The National Catholic Review

This letter to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, posted on the Facebook page of Michael Rogers, SJ, received almost 20,000 shares since Rogers, a Jesuit scholastic studying in Rome in preparation for ordination in June, posted it yesterday.  Mr. Rogers, a New England Province scholastic whose brother ran in last week's Boston Marathon, gave us permission to reprint his letter in full.  

Dear Dzhokhar, 

You don’t know me, but you tried to kill my family. 
You couldn’t have known, but my brother ran bandit in the marathon and trained for months. My sister-in-law was an amazing and supportive wife, as she always is, and was ready to run the last five miles with him.  Your bomb was at the finish line that they were trying to cross. 
My mother, father and sister were waiting for them at the finish line. You didn’t know it, but my mother thinks that she saw you down there. My sister is only three years younger than you, and you set off a bomb in front of her.
You don’t know me, but you tried to kill some friends of mine.
One of my best and closest friends was working in the store in front of which you or your brother laid down a bomb. That bomb exploded, and gave her the worst day of her life. 
I was a high school teacher, and your bomb wounded one of my most promising students with shrapnel. 
Dear Dzhokhar, you tried to destroy a community that I left behind for Rome, but from which I draw so much of my strength and identity. 
You killed a child who was a part of the community who made me the man I am today. Martin may have grown up to be a BC High boy...and his family is well loved in the community which surrounds that school. 
You tried to drive a city which gave me courage in the face of cancer into complete and utter fear. But you tried to do this to a city that knew how to make a 10-year-old unafraid. 
Dear Dzhokhar, you may have crossed the threshold of the building in which I lived to compete in an athletic event, but we have never met, and you tried to kill my family, a friend, my students, and destroy my community. 
Dear Dzhokhar, you failed. Did you ever think that you would make it out? The U.S. captured Bin Laden and Saddam...there was no chance you would escape. This is not the measure of your success, though. Dear Dzhokhar, you failed because Boston was neither bowed nor afraid. You set off a bomb, and the city gave blood for victims. You escaped initial capture and the city opened its doors to strangers. You were at large and making more bombs, and we gathered in prayer at Garvey Park and the Cathedral. You went on a rampage, and people stayed home in an orderly fashion and opened their homes to the police during the search. Dear Dzhokhar, you failed, because light cast out the darkness, and the man who knew that his boat just didn’t look right wasn’t afraid to call it in to the police.
Dear Dzhokhar, for all of this, I can’t hate you.  Today I thought about the fact that you are only are just a kid. You must have been so afraid today. You were a victim like so many are victims, you were brought something you shouldn’t have been brought into because you likely didn’t and couldn’t know any better. 
I am glad that you are going to prison, and I hope that you will have many long years there in Supermax in Colorado. I hope that no one I love will ever be threatened by you again, but I can’t hate you. 
I can’t hate you because whatever you brought into Boston was enough hate for a good long while, I won’t and can’t hate any more. 
I can’t hate you because I remember being 19, and I thought many things were a good idea that weren’t. I never would have went where you were with that, but I was certainly not an adult at 19. 
I can’t hate you because, even though you did unspeakable things...somehow you are still my brother and your death can never be my gain. 
I can’t hate you, and not just because I am a Catholic, and a Christian, and because in a couple of months I will be a priest, I am a human and I simply can’t hate you.
Dear Dzhokhar, I still have hope for you. 
The rest of your life will be in prison. I have seen men change their lives there. I hope that you won’t be executed, because I know that we can hold you, safely, for the rest of your life. 
I can’t say what your story might be there, but I know that I, as a Christian, and you, as a Muslim, believe God to be I can’t help but have hope for you. 
Dear Dzhokhar, you’re a kid. I can’t hate you, or fear you. I am glad you are in custody, I am glad you can’t hurt anyone else or yourself anymore, but I can’t hate you...and I won't fear you. 
Dear Dzhokhar, I will pray for you. Next year, when my friend and my brother cross that finish line on Boylston, your brother’s cause will have lost for good; but I will pray that you will know, somehow still, the love that my brother, sister-in-law, mother, father, sister, friends and students all have given me. 
Dear Dzhokhar, I will pray for you. When the first pitch is thrown on Patriots Day at Fenway, I will pray that somehow you will know joy...the joy that makes us fully human and offers the possibility of real repentance...the joy that Red Sox baseball fills me with every year. 
Dear Dzhokhar, I will pray for you next year when the first shot is fired in the annual reenactment of the battle of Lexington and Concord, that you will come to know that peace and love are the only ways in which world will ever be changed. 
Dear Dzhokhar, I don’t and can’t hate you. I am glad you are in custody, but you are just a kid, and you lost. I will love and pray for you, because somehow your sin was turned for good, and my community and the people I love will only be stronger in the end. 
Dear Dzhokhar,

Show Comments (26)

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Roberto Blum | 4/25/2013 - 8:13pm

Sure, everyone has opinions, but they are only opinions. In order to do justice we need both facts and procedures to support the facts. The media can dig up facts but only the courts through our adversarial procedures can give us a certain assurance of the validity of the facts. Let´s wait until a court veredict is reached. Even then we should be careful in condemning anyone.

Marie Rehbein | 4/26/2013 - 10:10am

Yes, the courts are there so that we do not have to take matters into our own hands and potentially overreact and make matters worse. However, we do not have to wait until a court verdict is reached in order to condemn the actions of this young man and his brother. In fact, if we fail to condemn, we fail to teach our children right from wrong.

Mark Meyers | 4/24/2013 - 9:48pm

What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty? We are told many things that just aren't true by the media. These boys are being sentenced in the media without their day in court. Being Catholic you think the memory of the inquisition might just have you take a step back and look around at all the inconsistencies, before casting the first stone. Or are we starting a new inquisition where just an accusation is good enough to chase you down and kill you in the street like a dog. I also had family that was injured in that event. I also want justice. But I'm not willing to give up my liberties and my freedoms to rationally investigate inconsistencies because that is exactly how we lose them. Your forgiveness to these boys is laughable in that you have convicted them without proof, without evidence, without testimony. Unfortunately your opinion is parroted by millions who haven't taken the time to look at the inconsistencies in this event and believe everything that is throw at you by the media. That's why they call it programming.

Marie Rehbein | 4/25/2013 - 4:26pm

We know what happened. You are expecting that we could find out that the individual who has been identified as one of the perpetrators might not actually be one? Even if we understand that the media sometimes misstates the facts or fails to completely state the facts so that it leaves an incorrect impression, the fact that someone did the deed is not in dispute. Furthermore, there are many eye witnesses to what happened a few days later; deeds which are no less despicable. It's quite ridiculous to think that we cannot have opinions on the matter in the absence of a trial in one of our courts.

Carolyn Disco | 4/25/2013 - 6:23pm

Thank you, Marie, for your excellent response.

Being shot down like a dog in the streets based only on an accusation? The police were shot at following the assassination of MIT police Officer Sean Collier, and incendiaries thrown in their path. Catholics need to think of the record of the Inquisition? Really?

Reason and the facts have long departed.

Paige Dotson | 4/24/2013 - 1:08pm

Mike has a very generous heart. And like many, he's trusting and adopting the false narrative peddled in the public square and pulpits that the God of Judaism and Christianity, and the god of Islam, are the same. Truth is light. The truth is revealed in Koranic texts and the other authoritative sources for Muslims. The most devout, pious, dedicated followers of Jesus Christ are saints who leave legacies of life-giving love, fortitude, etc. Now, have you ever wondered why the followers of Islam who are the strictest adherents to the teachings of the Koran, those who most closely and devoutly follow doctrinal commands of Islam, are those who leave behind destruction and death? The Koran is available online for those who seek moral wisdom on this issue. Matthew 10:16

Gerelyn Hollingsworth | 4/24/2013 - 10:49am

Surprised a Jesuit scholastic would say "would have went."

Charlotte Holton | 4/23/2013 - 12:41pm

It is very understandable that people respond with anger, fear and sorrow to the bombings in Boston, but please let us not kid ourselves. Some hope that Dzhokhar will spend many long years in our Supermax prison which means in exaggerated solitary confinement. If that isn't hate, what is?

Paige Dotson | 4/24/2013 - 1:11pm

It's not hate; it's justice.

c w s fong | 4/23/2013 - 11:06am

Bostonians and all to God we pray –
Our thoughts for people traumatised by amputation;
Shower your blessings on those who lost loved ones;
The tragic incident in Boston on Monday afternoon,
Our wish that whatever caused the tragedy,
Nowhere people would ever experience similar event.
In our hearts we remember those who died,
A prayer that they now rest in your eternal peace.
No more heinous attacks but only acts of kindness.
Saving God may peace prevail, in Boston, and elsewhere.


Carolyn Disco | 4/23/2013 - 10:10am

I find something missing here.

Is no expression of outright anger ever allowed in Christianity while rushing in with peace and love? I'm not talking about anger that festers into rage, but anger openly acknowledged as an expression of horror and injustice.

As for innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, yes of course in legal matters, but in reality, based on unimpeachable evidence of a confession by the older brother, the videos, the eyewitness account of Jeff Baumann (who lost both legs), who looked Dzhokhar straight in the eyes as he put down the bomb, let's at least accept the on-the-ground facts of who did what.

Roberto Blum | 4/23/2013 - 1:16am

Dear Fr. Martin, I don't think Mike's letter that you transcribed in the magazine is something to be proud of. In fact, as I read it for the second or third time I become more convinced it was written without due consideration. I understand his feelings, but I believe that when Mike states once and again, "I don't hate you..." he discovers his true feelings by those repetitions. Perhaps very natural feelings, but nothing to be proud of or even worse, not examples of what a jesuit should express.

Roberto Blum | 4/22/2013 - 8:36pm

Dear Mike, I am glad you don't hate 19 year old Dzhokhar, but I don't think it is fair of you to condemn him before the fair trial to which he is entitled. Are you so sure he is guilty? Don't you think you are prejudging based on scant evidence? Can you not wait until everything is brought out in a court of justice, not on the mass media court? Everyone, even terrorists, are entitled to the presumption of innocence. As you are a future jesuit priest, I would expect from you more discretion and discernment.

Tyler Durden | 4/23/2013 - 4:48pm

I think it is all a government conspiracy, just like AIDS or the pope.

John Barbieri | 4/22/2013 - 4:11pm

Reverend Mike, unfortunately, it must not have been too difficult for you to have written this letter when apparently no one among your family or friends was killed or injured by the abominations this young man perpetrated. And, yes, he is innocent until proven guilty in a fair and lawful trial. As well meaning as your letter is intended to be, perhaps a respectful silence for those effected would be more appropriate. Let the law take its course. The law is there to seek to restore justice, not to exact revenge. This terrible tragedy reminds us that there is evil in the world. We should neither co-operate with nor dismiss evil and its terrible consequences.
Abraham Joshua Heschel wisely noted that if G_D is thought to be "Judge," He is also "Father" No father would judge his child without being merciful. From this it follows that G_.D's judgements are redemptive, not vindictive.
But, we are not G_D.
Let the courts do their work.
Let justice be done.
Afterwards, there will be time enough for mercy.

Rachael Neuberg | 4/22/2013 - 2:05pm

@Kittywest If you had read the letter thoroughly, you would have known that he is from Boston and now lives in Rome. Although, he was not found guilty by a court, I think it is pretty obvious that he is, once he started throwing bombs and shooting at the police. I truly believe you missed the entire point of this letter, and are only trying to take your anger out on this person.

Peg Maloney | 4/22/2013 - 11:43am

Thank you for this very prayerful and powerful reflection. I, too, hope we do not execute Dzhokhar; that would simply perpetuate a culture of death. The merciful God of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament is the same merciful God sought by those who read and honor the Koran.

Ruben Gottschalk | 4/22/2013 - 3:38pm

The statement above is the reflection of poor catechesis of the bishops and Jesuits the last 50 years. This notion that we follow the same God and that all religions are equal is ridiculous. As indicated by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in Lumen Gentium: 'Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism(124) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.'

Kitty West | 4/22/2013 - 12:16pm

Methinks this a bit pompus. What ever hapened to "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" . We don't know the full circumstances yet...and we might never know. But at least for this time being, how about a letter to everyone, saying this person might well be our own child, brother, cousin, friend. I bet you would not judge your own child (if you had one) guilty before our court system had a chance to convene.
I think writing a "forgiveness" letter is a nice idea but presumptuous since God only knows who is guilty.
And writing a "forgiveness letter", using an assumption of the person's guilt without their day in court is a bad example.
We all must do better than that.

Marie Rehbein | 4/23/2013 - 11:55am

Since it was not known on 4/22/13 at 12:16PM that the young man admitted to the bombing, perhaps this assumption of innocence is not as ridiculous as it seems on reading this now. However, there are cases where it is well known that the criminal committed the crime, and the process is to require proof in court of that crime. This does not mean that those who witnessed it or have been given the facts outside of court have to play dumb about whether the individual is guilty.

db cooper | 4/22/2013 - 2:06am

I don't hate him either. I am a Catholic. But this case calls for the death penalty, not as revenge, not as a deterrent, but as protection for the rest of us, from him. If he is allowed to live, he can, in some way, at some time, cause others to die, or to suffer grave harm, and that is not a risk worth taking. Let him repent, if he will (I bet he won't), but we are finished with him. Upon conviction, he can only be sent to God, who will pass judgement on his soul.

Barry Hudock | 4/22/2013 - 8:39am

If this case "calls for the death penalty" for the reasons you offer, db, then so does every single other possible case where it might be considered. And that, of course, is a far cry from JP2's judgment in Evangelium Vitae that "such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

Phong Truong | 4/21/2013 - 11:24pm

This is still condition love. Mike loves him so that he can change to know what Mike thinks is best for him. This kind of love does not cause any changes in a person since it is still conditioned.

Only when we can love him as he is without condition like God loves all of us that this love can change him. Can you really love him as a son of God and see him as God sees him?

Kitty West | 4/22/2013 - 11:12am

I don't know where you live, but where I live there is a law which states that a person is iunnocent until proven guilty.
You people have already tried and convicted this young man in your minds. Sad.

db cooper | 4/22/2013 - 1:57am

Only God can love unconditionally. We as humans are not truly capable of this, and that includes you, my friend. Please refer to scripture and/or Tradition where "unconditional love" is demanded or even expected of us by God (besides "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect"). Please cite explicit reference. If you can do that, then I will retract the first sentence of this post. Thank you.

Amy Morgan | 4/22/2013 - 11:22pm

John 15:12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
Love doesn't mean we'll forget what he did. We are commanded to love one another. Yes, God is the only one that is perfect and he forgets our sins. We as humans can not forget, but we can love.