The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 16, 2001 Issue
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

Summoned to Serve

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 Tutsis.

The Genocide

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 the church.

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.

Rwanda, Today

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 destroyed.

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 Kabgayi.


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.

Inviting Reflection

• 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 people?

• 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?

Inviting Action

• 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?

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