The Great Miracle of Forgiveness

Written by Anne Marie Jacques on Saturday, 01 August 2020.

Since 1995, Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga has been preaching about forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation. The African priest speaks from the heart, having survived the 1994 genocide in his native Rwanda that killed over 1 million people, including more than 80 members of his family.

“Forgiveness is always needed… For me, forgiveness is a gift from God,”

says Fr. Ubald, whose Tutsi affiliation targeted him for persecution throughout his childhood by the Hutu majority.

Fr. Ubald is the oldest of four children. His first memory of violence against Tutsis was as a boy, aged 5 or 6.

“Some nights I would go with my mother and hide in the bush, I learned later that it was because of our ethnicity.”

His father, and all the Tutsi men of their village, were killed in 1963, leaving his mother alone to raise her four children.

Fr. Ubald entered the seminary in 1973. Incredibly, ethnic violence simmered even there. Hutu seminarians planned to kill Tutsi seminarians. He relates,

“The priests who couldn’t control the situation helped us to escape.”

He was then forced to flee to the neighboring country of Burundi in order to complete his seminary studies, and was finally ordained a priest for the Diocese of Cyangugu, Rwanda, in July 1984, and was assigned to a parish in Nyamasheke. Tensions between Tutsis and Hutus continued, escalating into the 1994 genocide.

Father was shocked to realize that his Hutu parishioners were killing Tutsi parishioners! He had to flee to his bishop’s house to avoid death himself, and in three days time more than 45,000 members of his parish were killed. Believing that God wanted him to seek refuge outside of the country in order to later return and evangelize, he escaped Rwanda on foot through the wild bush and spent two months in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo before fleeing to France.

During his exile in France a difficult conversion and healing process began to take place in his wounded soul. Only after participating in the Stations of the Cross at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes that he came to the following realization:

“The genocide against people of Tutsi ethnicity was, for me, a cross to carry. Without accepting it as a cross to carry, nobody can forgive.”

This would be the beginning of his great mission,

“One day people will love each other, I am fighting for that.”

Fr. Ubald returned to Rwanda on May 1, 1995 and immediately began helping people overcome the trauma suffered during the 100 days of mass slaughter. He reached out to both the Tutsi victims and the Hutu perpetrators.

“After four years of evangelization, speaking about forgiveness and reconciliation, my bishop gave me a new mission,” he said, “to be pastor of Mushaka parish.”

Part of his ministry was to lead retreats, reminding people that all were made in God’s image and that ideology — not Hutu and Tutsi ethnicity — was the root of violence and mistrust.

Father’s ministry of mercy and forgiveness in Rwanda began at his very own doorstep. His mother was among family members that were killed on April 17, 1994. The mayor who ordered her killing is now in prison in Rusizi, Rwanda.

“I forgave the murderer of my mother,” said Fr. Ubald. “What I can say about forgiveness is that without mercy, forgiveness isn’t right. If we forgive, we have to be merciful. If you are not merciful to that one who made wrong to you, it means that your forgiveness is not complete. No, you are a hypocrite.”

Fr. Ubald not only forgave the man responsible for his mother’s death, but he also took on the responsibility of supporting the man’s children.

“His wife died when he was in prison,” he relates, “and I am taking care of his two children.”

Because of Fr. Ubald’s example and his message of forgiveness, he has helped many Rwandans find peace. He was inspired by the message of Our Lady at Kibeho [see story of Our Lady of Kibeho in this issue of MICHAEL] where he had been present to witness the children experiencing the vision of Our Blessed Mother warning of a coming “great genocide”. He remembered how he was deeply affected hearing that

“Our Lady cried tears for the people”.

Father said,

“I desired to do something to console the Virgin Mary.”

Today he is the founder and director of the House of the Secret of Peace, which he describes as “a kind of echo of Kibeho, …where one can experience unity and reconciliation.”

Father’s message to Catholics and to the world is to pray for the grace to offer and accept forgiveness.

“Forgiveness is sometimes difficult, but it is always possible, and it makes you free. Jesus has forgiven us. We didn’t beg pardon, no, but he made a decision. ‘Forgive them Father. They don’t know what they are doing.’ That is what we have learned from Jesus. He forgave at the cross. Nobody has begged a pardon but he made a decision and we have to do the same.”

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Anne Marie Jacques

Anne Marie Jacques

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