On June 1-2, several Notre Dame representatives, including Carolyn Woo and Tom Harvey from the Mendoza College, traveled to a meeting in Kampali, Uganda, for a conference to discuss uniting the African Church. Following is an except from a blog posting by Tom Harvey. The full blog is located at ND Dean Woo: Ask More of Business
Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege, who is the Bishop of Kabgayi and the elected head of the Episcopal Conference in Rwanda, agreed to explain the Church’s great challenge in the aftermath of Rwanda’s recent genocide in 1994, which took more than 800,000 lives in 100 days. Because of the delicacy of the subject, he asked if he could address the assembly in French. Msgr. Bob Vitillo, our Facilitator, agreed to translate for the bishop.
In a very quiet voice, he explained that Catholics make up a majority of the population in Rwanda. They number well over 50 percent of the nation and 68 percent in his diocese of Kabgayi. Thus, those who killed or who had family members killed came mostly from the same religious community. The community was fractured on an incredible level in the violence. Now both the nation and the Church not only must deal with the loss of life and of entire institutions, but even more so, the loss of trust among the people.
Those who killed feel guilty and fear that they will never be forgiven. Those who suffered family deaths are bitter and find it difficult to forgive.
The bishop said that reconciliation is thus the nation’s greatest need, and the Church’s primary mission in this era. Without reconciliation, other investments may offer some promise, but will have little lasting impact. In the course of his remarks, the bishop noted that five Catholic bishops were murdered during the upheaval and one in an isolated incident since. He did want the Assembly to know that already great strides toward reconciliation have been made in Rwanda.
One could feel the power of his softly spoken words on all of us. You cannot hear such a report without making it personal in imagining how you would have acted in such chaos. How can one live through something so catastrophic?
After the session, I had the opportunity to meet with the bishop privately. I thanked him for sharing what must have been a painful commentary. He apologized for his limited ability to speak English and asked if I could speak French. Unfortunately, I cannot. However, we both had studied at Universities in Rome during our youth. We were able to communicate in Italian. I was very happy that we shared this borrowed language. I was reminded of an old Dutch proverb that says, “For every language you speak, you live another life!” I was about to discover how wise and true that proverb is!
I asked the bishop if his own life was ever in danger. He replied that it was not. However, in his own family, there were five siblings. He had two brothers and two sisters – all of whom were killed during the violence. Now, in addition to being a force for reconciliation within his Church and nation, he had to help raise his nieces and nephews to be part of the new Rwanda that has to move beyond the death and pain to new life and resurrection. He noted that no one wants Calvary to be the last chapter in the gospels. The move to find Easter is the only road to peace and liberation.
The Church in Rwanda is blessed to have such men as Bishop Mbonyintege lead the search for reconciliation. I only hope and pray that our efforts to strengthen the Church’s administrative capacity will contribute in some small way to help bring such a noble search to a new Easter for the people of Rwanda.