Student writes of forgiveness - Catholic Courier

Student writes of forgiveness

It began as a routine class assignment last fall. But due to Michael Brannick’s solid writing abilities — along with a strong message he delivered on the importance of forgiveness — an essay has brought him national recognition.
Michael, 13, said he originally thought the essay would go no further than his religion class at Elmira’s Holy Family Junior High School. “It only took me about an hour and a half to write. Usually I put more time into my projects,” the eighth-grader explained.
Instead, the essay was entered in a national contest conducted by the Maryknoll Society — a missionary religious order — on the theme of “Love your Enemies?” Michael’s piece tied for third place in the Division 1 (grades 6-8) category. His submission was one of more than 9,400 entries in two age divisions.
In his essay, Michael recounted his experiences and reflections connected with the October 2002 sniper killings in the Washington, D.C., area, where Michael and his family were living at the time. In all, 10 people were killed and three were injured. The convicted snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo, were captured at a rest stop just a few miles from where Michael lived and attended school in Frederick, Md.
“During this period I was extremely frightened and worried about the safety of my friends and family,” Michael wrote. “My school would not allow students to leave the building … my parents would not let my sister and me go shopping at the local mall.”
In separate trials that have since taken place in Virginia, the death penalty had been considered against Muhammad and Malvo. This form of punishment was strongly denounced by Michael in his essay.
“Even though I lived through a very frightening month, I don’t believe killing the killers will accomplish anything,” he stated. “It will not help the victims’ families. It will not change the fact that thousands of people lived in fear during that month. I believe in Jesus’ words, ‘ … do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you.'”
Asked by the Courier if he would have felt the same had the snipers killed someone from his own family, Michael admitted that forgiveness would have been harder to muster. “If someone did something you feel was really terrible, then it may take a while,” he said. “I probably would have had mixed feelings — anger toward what happened, but not wanting someone to be killed just for revenge.”
Later in his essay Michael advocated that as Christians, we should practice forgiveness in both tragic and everyday circumstances. “To start spreading (Jesus’) belief we must start small. Everyone has had small annoyances in their lives like rude remarks, shoves, and other things. Most people would react and retort with a witty remark or a tough shove. According to Jesus we must not react and ‘turn the other cheek,'” he wrote.
Elizabeth Berliner, principal of Holy Family Junior High, said she was impressed with the wisdom contained in Michael’s writing. “It’s a very poignant reminder of who we’re called to be as Christians,” she said.
Even so, Michael said he was “really surprised” when he learned in January of his third-place national finish. In early February an assembly was held in Michael’s honor, with two Maryknoll representatives visiting Holy Family and giving Michael his third-place check for $150. Also in attendance that day were Michael’s parents, James and Bernadette.
Michael, saying the fanfare was a bit unsettling, expressed relief that he didn’t have to give a speech at the assembly. “I was a little nervous. I’m really kind of shy,” he said.

Tags: Catholic Schools
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