For nearly two years, Steve Scalise has tried to forgive.
For the bullet that tore through his pelvis. For all the surgeries. The months of missed work and the many grueling days of physical therapy. Scalise, the Republican House minority whip, has been trying to forgive the gunman who nearly killed him and injured several others in June 2017.
But he hasn’t been ready.
On Friday, though, Scalise said he was working on it.
The Louisiana lawmaker found a guide more than 1,000 miles southwest of the fractious U.S. Capitol on a recent trip to his home state.
Scalise and Vice President Pence traveled to Opelousas, La., a week ago to visit the pastors of three predominantly black churches that were burned down a month ago in a string of hate-fuelled arsons.
With the charred remains of his Mount Pleasant Baptist Church as a backdrop, Pastor Gerald Toussaint spoke of forgiveness. He forgave the suspect, a 21-year-old son of a local sheriff’s deputy, and members of his congregation did, too.
“Why would you wake up in the morning to hate somebody?” Toussaint said then. “The fullness of scripture is love.”
This got Scalise, a devout Catholic, thinking, he told reporters in a Friday briefing.
“I talked to him about that afterwards because I still have to address forgiveness for the shooting two years ago,” Scalise said. “It was good to talk to him and get an understanding of how he got to that point.”
Scalise’s own journey has been well documented, and complete with its own painful reminders. The representative still limps, still uses a cane. And lately he has been thinking about the man, 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson, who opened fire at a ballpark in Alexandria, Va., as Scalise and other Republicans practiced for a charity baseball game.
Scalise was shot in the hip, and the bullet ripped through muscle and bone. On the ground near second base, he lost so much blood doctors later described him as being at “imminent risk of death.” A fellow lawmaker and retired combat surgeon, Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), rushed to his side, applying an emergency tourniquet that probably saved Scalise’s life.
Hodgkinson, who had expressed public malice toward Republicans, was pronounced dead after a gun battle with police.
Scalise was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent several surgeries and a major blood transfusion.
He said he remembers praying — praying that he’d live to see his daughter’s wedding, and to walk her down the aisle, he said last month at the Congressional Prayer Breakfast in Collinsville, Ill.
“God puts people in the right places to take care of us,” Scalise said at the event. “God performed a lot of miracles that day.”
On Scalise’s slow journey to recovery, he has already marked a few important milestones. Fifteen weeks after the shooting, he returned to a packed House chamber and addressed his colleagues, who greeted him with roaring applause, tears and hugs. And a year ago, he donned a uniform and took the field for the first play of the annual Congressional Baseball Game.
Forgiveness is more personal — yet no less difficult.
“It’s something I’ve struggled with as a Catholic,” Scalise said. “Part of my faith is forgiveness, and I’m working to get there.”
But he has some more help now, another man of faith coping with the aftermath of a hateful attack. After they met in Opelousas, Scalise asked Toussaint if they could keep talking, he said. They plan on it.
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.