Following years of ethnic tension, a series of mass killings violently broke out in Rwanda in April 1994. In one hundred days approximately one million people – twenty per cent of the population – were brutally tortured and killed in one of the worst genocides the world has ever seen.
Fr Emmanuel Nsengiyumva was just eighteen years old when the systematic slaughter began. He lost two of his brothers and knows well the deep emotional wounds of his people: ‘Your relatives, your mother, your father, your brothers, is not only killed but they torture him in front of you. Some of them would die in two days… two days of agony.’
With the support of Missio, Fr Emmanuel has dedicated his life to reaching out to his fellow Rwandans as parish priest in Nyamata. His desire for his people is that through forgiveness their broken-hearts may be healed.
Fr Anthony Chantry, National Director of Missio in England and Wales, says ‘There are some wounds so deep in human experience that they require the healing touch of God’s love. The Church with its vital ministry of caring for victims of senseless and appalling violence allows God’s grace to heal those whose lives are broken.’
World Mission Sunday is celebrated by Catholics in every country where the Church is present. On 23 October, parishes all over the world will be encouraged to pray for the missionary work of the Church and share what they can to support faith communities overseas which are in urgent need.
Two of the many Rwandans that are working through their pain are Edouard and Immaculée, who have been married for 23 years and feature on the World Mission Sunday poster. Devastatingly in the space of one week, more than ten thousand people - including Edouard and Immaculée’s parents, as well as fifteen brothers and sisters between them - were brutally killed in and around the local Catholic Church in Nyamata. Both carry deep wounds and struggle with the trauma of their past. Edouard recalls: ‘Just after the genocide we visited the church and tried to find our relatives, but it was impossible because there were just so many dead bodies.’
After the genocide, many perpetrators were brought to trial and imprisoned. Having served their time, many of these prisoners are now returning to the neighbourhoods they brutalised. Many priests, sisters and brothers in Rwanda are supporting these communities through counselling and healing workshops, which focus on forgiveness and mercy. Edouard explains, ‘The church has helped us to be strong, the priests have tried to bring our community together.’
In the Nyamata parish alone, two hundred people, both former prisoners and survivors, are currently engaged in a ‘Two Ways Healing’ programme where the perpetrators have ‘the key of asking for forgiveness’ and the survivors have ‘the key of forgiving’. In this Year of Mercy, this programme encourages the perpetrators to truthfully ask for forgiveness from survivors, whom they know and live with daily. While the survivors are encouraged to forgive sincerely, helping both in their mutual journey of healing and reconciliation.
This process, supported by Missio, is conducted within an intensive pastoral care programme. The former prisoners meet every week for six months and after three months, they begin to connect with the survivors, asking for forgiveness and gradually reconnecting with their communities and with the Church. This World Mission Sunday, the support of Catholics all over the world will help more parishes implement and conduct similar life-giving programmes.
Through this programme, Fr Emmanuel is supporting those whose lives have been shattered look to the future with hope. His work is supported by Missio, which works to answer the call to love God and to love our neighbour by bringing the hope of the Gospel where there is turmoil, poverty and uncertainty. The Pope’s worldwide collection is a real sign of God’s mercy and love to our sisters and brothers around the world who are suffering through war and conflict.
To make a donation, or to find out more, please visit www.missio.org.uk