Monday, October 12, 2009

At the Synod, Truth and Reconciliation

As the African Synod opens its second week, by now the Aula's heard a word on almost everything thanks to the five-minute interventions from its 250-some bishop-members and non-bishop auditors, the lot of which comprises the first part of each Roman assembly.

But even as the delegates have heard no shortage of strong comments calling for everything from debt forgiveness and inculturation to combatting corruption and promoting a greater role for women in the church, perhaps the most emotional and profound of the bunch came Friday, when the testimony of a Rwandan religious, Sister Genevieve Uwamariya, provided the monthlong gathering's most heartfelt, visceral reflection to date on this Synod's chosen theme: "The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace."

Originally given in French, here's a Vatican translation of Sr Genevieve's turn at the mic:
I am a survivor of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda 1994.

A large part of my family was killed while in our parish church. The sight of this building used to fill me with horror and turned my stomach, just like the encounter with the prisoners filled me with disgust and rage.

It is in this mental state that something happened that would change my life and my relationships.

On August 27th 1997 at 1 p.m., a group from the Catholic association of the “Ladies of Divine Mercy” led me to two prisons in the region of Kibuye, my birthplace. They went to prepare the prisoners for the Jubilee of 2000. They said: “If you have killed, you commit yourself to ask for forgiveness from the surviving victim, that way you can help him free himself of the burden/weight of vengeance, hatred and rancor. If you are a victim, you commit yourself to offer forgiveness to those who harmed you and thus you free them from the weight of their crime and the evil that is in them.”

This message had an unexpected effect for me and in me....

After that, one of the prisoners rose in tears, fell to his knees before me, loudly begging: “Mercy”. I was petrified in recognizing a family friend who had grown and shared everything with us.

He admitted having killed my father and told me the details of the death of my family. A feeling of pity and compassion invaded me: I picked him up, embraced him and told him in a tearful voice: “You are and always will be my brother”.

Then I felt a huge weight lift away from me... I had found internal peace and I thanked the person I was holding in my arms.

To my great surprise, I heard him cry out: “Justice can do its work and condemn me to death, now I am free!”

I also wanted to cry out to who wanted to hear: “Come see what freed me, you too can find internal peace”.

From that moment on, my mission was to travel kilometers to bring mail to the prisoners asking for forgiveness from the survivors. Thus 500 letters were distributed; and I brought back mail with the answers of the survivors to the prisoners who had become my friends and my brothers... This allowed for meetings between the executioners and the victims....

From this experience, I deduce that reconciliation is not so much wanting to bring together two persons or two groups in conflict. It is rather the re-establishment of each in love and allowing internal healing which leads to mutual liberation.

And here is where the importance of the Church lies in our countries, since her mission is to offer the Word: a word that heals, liberates and reconciles.
The mini-talks are just wrapping up -- and when they do, the Synod'll break into small discussion groups to process the ideas brought up during the initial phase, formulating them into the propositions that'll be voted upon at the assembly's late-month close.

That said, anyone keen to tackle the formidable task of poring over the assembly's entire record to date can find every last (public) word in the official Synod Bulletin, which rolls out twice daily from the Holy See Press Office.