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Easter forgiveness, reconciliation and Amish grace

Hugo Nieto portrayed Jesus during York, Pa.’s, St. Mary’s Catholic annual Easter procession several years ago. The annual Good Friday processions set the stage for the Easter message of forgiveness, reconciliation and resurrection. The idea of Amish grace, popularized by the tragedy at Nickel Mines, ties into this day. Also of interest: Civil War Easters 1861 & 1865: Hope for the world is constant in past and present wars and Easter in York County, 1919: Sadness, joy, hope.

The Discovery Channel’s “Amish Mafia” is supposed to be a reality show (yeah, right), purportedly giving a glimpse of this forgiving Christian group.

But there’s a fictional film about the Amish that speaks more truth. And that truth goes to themes of Easter being celebrated today, themes of reconciliation and forgiveness.

That film,  “Witness,” provided a telling look at the Amish in the climactic scene on a Lancaster County Amish farm in which Harrison Ford’s John Book confronts the mastermind of a plot to kill him.

“It’s over. Enough,” Book shouted after a series of scenes of carnage. “Enough.”

But his power did not come from his words, but from the action of the Amishmen who formed a semicircle close to the pair.

Those unarmed men in black-and-white were not individually threatening, but the assailant, in seeing their unity, gave up his gun.

In real life, the Amish of Nickel Mines formed a circle around the parents of the assailant who caused death and injury to 10 in their community.

Terri Roberts, mother of the assailant, told a York County audience last year about how their Amish neighbor, Henry, came home to their house after the son’s attack. Henry stood behind her husband, rubbing his shoulders and consoling him. Christians call this being a good witness for the good news of Jesus.

Principal Norina Bentzel, who fought off a man with a machete at her school in 2001, noticed that Amish grace from Nickel Mines.

She forgave the attacker of her students and teachers in writing. The madman failed to accept her forgiveness, rejecting her kindness from his prison cell.

Undaunted, Norina Bentzel freely talks about this Amish example of forgiveness.


The Amish, in turn, freely point to Jesus’ example of forgiveness and reconciliation, themes being observed by Christians around the world this Easter.

The Easter message is that Jesus died on the cross for the sins – big and little ones – of all mankind to gain for men and women forgiveness and reconciliation.

His resurrection – today’s Easter theme – means that there is hope,  that these themes of forgiveness and reconciliation are available to mankind.

The Amish, granted such grace, seek to emulate Jesus’ example.


The ideas of forgiveness and reconciliation apply to individuals and whole communities.

As the Red Lion community comes upon another anniversary – the 10th anniversary of the slaying of middle school Principal Eugene Segro by a student – the example of the Amish is something to realize.

Over the past decade,  some people have moved on, but many others are still hurting, and the community seems to be bottled up about that terrible moment.

Such an example of boundless grace, counter to everything considered at that time, came in Newtown, Conn., at memorial services for the 26 slain students and teachers.

One event called for the ringing of church bells for the 26. Some churches added a 27th for the assailant’s mother. At least one church, following the Amish example, rang its bell 28 times, including the assailant.


In “Witness,” John Book went by the book and showed one bloody way of exacting justice in an imperfect world.

And the Amish, by standing with Book and and undaunted by the mastermind, went by another Book. Such ideas of forgiveness and reconciliation and gentleness and grace are too little observed in a fallen world.

Thank heavens, people are beginning to take notice.

Also of interest:

The term “Amish grace” has been effectively brought to the public square in recent years via Donald B. Kraybill’s, Steven M. Nolt’s and David L. Weaver-Zercher’s “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy.” The book, which centers on Amish forgiveness and reconciliation in the aftermath of Nickel Mines, is available at York County libraries, www.yorklibraries.org.


Other Christian holiday-related posts: Pre-World War II Thanksgiving holds lessons for York countians today and Henry Laurens’ Christmas in York Town: ‘I will not quit my post, although I … fear that I may perish on it’ and ‘Sandpaper Sisters’ rubs readers right way.

Amelia Avila playing Mary, right, and Carmen Vega playing Mary Magdalene, weep for a crucified Jesus, portrayed by Hugo Nieto during St. Mary’s annual Easter festival.