Finding Peace After Genocide

It has been 20 years since the start of the Rwandan genocide. Reverend Celestin Musekura lost congregation members in the bloodshed. He discusses how faith has helped foster reconciliation.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Now it's time for Faith Matters. That's the part of the program where we talk about matters of faith, religion and spirituality. And if there ever was a situation that raised important questions of faith, surely it is a genocide like the one in Rwanda that left more than 800,000 people dead, millions displaced and the social fabric of a nation in shreds. Sunday marks 20 years since the beginning of that genocide.

The country is still healing. So we'd like to meet someone who's made that healing process his life's work. Reverend Celestin Musekura was born and raised and preached in Rwanda for many years. He's now the president and founder of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries - or ALARM - which is focused on training leaders in leading the work of reconciliation and forgiveness. And he's with us now from his U.S. base in Dallas, Texas to tell us more. Reverend Musekura, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining us.

REVEREND CELESTIN MUSEKURA: Thank you for having me here, Michel.

MARTIN: Can ask you about yourself first, if I may? You yourself lost neighbors, members of your congregation, people you knew in the violence. Was it hard for you to find forgiveness?

MUSEKURA: Yes, it was difficult because the people who were murdered were murdered about three years after the main massacre, main genocide.

It was difficult because this included just not my neighbors, it included my father, my brother and his wife and his child and adopted sister. So they were very close to me. It was not easy to find forgiveness, but by God's grace, later on I was able to forgive and meet those (inaudible) or those who murdered them. And so it was not easy, but by God's grace I was able to forgive them.

MARTIN: What do you think is the key to finding grace and finding forgiveness after such a terrible circumstance?

MUSEKURA: The key to find grace to forgive really begins with our own realization that we, the forgivers, have the potential to do the same. So we begin to examine ourselves and realize that we have been forgiven by God because we are not also innocent or - we are not any different. And secondly, when you think about the situation of Rwanda, you realize that without forgiveness you cannot go on.

So part of forgiving is really the realization that without forgiveness there's no life - you are locked into this life of anger and bitterness and hate and revenge for thinking. So you actually lose twice - you lose your own family, you lose your friends, but also you lose yourself - you don't become human.

So you realize that the way forward for the community to live together is by giving each other grace and by hoping for a better future after you forgive and after you begin to work on reconciliation.

MARTIN: Speaking of recognizing that one is like everyone else - it is a fact, sadly, that faith leaders - there were faith leaders who played a part in instigating the violence. I'm thinking of a couple of people in particular. Do you find in your work - is it difficult to get people in Rwanda today to trust that faith can still do good works?

MUSEKURA: Yes, sure. They - faith is really a mystery, especially when I talk about the church. Indeed, as an institution, the church does not fail. Individuals within the institution's past, as bishops leader, they fail. And after they fail, of course the church has a bad reputation and people doubt about faith.

But at the same time, the faith gives people hope again to lead and people begin to use their faith to bring healing, to bring hope, to bring forgiveness and to preach conciliation. So faith is a mystery. And one of the reasons why most of the individuals within the church failed is really because of the lack of understanding about their supremacy of their identity in Christ.

So many of our leaders, including the bishops and church leaders and pastors and priests, most of them had their tribal identity more superior to their Christian identity and therefore they acted as tribes rather than acting as Christians. And so it moves when people realize that our identity in Christ supersedes any tribal, racial, any other identity than our faith dictates how we live well.

MARTIN: How do you go about doing your work now? And is there something that you feel that others who have not faced such extreme circumstances but have still faced suffering can learn from this work?

MUSEKURA: Yes, I keep doing my work, I keep doing this work because I believe that whether it is the atrocity of genocide or miscommunication between families or the dispute between two brothers or husband and wife, I believe that when individuals begins to realize that we can, by God's grace, begin to be gracious we can begin to seek common ground, we can find hope, we can find a way of living together.

And so it is really much of realizing that we human beings, as we live together, we are going to offend one another, we are going to do something unthinkable to each other, but at the same time we don't lose hope because there's this in us that is there to not only have justice but is there to be at peace to live together.

And so as we work on in these ministries, we find peaceful men, peaceful women, men of peace who are willing to say, yes, I am willing to give up my right to be right. I'm willing to give up my right to hate. I want to extend the hand of grace so my neighbor and I can live together again in peace.

MARTIN: That was the Reverend Celestin Musekura. He's founder of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries. Reverend Musekura, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MUSEKURA: Thank you for having me here, Michel.

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