25 Years After the Genocide, Divine Mercy Flows in Rwanda
Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga’s ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation
April 6 marks 25 years since the beginning of the tragic era in human history known today as the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide who lost numerous family members, friends and parishioners, recently wrote a book with his friend Heidi Hess Saxton titled Forgiveness Makes You Free: A Dramatic Story of Healing and Reconciliation from the Heart of Rwanda (which would make excellent reading during Holy Week). Rugirangoga and Saxton's book features a foreword by Immaculée Ilibagiza, another prominent survivor of the Rwandan Genocide and fellow author, whose Catholic faith strengthened her in the midst of that harrowing historical catastrophe. I thank Heidi for granting me this interview.
1) How did you come to contribute to Fr. Ubald's book Forgiveness Makes You Free?
I met Fr. Ubald at a WINE (Women in the New Evangelization) conference In 2016 — although his ministry is based at the Center for the Secret of Peace In Rwanda, he travels across the United States with his healing prayer ministry several months each year. As I watched him pray for the women in that room, I was struck by his gentleness and his love for Jesus.
Over dinner, he told me his story about surviving the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, losing 80 members of his family and 45,000 members of his parish in just 100 days. (More than a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in total). I persuaded him to let me help him tell his story. I’ve been in religious publishing for 30 years, and I believe this has been the single most important project of my career. The message is just so timely, and his story so compelling.
2) Please tell us a little about your own faith journey and your ministries.
I was raised and educated in the evangelical tradition, studied to become a missionary at Bethany College of Missions (the founding organization of Bethany House Publishers, where I got my start in editing). I spent a year interning in Senegal, West Africa; that year gave me a deep appreciation for other cultures and what I could learn from them.
God led me into the Catholic Church while I was living in Southern California in 1994, and I became managing editor at Servant — then in Ann Arbor, Michigan — the following year. I met and married my husband Craig, got my master’s degree from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and we fostered and then adopted our two children, who are now teenagers. I started a blog for “sandwich moms” called “Life on the Road Less Traveled.” There’s something for all kinds of families there, including foster, adoptive, special needs and multi-generational families.
The sense of mission I had in my twenties never entirely left me; once I became a wife and mother, it took a slightly different form: writing and helping others find and write their life’s message. I don’t travel as much these days — my mother, who has dementia, came to live with us in November 2017. I just ask God to bring into my life the people he wants me to help.
3) What was it like to work with Fr. Ubald within this aspect of his various ministries?
I had the privilege of going to Rwanda in June 2018 to see the Center and meet the people he mentions in his book, including his surviving brother and sister, as well as Straton, the man who gave the execution order for Fr. Ubald’s family. Straton was released from prison in 2017, and has been doing retreats and prison ministry with Fr. Ubald all across Rwanda, bringing peace and hope to people there. I have also been to several of his healing prayer services here in the United States, where my knees were healed.
It was funny, seeing the different sides of his personality at home and here, due to the language barrier. He speaks seven different languages, and when he preaches in Kinyarwanda or French, he has a dynamic, forceful manner in his preaching, like a lion. Those who have only heard his gentle, prayerful manner of his United States prayer services would be amazed! But both these personas reflect the reality of his gifts and temperament; he is a humble, deeply prayerful and good priest. A true son of Mary.
Fr. Ubald’s story is one the world needs to hear. I am so thankful that Ave Maria Press agreed to publish this book, and allowed me to help him write it.
4) Why is it important for Catholics, other Christians, and everyone of goodwill, to know what happened in the Rwandan Genocide, but also to learn about the stories of mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation, as Fr. Ubald shares with us?
So much divides our country today: political ideologies, religious convictions, and social and cultural differences. Especially in recent years, it is becoming easier and easier to vilify or dismiss those who see the world differently.
The Rwandan Genocide happened 25 years ago, but its message is both timeless and urgently needed today. It is possible to forgive those who have betrayed us. And being able to engage and reconcile with those who have turned against us is the only way to find lasting peace. This is the primary message he brings: Show forgiveness and mercy to those who have hurt you, and those you have harmed. Open your heart to Jesus, and he will help you do what you cannot do on your own.
5) I tend to ask this of my interviewees - what is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?
Psalm 107 speaks of those who “go down in ships” and experience God’s works and “wonders in the deep.” Verses 28-30 tell us, “In their distress they cried to the Lord, who brought them out of their peril; he hushed the storm to silence… and brought them to their desired haven.” This is the human condition in a nutshell: We rise and fall, and battle against the storm until God calms the waters and leads us home. I’ve certainly found this to be true in my life, haven’t you?
6) What are your hopes for those who read Forgiveness Makes You Free?
I hope they are drawn into the dramatic story, of course. But more than that, I hope that it makes them hungry to know God the way Fr. Ubald does, and makes them willing to let go of the burdens they are carrying in order to receive the healing, restoring graces God wants to give.
7) Any parting words for our readers?
Those who are interested in sharing this book in a group study might like to obtain a copy of the award-winning documentary about the life of Fr. Ubald: “Forgiveness: The Secret of Peace.” You can find more information about the film as well as Fr. Ubald’s travel schedule at his website www.frubald.com.