The first thing you’d notice was not his collar, but his smile. Despite the great sorrows he had experienced — or perhaps because of them — Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga was full of joy. I think that this joy was actually a source and sign of his healing gift, for both things emanated from the same place: an unshakable trust in the God who never failed him.
Not when he lost first his father, then his brother and mother and dozens of members of his own family, in the genocide against the Tutsi people.
Not when his own parishioners cast him out of the parish he had served faithfully for ten years … and went on to slaughter thousands of their brothers and sisters in a matter of days.
Not when thousands of people pressed him from every side, desperate for healing. It happened everywhere he went — from the big diocesan cathedrals to tiny country parishes here in the US, to churches across his homeland in Rwanda, and especially at the Center for the Secret of Peace, which he labored so hard to build as a testimony to the power of forgiveness in the heart of a nation. (Something we need so desperately today.)
And not when this lady editor he met by chance at a women’s conference in Minneapolis pushed and pushed him to tell his story. He took it in stride, and together we created what I’ve come to consider the most important project of my professional career: Forgiveness Makes You Free: A Dramatic Story of Healing and Reconciliation from the Heart of Rwanda.
Sadly, I had not been in touch with Fr. Ubald for some time before he died; like many authors, his friendship was a gift to me for a time. Now that he has gone to his reward, I can only look back on those beautiful days and thank God for what he taught me about being willing to let go of anything that does not keep us in the presence of the Father. And how the willingness to forgive and to be forgiven is the first and more important step to finding healing for our deepest, most painful wounds of body and spirit.
RIP, Fr. Ubald. Pray for me still.
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