Together We Rise

Last June my husband and I flew to Rwanda to spend time with one of my authors, Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, to finish up his book Forgiveness Makes You Free. It was a great privilege to meet in person those I had met only in the pages of his manuscript: his brother and sister (the only members of his family who survived the 1994 genocide), along with hundreds of others, both Tutsi and Hutu, whose lives had been indelibly scarred by the violence. The high point of the trip, however, was meeting the former burgomaster, Straton, who had given the order to slaughter the Tutsis who had come to the commune for his protection. Among them was Fr. Ubald’s mother and other family.

C06 Alice, Heidi Father, and Straton

Interpreter Alice, Heidi, Fr. Ubald, and Straton June 16, 2018

As I listened to him tell his story, I realized that this was no hardened criminal. Like so many Hutus at that time, he had been caught up in a wave of fear and hatred, protecting his own family, his own interests. But in the end, he failed. His wife died while he was in prison, leaving his children destitute. He lost his freedom, having chosen to return from hiding to give witness to the truth of what had happened. And when he was released from prison last year, he even lost his standing — the former community leader was now performing manual labor to support himself. And yet, as he talked I could hear no bitterness, only regret … and gratitude to the man whose profound forgiveness had changed not only his own life, but that of his children as well.

Returning to the U.S. after our trip, I recoiled at the political vitriol that seemed to be continuously spilling across my Facebook feed. I had seen firsthand what happens when two groups of people turn on one another — including former family and friends as well as fellow parishioners — according to party lines. While only a small percentage of Hutu had planned the killings against the Tutsi (and Hutus who resisted or tried to protect the refugees), thousands more were compelled to engage in the violence out of fear, anger, or self-interest. A million people were slaughtered in just 100 days, including whole families. Fr. Ubald’s message of forgiveness and mercy has helped many survivors to heal … but there is still much work to be done.

His message is one that is desperately needed today. The anger and bitterness that is pulling our country apart is turning deadly … and cannot be halted by one person, not even one as powerful as the President.

It must start with us. You and me.

When lifelong friends and family members become so embroiled in their political views that they stop speaking to one another, we must find a way to forgive and remember how much there is to love.

When toxic memes, vilifying one side or the other, come across our social media feeds, we must find the strength to unfollow, rather than share.

When we become disillusioned with our political system, we must not waste time and energy howling into the wind. Instead, we must ARISE. Speak respectfully. Act meaningfully. Love absolutely. And, to quote the great Mr. Rogers, “find the helpers.”

Because if we don’t do these things, not only will we fail to “make America great again.” We will lose even the goodness we once found in each other.

Together, We Rise. That red and blue needs to blend … pick your favorite shade, and let it inspire you. Crimson, electric purple, lilac.

What will you do?

 

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Seeing Beyond the Gate

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Last week I guest posted over at “Women in the New Evangelization” (WINE) about the mother of the sons of Zebedee in a post called “Can You Drink the Cup?” That particular Gospel narrative is one I need to hear frequently — about a mother who tried to guarantee a rosy future for her sons, and a Savior wise enough not to give her what she asked.

Two weeks ago I started another blog series over at Father Ubald’s blog, writing weekly posts about this summer’s writing expedition to Rwanda, where I helped Fr. Ubald put the finishing touches on his upcoming book with Ave Maria Press, Forgiveness Makes You Free (April 2019). His testimony of survival and healing is a powerful reminder to place every part of our lives — past, present, and future — into the hands of the God who created time itself.

The image above has particular significance in Fr. Ubald’s story — it is the gate of his former parish, destroyed in the genocide, where he was driven out by his own parishioners so that they might slaughter the 5000+ Christians inside who had come to the church for sanctuary. “For ten years I had been their pastor, and attended to their needs. And suddenly, I was out. It was a great burden for me, knowing that despite all I had done there, so many lives were lost.” The blue gate was the last sight he had of the parish — as he walked through those doors, the Hutu militia were walking in to do their dirty work.

Each time I see this image, I am reminded of another gate — the gates of Auschwitz, which I saw in 1992 during my summer in Poland. “Arbeit macht frei” the message read. “Work makes freedom.” It was an ignoble lie, of course — the only work going on behind those gates, with rare exceptions, were works of evil. And in that moment back in 1994, it must have seemed the same to Fr. Ubald — for a brief moment, the gates of hell had seemed to prevail.

But just as he entrusted his people to God in that moment, back in 1994, Fr. Ubald continued to trust his own life into the hands of Divine Mercy. And in sparing Fr. Ubald’s life, God set him up to do tremendous works of healing and mercy that would have been unimaginable while he was running for his life.

“I am the gate,” Jesus declared to his followers (John 10:28). “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

God knows we are weak and frail. He knows that we can handle only so much knowledge about what the future holds. What is he asking you to entrust to him today?