Extreme horror and extreme forgiveness

Father Ubald shares lessons learned from Rwandan genocide

One student tries to walk while bearing the weight of the other student in a demonstration about forgiveness.

The Salvi Arena was silent on Friday morning as Carmel students, faculty and staff listened to Father Ubald Rugirangoga’s presentation about his experiences in Rwanda during the ethnic genocide of the mid-1990s. With a slideshow to help people understand his words through his thick accent, Father Ubald shared a horrifying story of loss and redemption that started when he was a small child in Rwanda.

“Our family was a rich one until the night of the sword,” Ubald said.

He explained that in one night in 1963, all the men of his village were killed by those of Hutu ethnicity simply because they were of Tutsi ethnicity. That night, Ubald said was the beginning of the cross way for him.

He left his country to go to seminary school, but felt drawn back to his home to help the healing to begin, but tensions remained high and violence was still a threat. In 1987, 45,000 people of Tutsi ethnicity were killed in a three day period. He escaped, but people from his parish still wanted him to be killed.

“People from my parish wanted my head to be cut off and have a procession with my head on a stake,” Ubald said.

Once again, he was forced to flee. He escaped Rwanda in 1994 with the help of a guide who led him through the bush, but he was saddened by the fact that he had had to leave.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

— Romans 21:12

When he returned within a year and began to hold a series of retreats with both Tutsi victims and Hutu perpetrators. The first one was just for Tutsi, followed by one for Hutu and, finally, followed by one that included both groups along with some of the Hutu people who had helped Tutsi people hide and escape.

Father Ubald taught them that the real problem was not their backgrounds, it was the ideology of genocide that caused all of the problems. The good one, he explained, must triumph over the bad.

When the victims were hanging onto their anger at the third retreat, he asked them to stand. Then he asked the rescuers, who were of Hutu ethnicity, to stand with the victims. When the victims found themselves surrounded by Hutu people who were those who helped, not those who hurt, it was easier to teach them that it was not ethnicity that had caused the violence, but the ideas.

“People,” he said, “can once again live together after genocide.”

Father Ubald wants people to know that extreme horror requires extreme forgiveness.

His forgiveness extends to the the children of the man who murdered his father. Father Ubald pays for all of their schooling for that man’s children because their father is in jail.

The assembly ended with a demonstration with two student volunteers who pretended to be in a dispute. Father Ubald had them try to walk while supporting the weight of the other, showing that when you hold onto anger, you are weighing yourself down.

To forgive doesn’t mean you have no problem with them anymore. It just means that you have made the decision to let your anger go.

“Every fight,” he said, “is stopped by forgiveness.”