By Carmen Elena Villa
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Church is needed in Africa because it can bring about healing, liberation and reconciliation, according to a nun who lost her family in the Rwandan genocide.
Sister Genevieve Uwamariya of the community of St. Mary of Namur in Rwanda, spoke today at the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.
Sister Uwamariya lost her father and several relatives during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century.
In the midst of 21 interventions, this religious wished to share a personal experience that occurred three years after the tragedy and that she said changed her life. Sister Uwamariya characterized the experience as an example of how reconciliation must be lived on a continent wounded by violence, crude violation of human rights and innumerable social problems.
The nun recalled that on Aug. 27, 1997, with a Divine Mercy group, she went to her birthplace, Kybuye, and met a group of prisoners, several of whom were perpetrators of the genocide.
The purpose of the meeting was to prepare the prisoners for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.
During the meeting, Sister Uwamariya made this invitation: “If you have been a victim, offer forgiveness and forgive those who have done this to you.” She told them that only in this way would the victim be freed from the burden of rancor and the criminal, as a result, from the weight of having committed the evil.
“A prisoner stood up immediately and asked for mercy,” she recounted. “I was petrified when I recognized the friend of the family who grew up and shared with us.
“He confessed that he had killed my father. He gave me the details of the death of my loved ones.”
Sister Uwamariya embraced him and said: “You are and will continue to be my brother.”
The nun added that she felt that “a weight had been lifted from her.”
“I found inner peace again,” she said, “and I thanked him whom I was embracing.”
The Rwandan told of her surprise to hear the man exclaim: “Justice can do its work and can condemn me to death but now I am free!”
“I also wanted to cry out to anyone who would listen that you too can find inner peace again,” she said.
From that moment Sister Uwamariya took up delivering messages from prisons asking survivors for their forgiveness. Some 500 letters have been distributed and with some of the answers she has received, many prisoners have recovered friendship with the victims and experienced true forgiveness.
This has led to meetings of the victims. “These are actions that have served for many to live reconciliation,” she pointed out.
The nun explained that her village is full of widows and orphans and that since 1994, it has been reconstructed by the prisoners.
She also mentioned that associations of former prisoners, born in different parishes, work there with their survivors, and that this works very well.
“I deduce from this experience that reconciliation is not only to want to bring together two persons or groups in conflict,” she said. “One tries to establish love in each one and to let the interior healing follow, which allows for liberation.
“That is why the Church is important in our countries, because it has a word to offer that heals, liberates and reconciles.”