Thursday day1On 20 June, 2019 the conference entitled Reinventing Theology in Post-Genocide Rwanda: Challenges and Hopes kicked off at Centre Christus in Kigali. Fr. Marcel Uwineza and Fr. Elisée Rutagambwa began by welcoming distinguished speakers from Africa, Europe, and the United States. Fr. Rutagambwa then introduced the day’s keynote speaker – Mgr. Antoine Kambanda.

Mgr. Kambanda’s talk was titled “The Role of the Church in the Process of Reconciliation in Rwanda.” He began by noting that before 1994, Catholicism in Rwanda was flourishing as 62 percent of the population identified as Catholic. After the genocide, preaching in Rwanda became more complex. On this note, Mgr. Kambanda began to discuss the nature of the genocide and suggested that it was particularly unique because it pitted neighbor against neighbor and prompted the breakdown of previously strong notions of community and unity.

He proposed that there were two particularly important roles for the church to play after 1994. First, the church had to assist in the burying of the dead. During the genocide, there was no time or opportunity for individuals to mourn and honor their fallen loved ones and it was crucial that the church provide a platform for doing so. Second, he noted the importance of the church instituting what is known as Catholic Gacaca. In this process, communities were brought together to share stories of suffering. Individuals were asked to listen with compassion and work toward forgiveness. This began the process of healing and reconciliation. This idea was central to Mgr. Kambanda’s talk – that we must work toward forgiveness and compassion because they are central to the Gospel. He posed a thought-provoking question on which all were left to reflect: “when you look at your neighbor, what do you see first – the image of God or ethnic difference?” In essence, this talk emphasized first and foremost reconciliation with God, then reconciliation with ourselves and one another.

Next, Mgr. Smaragde Mbonyitege began his talk, entitled “Priestly Formation in Post-Genocide Rwanda.” He began by discussing the role of the church in bringing alive cultural tradition and providing refuge for the suffering. He noted the high rates by which men have continued to enter the clergy. When discussing victims of the genocide, he made the important point that many victims were not even aware of being victims. What this was meant to suggest was that many Rwandans felt the consequences of the genocide without ever knowing that it was the root of their sufferings. Finally, he suggested two areas in which change must be achieved: First, social and political contexts should not divide people as they do. Second, he suggested that those entering the priesthood should not be deterred by the struggles of those who served before them. Mgr. Smaragde closed by suggesting that we should not forget but we must move forward.

The final speaker on the first panel was Mgr. Philippe Rukamba whose talk was entitled, “Catholic Education in Post-Genocide Rwanda.” He began by discussing the history of education in Rwanda, paying particular attention to the differences between colonial and post-colonial systems. He then discussed the role of religion in education and praised the practice of providing religious education in Rwandan schools. Mgr. Rukamba emphasized the deep destruction of educational institutions during the genocide and emphasized that the rebuilding of the education system was deeply dependent upon the church as its vehicle.

Thérèse Mukabaconda, in her talk entitled “Rwanda: 25 Years after the Genocide against the Tutsi: Reconstruction and Reconciliation are not a Utopia,” also discussed the importance of education. She noted that it can be an instrument for stabilization and establishment of solidarity. She discussed the ethnic quota system that existed in schools before the genocide and was abolished in its aftermath. The essence of her talk was focused on the need for schools to provide comprehensive and unifying educations to children born or educated in the years just after the genocide. Doing so is instrumental in maintaining unity and preventing future tensions.

Mih Bibiana Mbei Dighambong’s talk, entitled “A Holistic Approach to Post-Genocide Challenges and the Importance of Visionary Leadership by Women” discussed the important roles of women during and after the genocide. They often led households, played key roles in peacemaking, promoted positive socio-economic programs after the genocide, and much more. Bibiana highlighted the fact that all of these things were accomplished by women despite the fact that they often faced some of the most devastating atrocities of the genocide (sexual violence, harassment, loss of families, etc.) Her talk promoted the consideration of how a society more inclusive of women could benefit all of its members.

Marie Claire Gatayire followed this with a powerful testament to the experiences of genocide survivors. She highlighted some of the networks that promote the well-being of survivors. She placed deep emphasis on what are known as “artificial families” composed of individuals who lost loved ones to the genocide and formed a sort of reconstituted family premised on principles of love and mutual support.

Laurenti Magesa’s talk was entitled “Learning from a Tragedy: Toward a New Evangelization after the Genocide in Rwanda.” He focused on the failures of the church and suggested three ways in which it must move forward. First, the church should admit its mistakes in both commission and omission. Second, the church should recognize how, when, and why it reacted as it did during the atrocities. Finally, it must propose concrete models for a new evangelization in the process of reconciliation.

David Hollenbach’s talk was entitled “Remembering Shared Humanity in a Divided World: Human Rights and Protection from Atrocity” and highlighted the importance of the United Nation’s principle of Responsibility to Protect. This principle emphasizes the need for nations to care for their members and, if they fail, for other nations to intervene. He promoted the idea of the international community and the Catholic Church as providing grounds for ensuring universal justice.

Hollenbach was followed by William O’Neill’s talk “Remembering Genocide: Anamnestic Solidarity in Social Reconciliation.” It discussed insufficiency of allowing the guarantee of liberty to be the sole center of a moral system. He noted that in order to properly make sense of the past, one must root memory in both understandings of Catholic social teaching and African history. These will illicit sentiments of solidarity and human rights.

Florida Kabasinga’s talk, entitled “The Role of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: Justice and Legal Perspectives,” emphasized the shortcomings of the ICTR. In particular, she noted that the Rwandan people were displeased with the fact that the tribunal would not be in Rwanda and with the fact that it only took into account the crimes that dated from 1990 to 1994, whereas killings and incitation to hatred started way before that. She suggested that the ICTR was a form of “distant justice” in which those most directly touched by the genocide were unable to be part of the justice process.

The last presentation of the day came from Leah Bacon whose talk was called, “Construction of Collective Memory: An Analysis of Rwanda’s Memorials.” She compared various memorials in Rwanda with one another and with the Holocaust museum and the African American History Museum in Washington D.C, USA. She emphasized the idea that museums are never neutral but should serve as spaces for reconciliation, reflection, and healing. One must ask who they are to serve and how they are to do so.
The first day of this conference was a great success and the next two days are sure to bring continued deepening of insights alongside prayerful reflection.

- Julia Bloechl

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