Twenty years ago today, a genocide was sparked in Rwanda that saw nearly a million people murdered in 100 days. The scale and swiftness of violence has parallels with the World Wars that rocked the first half of the 20th century.
We use words like civil war, tribalism, infighting, and regional conflict as placeholders for a much more frightening truth. We make evil. And we avoid stopping evil.
These words we use are sterile. They remove the emotion and the blame for acts that are evil. And they make it easier for us to fall into the sin of inaction. The words we must use are murder, genocide, and evil.
Hutus murdered some 75% of all the Tutsis living in Rwanda. Many moderate Hutus were victims of the extremist leaders in the akazu. So this isn’t a spat between siblings. This isn’t “politics as usual.” This is murder. This is genocide. This is evil. Sin in our world we largely ignored.
At today’s memorial gathering, which begins a 100-day period of national mourning, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said:
We did not need to experience genocide to become better people. It simply should never have happened.
As the Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds us, the work of the Lenten season, the active work of being formed and reconciled, is not about the actions of a few, but the experience of the whole:
Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
We are to be formed by this remembering, this mindfulness to the experience of others.
I am reminded in this auspicious anniversary of the true challenge of reconciliation is perhaps not found in the avoiding of conflict or in the forgiving after the conflict, but in the seeking of repentance for the evil we have done, the evil done on our behalf, or even the evil we allowed to happen.
The certainty of our rightness and their wrongness, is not simply the root of conflict, but the root of conflict’s greatest mutation or distortion: extremism. Extremism causes people of a faith tradition that demands they never kill to kill. The majority population of Rwanda were not extremists, but the victims of extremists. There is no balance. There are no equal sides. There are murders, there are victims, and there are those who failed to prevent the evil.
As we approach the end of this time of mindfulness, may we begin to name those conflicts in our lives, our churches, our communities, our countries, and our world that are not balanced and equal or the result of minor disagreements, but those arising from a place of sin and hurtfulness. May we recognize the wounds we have inflicted and the wounds others inflict on our people. And may we seek an end to bitterness and bullying and all other selfish acts.
We pray that in exposing these things, they become the center of repentance and reconciliation.
May your Holy Week be blessed with true mindfulness and hope.