I met Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga a few years back when I attended one of his healing services at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin. Prior to attending the service, all I knew about him was that he had survived the Rwandan genocide during which more than 1,000,000 members of the Tusi tribe were slaughtered by Hutu tribe members. That was enough to assure me that this was a priest with an important message

Indeed it was. In his homily that day, Fr. Ubald spoke about the need to give and receive forgiveness and the dangerous influence evil spirits can have in preventing us from doing so. What he said was profound, and I decided that I would take advantage of every opportunity in the future to listen to him speak.

For that reason, I was thrilled when I discovered that he would be authoring a book with author and editor Heidi Hess Saxton about his experiences and message of forgiveness. I couldn’t wait to get a copy and was not disappointed when I read it. In Forgiveness Makes You Free: A Dramatic Story of Healing and Reconciliation from the Heart of Rwanda (2019, Ave Maria Press), the horrors of the Rwandan genocide are brought to light — light as in the Light of Christ and the miraculous power of true forgiveness.

The book is written in a creative format, with Fr. Ubald’s personal story interwoven with the stories of other Rwandan genocide survivors and victims. In the massacre, Fr. Ubald lost 80 of his family members and 45,000 parishioners. He believes he was spared so that he could take up his mission and spread the message of forgiveness not only throughout Rwanda, but throughout the world. While sometimes hard to read because of the horrible suffering and cruelty, stories are used with purpose and effect to demonstrate how difficult it can be to forgive such atrocities and how valuable forgiveness can be in healing a nation.

I saw that this was what I needed to do. And so once more I opened my heart to Jesus and asked him to guide me through the darkness and pain, the terrible pain of what I had seen and continue to see in others. I thanked him for sparing my life. I asked him for the strength to forgive and resist evil. And once again, I decided to live for Jesus. He had saved me for purpose: to help others find forgiveness, the secret of peace.

... As I looked up at the face of Jesus, and inner voice said to me, ‘Ubald, accept your cross also,’ I breezed deeply, and I made a decision to carry my cross as well. I would carry the cross of genocide, the cross of one who had preached love in a parish that had been destroyed by that genocide. It was time to stop weeping and to allow God to heal my wounds so that I could help others who needed healing from their wounds.

Fr. Ubald’s mission led him to establish the Center for the Secret of Peace in Rwanda.

Education and formation were badly needed if Christian communities were ever going to be rebuilt. And yet, many regarded the Church and its ministers with suspicion and a deep-rooted sense of betrayal, for it was fellow believers who had taken up weapons against the innocent. In the years following the genocide, many Catholics left the Church – some joining Protestant communities, some converting to Islam, and others losing faith altogether. I began to ask God to make a place for this message of trance formation and reconciliation to be heard very clearly. In this time, this would be the primary work for the Center for the Secret of Peace.

… However, in the years immediately after the genocide, this work began right where I was, at Mushaka parish. People needed to be reminded of their inherent dignity and value in the eyes of God. They needed to see one another as true brothers and sisters in Christ once more if this great evil was ever to be eradicated from our land. They needed to encounter in a New Way, Christ the Healer, Christ the Redeemer, and Christ the Prince of Peace.

Fr. Ubald’s mission has been taken up by others in his country and great forgiveness, healing and peace have covered the land. Today, there are no more Tutsis or Hutus — only Rwandans who love their country and want to assure that history does not repeat itself. The lessons of the Rwandan genocide must never be forgotten and is an example for other nations threatened by cultural conflicts and societal discord.