One year after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the Rev. Philbert Kalisa visited his home nation for the first time to do research for his dissertation on the role of the Rwandan churches in promoting healing and reconciliation. He learned that dozens of his relatives had been slaughtered. In an interview that was part of the Peacebuilding Practitioners Interview Series, he said, “I also saw the great division amongst priests and other religious persons. There was no community. You could see and even smell the division, the hatred amongst them. So I left shocked at what I had seen. At that time I vowed to myself to never come back.”
While he was writing his dissertation, he felt that God was calling him to go back to Rwanda and in 1996, he settled in Rwanda with his wife and children. I met Fr. Philbert at the Episcopal clergy conference in Massachusetts; he told us that the leadership of the Anglican Church in Rwanda initially rejected his efforts to work through the church to foster healing and reconciliation in the communities. So he utilized his currency of relationship developed while he was studying in the U.K., and ran a fundraising campaign called REACH-UK and was able to obtain the money he needed to move forward.
REACH now offers trainings on healing and reconciliation that are run in the form of workshops or seminars in Rwanda. Fr. Philbert said, “We bring people together that have suffered. We talk about the historical background of the conflict. There is no way one can promote reconciliation if people do not know the root causes of the hatred and conflict. In Rwanda, this hatred took its roots at least in the late 1950s so it has persisted over generations. We have to ask why this has happened. We also talk about the role of the churches during the conflict. We ask tough questions, such as: were the churches complicit, did they oppose the genocide, or how could such a Christian country not stand up against the genocide? We then talk about reconciliation as both a political and biblical concept.”
REACH also work and train perpetrators and victims directly. The perpetrators and victims groups begin separately to talk about their needs, about forgiveness, about reconciliation. When the two groups are ready, they are brought together to meet and share their truth and to work on communal projects. Fr. Philbert talked about a project in which perpetrators built homes for victims’ families. He described another project in which former enemies adopted each other’s children and raised them together. “Hate is a big problem. If we live with hate, we are victimized twice. The first time when we lose someone we loved, the second as we carry the burden of hatred that destroys us from within. So to be reconciled is to live together in peace and harmony.”
REACH eventually built the Center for Unity and Peace, located on a hill overlooking Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, as an identifiable place for promoting healing and peace-building not only in Rwanda but also in the Great Lakes Region of Africa where ethnic clashes have taken millions of lives and destroyed public and private infrastructures.
Fr. Philbert truly knows what it means to follow St. Paul’s counsel to “Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil…Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Reflection Questions for Proper 14 (Year B)
1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51
Eric H. F. Law
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