Focolare Movement
I am Rwandese

I am Rwandese

Twenty years ago, Pina’s country of Rwanda, was struck by an absurd civil war that resulted in the death of at least 800 thousand people in a few short months. “For the past twenty years my people have continued to mourn the victims of the war and, at the personal level individuals visited private cemeteries.” On April 6, 1994 President Juvenal Habyarimana’s aeroplane was struck by a missile attack. None of the passengers survived, and the war that was already brewing broke out.

In that moment Pina was living in the Philippines where she was following her vocation to the spirituality of unity that she had been living since she was a child. She recounts: “My family was also impacted by the war. Thirty-nine of my relatives were murdered. I was taken by despair. Gradually I felt emptied of those sentiments that had filled my soul up until then, I felt that nothing made sense anymore.”

She was transferred to Kenya in order to follow the situation more closely. She worked at the Red Cross and assisted the wounded and refugees from Rwanda: “but I wasn’t able to look at the people of other ethnic groups in the face, the ones who had taken part in the massacres.” The pain was too vivid. One day she came upon some people from another ethnic group and couldn’t avoid catching their eye. The animosity grew. “I thought about revenge, but I felt confused. I had come to a crossroad: either I would close myself in my pain and anger, or I would ask God’s help.”

A few days later at the office, she recognized some people from the enemy group who were living right there in the city. “They recognised who I was and felt uneasy, they began to turn back and walk the other way. They also saw me as their enemy.” Pina saw that forgiveness was the only hope for social reconciliation. She had learnt this from the Gospel. “With a sense of power, I walked up to them and spoke to them in their own language. I didn’t mention my own family, but only tried to show interest in what they needed. Just then, something loosened within me.” A glimmer of light had been given to Pina.

A year later she returned to Rwanda. She hardly recognised her sister, the only family member who had survived the massacre. She learnt that the man who had betrayed their family – a very close friend – was in prison. “Although I was in pain and opposed to the people who invoked the death penalty, it was clear that I could pull back now that I had taken the first step toward forgiveness.” She took her sister who had witnessed the massacre. “And so we went to the prison together, to visit this man. We brought him cigarettes, some soap and whatever we could find. But mostly we went to tell him that we forgave him. And we did it.” Her sister, Domitilla, would soon adopt 11 children from several ethnic groups, without making distinctions between natural and adopted children, and later won a national award.

This year, Pina explains, “on the 20th anniversary we have something new: Tutsi and Hutu together in carrying remains to the National Cemetery for burial – all of us Rwandese.” They are the true heroes of this country. “This is an important step forward,” Pina remarked, “we are returning to the way we were before the war.” The project was named The Flower of Reconciliation, so that it might continue to bear fruits of peace in Rwandan society.”

See also:

Il Rwanda ricorda, venti anni dopo, by Liliane Mugombozi in Città Nuova online

Il fiore della riconciliazione, by Aurelio Molé in Città Nuova online