Photo | Lagniappe
Bishop John story: The Most Rev. John Rucyahana, an Anglican archbishop in Rwanda, speaks to a group of Mobilians at Cottage Hill Baptist Church on Tuesday, April 30.
The day his niece left his house following breakfast will be forever emblazoned in his memory, as that was the last time the Most Rev. John Rucyahana would see her alive.
The Anglican archbishop from Rwanda found out later she had been beheaded, skinned and raped because of her ethnicity. It was one of more than a million similar stories of the Tutsi people at the hands of the Hutu-led government during the country’s bloody civil war in the 1990s.
Since more than 1.5 million Tutsis were killed in 100 days in 1994, Rwanda has been an example of forgiveness and racial reconciliation. As chairman of the country’s reconciliation committee, Rucyahana has first-hand knowledge of the progress. He shared that experience as a guest of the Pledge Group at Cottage Hill Baptist Church on Tuesday, April 30.
The archbishop could think of no better place than Mobile to kick off a racial reconciliation project. After all, the Port City was the destination of the last slave ship to America.
“You don’t start the right thing from the wrong place,” he said in an interview the day before his presentation. “This is the right thing for this ministry, for this vision.”
Using Rwanda as an example, Rucyahana said the racial pain of the past can lead to trouble in the future, if it is not dealt with.
“We had the loss of lives; we had so much pain; we had the trauma from it,” he said. “In a different context, the repercussions of the pain, of the hate and of the evil … the effect is comparative. Maybe we can be witness and stop it before it lasts like ours.”
The Pledge Group, which is a consortium of clergy and lay leaders committed to helping to achieve racial reconciliation, invited Rucyahana to speak in Mobile as the group’s second big event in a series known as “Shrinking the Divide.” In comments both before and during his presentation, Rucyahana discussed the importance of not just talking about “Shrinking the Divide,” but also putting what it means into action.
“I would want everybody to know that the divide is not shrunk by talking about it,” he said. “You live against it. You practice against it. You shrink it by action, by doing, by living, by life, by demonstration. You don’t just talk about it.”
The issues that led to the genocide against the Tutsi people in Rwanda began with Belgian colonization, Rucyahana said. The Belgians had a theory at the time that the Tutsi people were descendants of Europeans, he said. The colonial power used this to divide the country along made-up tribal lines, in a sort of “divide and conquer, divide and rule” scenario.
“So they separated them and created a theory to separate the people and in practice they favored them and they used them as taskmasters and so on,” Rucyahana said. “They created both the theory and the practical divide.”
The false theory was taught in schools and seminaries throughout the country to the point where an entire generation of Rwandans believed the differences to be true, he said.
“Funny enough, it reached the point in time after a generation where people started believing it was true,” Rucyahana said.
The divide continued to fester, even after Rwanda secured its independence from Belgium in the 1960s. In fact, Rucyahana said, it was probably made worse. Under a new Hutu-led government, Tutsis were persecuted, he said.
“They were not allowed to join the military, they were not allowed to go into business openly,” Rucyahana said. “They were second-class citizens, having been pronounced foreigners by the theory they learned in schools.”
A full-on civil war began in the country in 1990 when a political party known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front looked to take control of the country. As retaliation for the war, the government killed about 1 million of the Tutsi people during a 100-day span in 1994.
“For us, we think it was demonic possession,” he said. “It was terrible.”
It was after the genocide that Rucyahana, who had been in exile in Uganda, began to make trips back to Rwanda in order to minister with a group of other pastors.
“We were playing a part as pastors getting pastors together,” he said. “We were trying really to encourage them to start looking at each other’s eyes and finding parishioners where they need to repent, repent.”
Rucyahana now chairs a commission tasked with dealing with reconciliation between the two sides.
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