison, Miroslav Volf, professor of Systematic Theology at Yale University Divinity School, urged audience members to accept and move on from painful memories of the past in ICC Auditorium Tuesday.

Volf, the second speaker in the Pacem in Terris lecture series, discussed the need to embrace painful memories in light of his own experiences being interrogated by the Yugoslavian government in 1984.

“I can see myself as someone who has been terrorized,” Volf said. “Or as someone who has been delivered by God and given a new life.”

Volf discussed how memory can serve as a shield against evil, generating solidarity among victims while also remarking on how memories of the horrors of the past can help generate resistance against the horrors of the present.

“To struggle against evil,” Volf said, “We must empathize with its victims.”

He also remarked on memory’s ability to create a false sense of identity. Referring to the conflict in Bosnia rooted in a hatred over memories of past wrongs, Volf pointed out how memory can prod victims into violence instead of spurring them to fight for justice.

“We need to help memory become a bridge between enemies instead of a ravine separating them,” Volf said.

Volf described the degree of freedom we have in regard to our memories and offered the suggestion that if salvation lies in the memory of wrongs committed, it is not the memories themselves but what we do with them that is important.

“We are not shaped by memories,” Volf said. “We ourselves shape the memories that shape us.”

Volf frequently referred to quotes by Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, as he discussed the need of victims to speak out about their suffering in order to achieve personal healing.

He also touched on the notorious unreliability of memories and the fact that victims are certainly no exception to the rule.

Volf reflected on how his memory of the brutality of the Yugoslavian officers who terrorized him has grown over time. Although the facts remain the same, he said he has tended to portray them as larger villains than he knew they were, which in turn has resulted in doing them an injustice.

“Truthful memory, not just memory, is necessary to salvation,” Volf said.

Volf said that indifference to the suffering of others is also a problem for those who have experienced significant suffering. He also said those who have suffered are prone to suffering again, either as victim or as perpetrator.

“As they seek to protect themselves, victims are not immune from wrongdoing,” Volf said. “Perpetrators are often recruited among martyrs.”

A native of Croatia and an internationally respected theologian, Volf regularly teaches in Central and Eastern Europe and has been involved in international ecumenical dialogues with organizations including the Vatican Council for Promotion of Christian Unity.

The Pacem in Terris lecture series commemorates Pope John XXIII’s 1963 Papal Encyclical.

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