In the Gospel of Matthew (10:26-33), Jesus said to the Twelve Apostles: “Fear no one.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”
And he added, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
I first met King Kigeli V of Rwanda at an event in Washington, D.C., where I spoke on the Martyrs of Vietnam on behalf of Prince Nguyen Phuc Buu Chanh. At 7 feet, 2 inches tall, the king is an imposing figure.
It was only after I met his majesty that I did research on the horrible carnage in Rwanda. King Kigeli was driven out of leadership by the then MDR-Parmehutu party under the leadership of Rwanda's first president, Gregoire Kayibanda, who also abolished the monarchy.
After reading about the brutal massacres in his home country, I felt sad that I was not more aware of the problems there. If I knew more and was better prepared, I could have at least apologized for certain circumstances and members of the Christian community who unfortunately participated. I made a vow to myself that, the next time I go to such an event, I will research the backgrounds of all the guests and study the current events of all involved.
I write this article as a post-apology for the horrible atrocities that have been committed upon the faithful subjects of the king, and the brutal killings of the faithful that continue today.
To die for Christ is one thing. To die because of Christ is another. One requires the willful offering of an individual's life for Christ; the other is the taking of a person's life because of a hatred for Christ.
The victims of the “killing fields of Rwanda” are too great to do justice in a small article such as this. I will just highlight a few of the Catholic clergy. These are some of the martyrs we speak of, the Martyrs of Rwanda.
In 1997, Hutu gunmen murdered Sister Griet Bosmans, a 62-year-old Belgian nun who was the headmistress of the Catholic school, and 17 students. In the same year, gunmen fired automatic weapons and threw grenades at schoolchildren, killing five children and one adult.
In the same year in Kampagna, Rwanda, Missionaries of Africa Father Guy Pinard, 61, was barbarously murdered as he brought the Blessed Sacrament to sick members of his parish one Sunday.
The year 1998 was a particularly brutal year for the religious serving Our Lord in Rwanda.
Father Boniface Kabago (Ruhengeri), a Diocesan priest, and Sister Valens Mukanoheli of the Benebikira were murdered.
In the capital of Kigali, Father Vijeko Curic, a Croatian-born Franciscan priest serving the missions in Rwanda, was murdered near Holy Family Church. He was killed by a pistol shot, fired at close range, while he was in his car.
Five Daughters of Resurrection nuns were murdered in their convent in Rwanda's northwest province by Hutu rebels. The rebels butchered Sisters Epiphanie Gasigwa, Felicite Benimana, Betilde Mukamuhire, Cesarine Wimana and Xavera Mukagakwaya with guns, machetes and axes.
In the new millennium, the violence continued: In the Rwandan Diocese of Kabgayi, Father Isidro Uzcudum, 69, a Spanish priest of Fidei donum (St. Sebastian), was robbed by three men and then shot in the head by one of the men who wanted more than he received. Giuliano Berizzi, an Italian lay missionary, was murdered in his home in Kigali, perhaps mistaken for a missionary priest.
Pope John Paul II, who condemned the killings, wrote that the Catholic Church in Rwanda could not be blamed for acts by individual members.
“The Church in itself cannot be held responsible for the misdeeds of its members who have acted against evangelical law,” the Pope wrote in a letter addressed to Rwandans. “All the members of the Church who have sinned during the genocide must have the courage to bear the consequences of the deeds that they have committed against God and against their future.”
On Pentecost, Pope Benedict XVI called on Rwandan Catholics to remain hopeful for the future and steadfast in their faith, although they were “harshly tried” by the nation's 1994 genocide. He also asked that the Holy Spirit help “make fruitful the efforts of those who are working to build fraternity among all Rwandans in a spirit of truth and justice.”
The Martyrs of Rwanda remind us of Christ's teaching to the apostles: “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. … Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:26-28).
And remember the most important message from that passage: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
Thomas J. Serafin is president of the International Crusade for Holy Relics.