In the 1990s Rwanda and Burundi experienced massive genocidal attacks, as Hutu and Tutsi fought and killed each other. Common people and even priests and other leaders joined those seeking to kill member of other tribes. The causes are rooted in the history of colonialism, but that’s another story.
But in the midst of the conflcits there stand a number of witnesses who protected people, no matter what tribal group they belonged to, or who refused to divide themselves into tribal groupings. The movie, Hotel Rwanda, is a notable example.
But there were many others. On April 30, 1997, seminarians in the minor seminary at Butu, of the diocese of Buriri, Burundi, were accosted by a group of armed men. They were told to divide themselves into separate Hutu and Tutsi groups. They refused and were martyred for their witness. As they were dying they were heard to pray, in the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, doer they do not know what they are doing.”
These young men had the courage to live the unity of humanity and the unity of the church – and die upholding that belief.
A similar story, with a different outcome is told by Rwanda Father Modeste Mungwarareba:
“I know young people from the ‘Ingoro y’urukundo’ Community, a charismatic community in Kibirizi, near Butare. Ordered by the militia to separate into two groups, Hutus and Tutsis, the young people (all under 25) refused. Holding hands, they formed a tight circle to signify that they were members of one body: neither Jew nor Greek, Hutu or Tutsi. Faced with this firm witness of unity, the soldiers left in a state of confusion . . . . There were many such heroic acts by unknown people, . . . To build this future, Rwanda must publicize and praise these examples of goodness and compassion. Thanks to them, wounded souls will again believe in humanity.”
The refusal to kill, the refusal to divide into groups and annihilate the other – these are true acts of Christian love.