Rosaries hang among the personal possessions of genocide victims at a memorial inside the church in Ntarama, Rwanda, Aug. 6, 2010. (CNS photo/Finbarr O’Reilly, Reuters)

Witness, survivor of Rwanda genocide promotes forgiveness as the secret to peace

Originally Appeared in : 9906-3/14/19

SAVANNAH--Place a victim of genocide and his or her perpetrator in a room together, side by side, and what do you think will happen?


In Rwanda, the answer to that question is not one you might expect. 


Just take a look at the men and women featured in the documentary “Forgiveness: The Secret of Peace,” who, with the influence of Father Ubald Rugirangoga, a genocide survivor himself and a priest in the Diocese of Cyangugu in southeastern Rwanda, have been able to make amends. 


“Literally kubabarira [forgiveness in the Rwandan language] means to suffer together with the person suffering, to suffer in the place of the one suffering. To put yourself in the place of the person suffering you understand his or her pain, then you understand him or her and forgive him or her,” said Antoine Kambanda, the current archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kigali in Rwanda, in the 2017 documentary. Formerly the bishop of the Diocese of Kibungo, he was installed as archbishop in January 2019. “As long as one has not yet understood the suffering of the other, he remains closed, hard hearted to the other. So this is the problem that has been done with the Church.”  


Father Ubald Rugirangoga traveled to Grovetown, Augusta and Savannah March 4-8 to present his story of forgiveness and his efforts to create a physical Secret of Peace Center based off of the reconciliation program that he first established at a parish in Mushaka, Rwanda to help the Hutu and their Tutsi victims find peace after the 1994 genocide. At the center he also hopes to be able to offer retreats, Masses, counseling and workshops as well as house sisters and retired priests.  


“I preached forgiveness for four years before people began to agree with me,” Father Rugirangoga said in the documentary.


Addressing the crowd gathered at the Pastoral Center in Savannah March 7 for a viewing of the documentary, Father Rugirangoga said that although forgiveness can free both the perpetrator of an offense and his or her victim, removing the spiritual, emotional and mental weight they may be carrying, one must make the decision to forgive regardless of whether someone else has asked pardon. 


“Forgiveness is a gift. You don’t forgive because someone has a right to be forgiven. Even if he has no right, you make a decision. Many times we say, ‘I don’t know how to forgive someone who does not ask for forgiveness,’” Father Rugirangoga said. “Jesus at the cross, when he forgave us--no one had asked for forgiveness. He made the decision to forgive. ‘Forgive them Father; they don’t know what they are doing.’ We forgive without any condition because we have to imitate Jesus at the cross. We are Christians. And when we forgive we have to be also merciful.”


Recognizing the universality of his message and the prevalence of violence everywhere, Father Rugirangoga later called on Americans to lead the way in setting an example of forgiveness. 


“We know because we are not Americans, how you are powerful. You are so powerful. What you decide in America is spread through over the world. When darkness comes from America, it is spread through over the world because you are so powerful,” Father Rugirangoga said. “But so if you make a decision to spread the light: When light comes from America it is spread through over the world also. If in America, --so I like to preach here in America--if you make a decision to work for example on forgiveness, forgiveness will be spread through over the world also. If you make a decision to work with violence, violence will be spread through over the world. Choose light instead of darkness.”

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