“Father, Forgive Them...”

Forgiveness is one of the hardest virtues for human beings to acquire. Teachers in non-public schools should not miss the opportunity this April to invoke the greatest example of forgiveness known to humankind.  Jesus Christ taught his disciples the importance of forgiveness, even when one’s brother had transgressed against him “seventy times seven times.”  From the cross, he himself forgave his own crucifiers.  And others, inspired by Christ’s example, have followed in his footsteps (ranging from Nelson Mandela to Pope John Paul II.) 


In her classic book, The Glorious Impossible, Madeleine L’Engle celebrates the life of Christ in classic fresco art and with reverent but compelling text.    She reminds readers of Jesus injunction that “As you forgive, so you shall be forgiven” and Jesus’ own words of forgiveness from the cross.




The Glorious Impossible.  Madeleine L’Engle. 
Illustrations by Giotto. 
(Simon and Schuster, 1990).  Ageless and timeless.


Each month on the Core Virtues website, we feature the life of a hero or heroine – men and women who have tirelessly pursued excellence in their lives and helped improve the lives of others. We tie each month’s biography to the virtue of the month or to a theme suggested by the particular time of the year.


mandelaForgiveness, Graciousness and Courtesy
Gentleness and Humility

Nelson Mandela (1918- )

First Black President of South Africa

Nelson Mandela led the struggle to end apartheid in white-dominated South Africa. After years of activism against the white South African regime, Mandela was imprisoned for his leadership in 1963.  He spent 27 years behind bars (1963-1990) but time and justice were ultimately on his side.  Released in 1990, he continued to lead negotiations for a multi-racial democracy, and eventually won the presidency.  He was distinguished, however, by his refusal to hate and his insistence on human dignity, reconciliation and forgiveness. 

Mandela led by example, building an unlikely friendship with his jailer.  The story of Mandela’s relationship with his prison guard of nearly three decades is a prime example of forgiveness in action.  So too were his many national policies that encouraged forgiveness and reconciliation.  The 2009 film Invictus popularized the true story of Mandela’s efforts to promote both through rugby.  Here are some fine children’s treatments and one outstanding adult volume.



Nelson Mandela. (Rookie Biographies)  Karima Grant.
Scholastic, 2005. (K-3) 

A fine introduction and overview for young children.




long walkNelson Mandela.  Long Walk to Freedom. 
Abridged by Chris Van Wyk. 
Illustrated by Paddy Bouma.  Flash Point, 2009. (2-4)

This is an abridged and simplified picture book version of Mandela’s own autobiography by the same name.  Its length (64 pages) makes it appropriate for second graders and older.



“Nelson Mandela,” in Character is Destiny
John McCain with Mark Salter. 
Random House, 2005, pp. 168-175.  (Forgiveness, 5-6)

This compelling short biography of Nelson Mandela chronicles the unlikely friendship of James Gregory, South African jailer and his prisoner, Mandela. Here is the moving story of “the prisoner who forgave his jailer and helped his countrymen forgive one another.”  Because of potentially disturbing descriptions of prisoner abuse, this story is recommended for middle school and up.


playing the enemyPlaying the Enemy:  Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation.  
John Carlin. Penguin Press, 2008. 
(Strong middle school readers and up). 

This book is the riveting non-fiction account that inspired the 2009 movie Invictus(starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as the Springbok rugby coach)Strong middle and high school readers (and their teachers) will find this compelling story both inspirational and instructive.  Not only is Mandela able to forgive his jailers, but he is able to transform hatred and antagonism into a source of national unity.