Day Six…Rwanda…Living in a pig sty post genocide

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Fr. Jerome is a big man as you can see from the photo. When the genocide started in earnest word was out that he was to be killed. The local soldiers decided to let the older priest in the parish live thinking that they would need him to get aid from NGOs when they were reconstructing the country. Jerome was first hidden in the roof of the priest’s house on April 30 with the aid of some of the soldiers who were parishioners. He heard overheard a lot of the killings from his hiding place. Four hundred and seventy six people were killed in the church; among those were two hundred and two children. He was two weeks hiding when the ceiling collapsed from under him. He landed on the kitchen table to the shock of the man who did the cooking in the house. This man was a Hutu. This placed the cook in a awkward position. If he decided not to tell, he would be seen as a collaborator. Jerome saw no difference between the Tutsi and Hutu despite government policy.

Like many others in the parish he was praying for Fr. Jerome as the other priest had passed word around that he had been killed. From the perspective of the cook; falling from the celling was akin to Jesus rising from the tomb! With the cooperation of the cook and others he remained in hiding in a press in the church until July 3. After the genocide he went to Belgium for six weeks to rest and recover from his ordeal. When he returned he took on a neighbouring parish as well as his own. The priest in that parish had been a victim from genocide; the people had no one to minister to them. Unlike his own parish; this Church has been used by the soldier sand the militia to murder people. The sanctuary area was splattered with blood; the people could not bring themselves to step into the Church for services. All that remained were widows; widows of Tutsis who had been killed and widows of Hutus who were in prison or who had fled. The houses were ransacked and levelled; the widows were living in a pig sty with their children, about ninety in all. They lived with the pigs and the rabbits; when it rained they got wet. The Tutsi women were stoning the Hutu women when the set out to visit their husbands and children in prison. It was understandable; these people still had their husbands; the Tutsi women had no one. This was the situation that Fr. Jerome inherited. Sr. T had also recently come back to the village. On her first day back she was immersed into the tragedy of it all. The women were lifting the bodies of their families from the latrines (a trench that served as a toilet). She transported sixty bodies in her car to the place of burial. There was no protection from the reality of the devastation; no place to hide; no place to be alone with your thoughts.

 

When Sr. T. and Fr. Jerome got together they realised a lot of work had to be done. The work was physical, emotional and deeply, deeply spiritual. They contacted John Bosco and Christine and together they set about starting a house building program. This was part of today’s celebration; a community saying ‘thank you for taking us out of the pig sty’. This young lady was five when the genocide happened; she remembers living with all the other people and she also remembers moving to her new home with her mother and eight brothers and sisters. She now attends college in Kigali.
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Building the houses was the easy bit; building lives was more difficult. How do you live together again when your neighbour mother your husband and children. Jerome and Sr. T noticed the tension and animosity. They encouraged the people to sit together and listen to one another. Eventually and after much persuasion they sat down. The tragedy was so deeply ingrained that few could hear the pain of the other.  Stories were heard and hearts were healed; stones were no longer being thrown. Those who had lost loved ones to the genocide were heard and those who had other narratives were heard as well, ‘I am saddened that my son became a killer’ is one instance of this. Sr. T used scripture to help the widows grow in understanding. One widow, so fascinated by the stories asked, ‘were these stories written before or after the genocide!’ The group grew from five people to nine hundred and sixty four people. The people who spoke today built on these groups and the ladies who addressed us set up a group called ‘The Courage to Life’.

 

There is much more to day but the bus leaves soon. Fill you in over a coffee.

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