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18  January / Eanáir 2015

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UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS

Owning the pain we have caused
REVEREND

EARL
STOREY

5 One million people were murdered during the Rwandan genocide

SOMETIMES it is because churches are places of
Later I discovered that in the church were those
such beauty or history that silence is the only orphaned and widowed by the genocide. Also there
appropriate response. Sometimes – but not always. were people who by action or silence had committed
Nyarubue Church is no ordinary place. Not now.
Set in a village high in the hills of eastern Rwanda, it
was a place that thousands of people fled to in 1994.
As a church, surely it would provide a place of sanctuary for people fleeing genocide? In a country and at a
time when neighbour was turning against neighbour
it seemed to offer one of the few places of safety and
security. Such was not to be the case.
Over a short space of time the church and its environs
became thronged with terrified people. It was at such a
time that someone gave the word to the militias. What
followed was an attack on the church in which over
25,000 people were murdered. What was meant to be
a sanctuary became a mass killing ground. Some of
those who ought to have been protectors had in fact
been the betrayers.
It is a brutal fact that during the 1994 genocide in
Rwanda the machete was most often the weapon of
choice. In the space of one hundred days, approximately one million people were murdered in this
country. Perpetrators did not come from afar. Murder,
rape and maiming were committed by fellow citizens.
It was quite literally a case of neighbour against neighbour. On occasion it was even family member against
family member. What prompts the citizens of a country
of approximately eight million people to such acts of
intense madness?
It was in 2004 that I visited Rwanda. It is always
easier to preach a difficult message of reconciliation to
someone else in a far away place. On my first Sunday
I was guest preacher at a local parish. My sermon was
on the story of The Good Samaritan. Jesus was explicit
about what was needed to inherit eternal life – to love
God more than anything else, and to love our neighbour
as ourselves. For the Good Samaritan, loving his neighbour meant tending to the needs of his Jewish enemy.

such terrible acts. Both sides of the conflict were part
of that congregation. To talk about loving your neighbour as yourself, in the terms of the Good Samaritan,
was not lost on these people. How far that country has
travelled in such a short time towards reconciliation –
one of the poorest countries in the world.
I once asked an overseas Catholic monk what he
saw when he looked at our country. His answer was
immediate and to the point: “What I see is a deeplywounded community.”
The wounds are the wounds of violence. During the
years of ‘The Troubles’ I took part in a number of funerals of people killed and visited bereaved families. My
overwhelming thought each time was: “If only those who
caused this could be here to see the consequences of

5 Earl Storey in Rwanda

5 Nyarubue Church became a killing ground

To be involved
in reconciliation
means to be
willing to take
ownership
of pain. That
is where the
really difficult
and painful
conversation is

what they have done, to witness the raw pain from such
a terrible wound inflicted on a family.” It was not about
revenge but about appreciating the cost of violence on
another human being.
More recently I was really taken by surprise listening
to a neutral foreign visitor address a gathering. When
asked to reflect on the state of the Peace Process, the
visitor said in a very definite tone, “One of the things you
have to come to terms with here is . . . guilt.”
To be involved in reconciliation means to be willing
to take ownership of pain. That is where the really difficult and painful conversation is.
In Rwanda, there seems to be an agreed narrative
about the awfulness of what happened in 1994. No one
tries to justify or excuse what happened. There is no
appetite for calling it something other than what it was.
This honesty is a vital part of what makes reconciliation
possible. This seems to be absent here. Yet airbrushing
the past will impede rather than enable reconciliation.
What is this Peace Process about? Is it about breaking a
historic cycle of division, hatred and violence? Or is it to
be little more than a breathing space until the next round
of fighting? The decision depends on having that most
uncomfortable of conversations – where we own not
only our own pain but also that which we have caused.
So does the Republican Movement want to be a reconciler? It talks much about armed struggle. Armed struggle is by neighbour and against neighbour. By its very
nature it is deeply wounding. Facing and ‘owning’ the
wounds caused is the start of a conversation. Anything
else is just talk.
“Reconciliation is the only way to live together. The
only way to finish our conflict” – Archdeacon John
Marara (Rwanda)
• Reverend Earl Storey is Director of ‘Hard Gospel’,
a Church of Ireland project to help in building
reconciliation throughout communities troubled
with sectarianism.