Summoned to Serve/Lent|
Renew sister sees Rwanda's efforts to forgive
Small, faith-sharing groups are seen as a way to reconcile after genocides
Editor's note: Rwanda continues to rebuild after two large-scale
genocidal massacres in the 1990s. The U.S. Catholic bishops,
working with Catholic Relief Services, have asked Renew
International to help the survivors work for reconciliation
through small faith-sharing groups. Sr. Cheryl Erb, who conducted
numerous Renew 2000 workshops in the Green Bay Diocese, has
visited Rwanda and has been closely involved in that effort.
Following is her report, which, in the spirit of Renew, includes
reflection questions and action responses for small faith-sharing
groups in our diocese to ponder in Lent.
By Sr. Cheryl Erb, RSM
No matter where we reside, each day we welcome the same sun and the same moon. This presence of God puts us in solidarity, even
with everyone around the globe.
These rays of light were blocked out by the heinous acts of
violence of one group of people to another in Rwanda in 1994 and
again in 1997-98 (the second wave went unrecorded in the
international press). There were massive killings of Hutus and
The Rwandan government has mandated that a genocide site be
preserved in each region of the country as a gruesome memorial to
the inhumanity of one human to another. Outside the capital of
Kigali, 5,000 Tutsis were killed on the grounds of the village
church on April 24, 1994. Visitors can see the grenade holes in
Inside the church are the bones of men, women and children, along
with blankets and cooking pots and toys. The Tutsis believed they
would be safe in the sanctuary of the church. Actually, it was
more efficient to massacre many in confined quarters. In May 1994
in the "central church," 12,000 people were killed over a
five-day period. These bones are preserved in crypts in the rear
of the church. In the front of the church there is a sign in the
Kinyarwanda language that reads: "If you had known me, you would
not have killed me."
In 100 days of slaughter 800,000 people were killed. For the
people of Rwanda it was an eclipse of the sun.
Some blame tribal rivalry, colonial favoritism of Tutsis, and
agricultural scarcity for the violence. None of that can explain
this evil. Holocaust history continues to repeat itself in South
America, Kosovo, Palestine, East Timor, Rwanda. When will we
learn? I find no rational way to comprehend this evil, except
through the lens of God.
Seventy percent of the population of Rwanda is now female. Many
of the women are widows. In African society, widows must rely on
the extended family for survival. Most of the extended family is
female, unable to own property. In African society, a woman
without a child is a non-person. For these childless women the
pain of the empty womb is unbearable.
The Catholic Church has been devastated by the wars - Christians
slaughtering Christians. Bishops and priests have been killed or
exiled. Churches have been bombed and catechetical centers
Bp. Kizito became the shepherd of Ruhen-geri in 1998 when its
former bishop was killed. There were four priests in the diocese.
Some priests have returned from exile. Others have come from
other parts of Africa.
The challenge before them is the arduous task of beginning
reconciliation. First there must be food, healing, trust, and
dialogue. It is the hope of the U.S. Bishops, working with
Catholic Relief Services, that the creation of small Christian
communities, who gather for faith-sharing, may begin this
healing. Renew International is training leaders of those small
Christian communities in the Dioceses of Byumba, Ruhengeri and
To see the satisfaction on the faces of the parish leaders after
they have shared faith with Scripture gives me hope. One man
said, "If we had this way of prayer before the genocide history
might have been different."
To see the confidence and enthusiasm exude from the participants
lets me know that in spite of overwhelming obstacles, prayer and
sharing and action will bring forth good fruit.
What must we, who have never had to endure the atrocities of
mass genocide, do in order to enlighten ourselves?
What must we/I learn from the experiences of the Rwandan
What are the causes for such darkness? Prejudice? Fear?
How can we each personally respond to the tyranny of darkness
and sin, both with-in ourselves and outside in the larger world?
Take time to listen and learn about others. Invite them to tell
their stories. "If you had known me, you wouldn't have killed
me." Red flag attitudes and words like "Why can't they be just
like me/us? Why don't they learn English? Why don't they spend
their money wisely? Why don't they.
Speak out. Bring attention to injustices. The governmental
"advisors" from the U.N. refused to name the atrocities happening
in Rwanda as genocide for a long time. Evil gets control when
good people keep silent.
Pray for the people of warring countries. Pray for the widows
of Rwanda. Pray for ourselves that we may be sensitive to
violence and speak out against it.
Days without sun bring dreariness to the soul. How can my soul be
in solidarity with those who are suffering, whose sunbeams have
been obliterated by evil?