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To Rwanda and Back

Liberation Spirituality and Reconciliation

Author(s): Mary Grey

ISBN13: 9780232526646

ISBN10: 0232526648

Publisher: Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd (23 July 2007)

Extent: 160 pages

Binding: Paperback

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  • What happens when a celebrated feminist theologian whose work has always sought pathways of healing and hope visits Rwanda? If reconciliation is at the heart of the meaning of the church, how do we come to terms with the terrible truth of the churchs complicity in genocide?


    Mary Greys shattering experience led to a re-examination of her understanding of justice and reconciliation. The result is a remarkable book that magically weaves into an interconnected whole ideas from many different religious and ethnic traditions - Hindu, Sufi, Islamic, Korean, Jewish, Yoruba - and many different theological traditions - liberation and feminist theology and eco-theology.

  • Mary Grey

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    Ah, but your land is beautiful

    A journey to Rwanda
    This books immediate spark issued from a short journey to post-genocide Rwanda, a journey that will haunt me for ever. It raised troubling questions about human failure of solidarity with the victims of violent injustice. It also raised questions about how Christian spirituality could genuinely be based on justice, questions for me personally, and what this meant for the Christian Church, a church still accused of complicity in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. These questions take on a new seriousness in the wake of the death of Pope John Paul II recognised internationally as a great spiritual leader. Thy direction in which Pope Benedict XVI will take the Church is the great anxiety. What kind of space will he make for the concerns of justice and liberation theology, given his past record as Cardinal Ratzinger when he severely curtailed its development in Latin America? What priority will social justice now be given, in a climate where issues of obedience, discipline and tradition seem paramount? I wondered, too, how those areas of reconciliation addressed fruitfully by Pope John Paul II would be furthered, as well as how those issues that he ignored or blocked - like the ordination of women - would be treated.

    This anxiety evoked in me deeper questions about the theology and spirituality I have been developing for the last twenty years. First, the new space we are in in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as in areas of ecumenism and
    interfaith relations - drives me to ask questions about the interconnections between reconciliation and justice, areas that are fraught with difficulty for feminist theology, where women have often been forced into peacemaking and reconciling roles that have swept justice issues under the carpet. So this book will weave many strands together. Beginning with a journey into understanding Rwandas search for justice and reconciliation thirteen years after the genocide, it makes connections with other struggles and explores the blockages that prevent reconciliation and wholeness at the deepest level, our unreconciled hearts and spirits, while seeking pathways into healing and hope.

    Piercing the clouds
    The journey to Africa began auspiciously , apart from a three-hour sojourn on the runway of Nairobi airport. This was because of thick clouds over Rwanda: our plane was not allowed to take off until a safe landing was ensured. The subsequent journey flying over Lake Victoria and then over Rwandan mountains was breathtaking. I felt thrilled to be offered this opportunity, never having ever been to Africa before. I had realised that my twenty years of very valued involvement with Indias semi-desert state of Rajasthan as part of the small NGO, Wells for India, (1) had meant I had gained no first-hand knowledge of Africa, something this present opportunity would begin to address.

    As I looked around at my fellow passengers on the aircraft, I wondered what their relationships to Rwanda could be. Could they be returning exiles? Were some of them survivors of the genocide that had occurred more than ten years earlier in 1994? A couple beside me told me they now lived in Germany and it was the first time they had plucked up the courage to come back to their home country since those devastating events. Later, I discovered that quite a few passengers were actually part of the same team of theologians and activists as myself, invited to Kigali by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches to write a document on Affirming Human Dignity and the Integrity of Creation as part of the preparation for the Councils next Assembly in Porto Allegro, Brazil, in 2006. This was part of the World Council of Churches Decade against Violence, and the location of our colloquium in Rwanda was deliberately chosen as a site that had experienced violence on a massive scale. But it would be the tragic situation of post-genocide Rwanda as much as our allotted task that would draw us together in the next few days.

    As we drew near our destination, we encountered the thick clouds the pilot had feared. These were clouds the like of which I had never seen before: everyone held their breath as the pilot attempted to descend through these creamy, mountainous clouds, seemingly fathomless abysses, only to re-ascend! We began to fear a return to Nairobi as he told us that he would make a last attempt and then think of another plan. What a huge relief for all that this attempt was successful and we found ourselves, thankfully, on the runway at Kigali airport in brilliant sunshine.

    On arrival at the airport the first thing I saw was a UN plane. I was struck with the realisation of what the airport had meant in the days of the genocide and its crucial importance as a gateway to the outside world. But in the capital, Kigali, it was the sheer beauty of the land that first impressed ine. I thought of Alan Patons book on South Africa , written already almost four decades ago , entitled Ah, But Yonr Land is Beautiful (2). After fog and frost-bound England in December, the warm sunshine, blossom and greenery of Kigali were a delight to behold. The panorama ringing the capital was striking, as Kigali is built on hills, a reminder of the frequent description of Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, with most of the country above 1,000 ft. `If
    only Rajasthan had some of this rain, I would often think in the next few days. Indeed, Rwanda seemed to be blessed with a generous climate, as well as great beauty and fertility. Its reddish brown earth is striking. I remembered reading how General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the UN peacekeeping mission, UNAMIR, in Kigali in the days of the genocide, being homesick for this very soil of Rwanda during one of his brief breaks home in Canada. I remained amazed by the signs of this fertility, by the banana plantations, avocado trees, maize, cassava and coffee plantations and thought of the traditional saying: God spends the day elsewhere but always comes back to spend the night in Rwanda.

    A bittersweet expression , clearly I would need to revise some of these first rather superficial impressions, and understand that poverty comes in different guises. To get to grips with understanding the country I - like all the group - had done as much homework as we could. I knew that Rwanda was a very small country, about 26,000 sq. ft., about the size of Wales or Belgium. Like Belgium it is ringed by other countries, in this case Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. This very fact already sends out signals as to its vulnerability. With no mineral wealth, Rwanda is heavily dependent oil agriculture (90 per cent of its people are rural-based), with coffee and tea being its only exports. Despite the beauty of the country, its only internationally known attraction has been the Kagera National Park with its famous gorillas. It is only when I began to learn the significance of the poverty indicators that the superficially rosy picture began to crumble. Of Rwandas 8 million people, 60 per cent of the population are now under 20 years old, 49 per cent under 14 years; 42 per cent of women are widowed, and 400,000 children are orphaned - and many of these head their own household. Life expectancy for men is 48.1 years - some say even less - and for women, 50.1. A shocking story lies behind these figures.

    None of these statistics was automatically visible. But, driving through the streets of Kigali, the landmarks of the events ten years earlier were already very clear. We were the guests of the Presbyterian church in Kigali, whose Centre dAccueuil was very close to the very luxurious Hotel Mille Collines, whose manager, Paul Rusesebagina, had played such a heroic role in saving the lives of many terrified Tutsi people when the genocide was at its height. Not many hundreds of yards away in the valley below I glimpsed the Catholic Church of the Holy Family, La Sainte Famille, where a particularly horrifying story had been played out and its sequel has not ended. But it was now Saturday night in Kigali and young people were doing what young people do on Saturday nights everywhere in the world where they can , congregating in bars and clubs and starting the weekend. In contrast with Indias huge cities that I know better, the streets of downtown Kigali did not seem crowded. Soon darkness fell and even though the city had electricity, I could see the hundreds of small dwellings studded across the many hills ringing Kigali, where kerosene lamps were lit and people were beginning to cook their evening meal.

    Our group began to get to know one another. We were a mixture of scholars, church-based leaders and human rights activists from all over the world, joined by representatives and leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda (our hosts), the Congo, Kenya and Burundi. We knew that many of our African colleagues had been personally touched by the genocide, without knowing any details. Some of our German colleagues were very familiar with the background and legacy of the Holocaust and aware that comparisons had been made with the Rwandan genocide. For most of us, the superficial story of events was still the one we were most aware of. We knew that there were two main groups of Rwandans, Hutus and Tutsis (Hutus being the majority 85 per cent), with another small group, the Twa, who formed 1 per cent and who have been derogatively named pygmies. (In fact the Twa have experienced racial injustice from both Hutu and Tutsi alike.) We knew that on 7 April 1994, President Habyarimanas plane had been shot down and that it remains a mystery to this day as to who was actually responsible. The newly elected President of Burundi was also in the plane, killed along with President Habyarimana and other colleagues. This event sparked off a massive wave of killing. In fact it was a hundred days of brutal murdering in which almost 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been killed in spectacularly horrible, inhuman ways. This came to an end - as the official story goes - only in July when the army of the RPF (the Rwandan Patriotic Front), under its leader Paul Kagame, currently President of Rwanda, swept through the country, `liberating it from the Hutus and stopping the genocide. The RPF - now RPA, Rwandan Patriotic Army, immediately set up an interim government. Then a further 1 million people (Hutus) - including many leaders - fled in fear, or were driven, out of the country across the borders into Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and the Congo. There another story began, as the refugees settled in huge camps and vast amounts of international aid flooded in. But to their dismay, the NGOs (among them were Oxfam, Care International and Medicins sans Frontieres) now found themselves feeding the leaders of the genocide, les g?®nocidaires, as they were referred to. These huge camps were controlled by the leaders, who now organised armed resistance. And so the story of violence carried on, as we shall see.

    But for this first evening in Kigali, the consciousness of our group as to the complexities of what had happened and its continuing effects was limited. We were grateful for the wonderful hospitality offered to us, aware to some extent of what the background experiences of our hosts must comprehend. At the same time we were united by a sense of the gravity of what little we already knew and at the implications and questions raised for the Christian Church and faith far beyond Rwandas borders.

    Spiritual searching
    As I hinted above, the Rwandan experience caused other urgent questions to emerge for me. The spirituality that has inspired my life was from the start rooted in the social justice traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Challenged deeply by the Christian feminist and then ecological movements I had been developing a spirituality motivated by mutuality-in-relation (5) so I saw Gods grace embodied in the way relationships were transformed from domination and oppression to those fostering justice, integrity, truth and mutual love. Later, this search for just connection between people extended to connectedness with the earth, prophetic justice and a search for a holistic notion of wisdom. I had tried to understand redemption within the metaphor of right relation, and Divine revelation as communicated through all interwoven relational processes. But I had never completely lost the hope that this prophetic justice would be expressed and embodied in the lived faith of Christian community, in an ecumenical dimension that would radiate to other faiths. That was the focus of another two books, Beyond the Dark Night: A Way Forward for the Church? and Prophecy and Mysticism: The Heart of the Postmodern Church (6). More recently my work in India brought a consciousness of the plight of the 200 million Dalits (former Untouchable people) who suffer caste discrimination and humiliation on a daily basis. Dalit women experience the worst of this (7). This, together with the so-called war against terrorism following September 11th 2001, raised the question of the possibility of sustaining even a fragile hope, hope of peace, hope of the transformed world that all liberation movements long for, and the solution to some of the seemingly most
    ineradicable conflicts. I had written optimistically of the Outrageous Pursuit of Hope in 2000 (8) and now, tragically, this hope appeared to be receding beyond the horizon. Such a context again raised urgently for me the whole area of reconciliation. As I wrote earlier, this is a fraught area for feminist theology, not only because women have been forced to reconcile in contexts where they are the victims of injustice, but because there are issues of power, domination, coercion, and histories of colonialism and racism where lines of truth and innocence are blurred in competing justice claims. Not only this, but one key area in feminist spirituality continues to be the search for a healed, responsible self, especially where sense of self has been damaged by abuse, or has never had a chance to be discovered: all too often it had been concealed or prevented from emerging through an overwhelming criss-crossing of multiple oppressions. In this situation it is highly problematic to speak of reconciliation, where lack of justice is so glaring that the priorities are for truth-seeking and truth-telling, and the creation of safe spaces for this to take place.

    I am very conscious of all of this: yet the subject of reconciliation will continue to raise its head as a burning issue in multiple contexts. Not only is it a continually troubling area for women, and countless people trapped in powerless situations, but it has become an international phenomenon, with, for example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, (9) the Recovery of Historical Memory Project (REMHI) in Guatemala and the call for similar processes elsewhere, for example in East Timor. Reconciliation is a daily project in personal life: hardly a family (including my own) is untouched by misunderstandings and hurts, at one end of the spectrum, and intergenerational feuds at the other.

    The roots of these intergenerational hurts are sunk deep in history, as even the one example of the IRA demonstrates. I learnt this painfully in a recent project with a Jewish colleague and friend, Rabbi Dan Cohn Sherbok, where we embarked on a dialogue on reconciliation, Pursuing the Dream, through a series of letters written in the space of 13 months (10). Although we agreed onl many ethical issues such as peace and justice for the earth, there were intractable doctrinal issues that we failed to solve. These had been the underpinning of much historical suffering on the part of mostly Jewish communities and continue to haunt relationships between the faiths. To keep wrestling with them seemed as much as we could do - in that particular context.

    Rwandas wounds are also sunk in history, I would learn, although these do not go so far back in time as the tensions between Christianity and Judaism. But reconciliation in the context of genocide like this presents unavoidable challenges as to integrity for the entire Christian community as I hope this story will reveal. For the moment the only issue I want to highlight is this: in my childhood the world was beginning to come to terms with the Holocaust, to recognise its truth and the degree of culpability of not only the Nazis, but the Church and the international community. With Rwandas experience we have a replay of genocide, as we do in Bosnia, with both similarities and differences. We have to ask the questions as to what was learnt from the Holocaust, if anything. And now that the world has moved on, what meaning has the continuing suffering of the Rwandan people for the Church and world? Are their voices to be heard any more? Make Poverty History focuses on Africa, but even so, its attention is partial and risks being short-lived. (For example, during the heady days of the Live Aid Concerts around the world in July 2005, not a word was heard about the escalating famine in Niger.) It is said that the possibility of genocide haunts the situation in Darfur, in the Sudan, and, as I write, intervention is being urged, to prevent an escalation into genocide, and a replay of Rwanda and Bosnia: the outcome is still uncertain.

    If reconciliation is at the heart of the meaning of church, how does the Church come to terms with its own complicity in genocide? And given the problematic area of reconciliation for a feminist spirituality of justice, what answers can be gleaned by looking again at what happened in Rwanda in 1994, before and after?

    So, first, in Chapter 1, I will ask the question as to what actually happened in those dreadful days, focusing not so much on re-presenting the horror in dreadful detail, but in asking what the meaning of remembering is for Christian spirituality and a theology of peacemaking today. Chapter 2, through the story of the massacre at the Catholic Chapel of Ntarama, begins to explore the role of the Churches and to struggle with some of the difficulties of feminist theology with reconciliation and sacrifice. In Chapter 3, through the desperate efforts of General Dallaire to get the world to listen, and the terrible stories of the refugee camps on the borders of Rwanda, the issue of responsibility is tackled and the deeper question as to the blockages to compassion and conversion opened up. The key role of compassion in spirituality is explored through a focus on people and communities of compassionate action, as a resource for conflict-resolution.

    Reconciliation on many levels - beginning with efforts in Rwanda and Burundi - is tackled in Chapter 4, which is actually the heart of the book: here Christian traditions of truth-telling, peace and non-violence are explored and connections made with other conflict situations. Chapter 5 opens up issues of poverty and justice: the often-missed link is made here between justice and reconciliation with the earth. The Holy Spirit as the Green Face of God is the inspirational image for this and the following chapter. Chapter 6 focuses on discovering new spiritual resources for flourishing in contexts of violence, pain and chronic depression. In a final chapter, I attempt to bring together all these strands in terms of a theology of reconciliation and what this means for a spiritual journey both personal and for the lived faith of Christian community.



    Its Implications for a Theology of Re-Membering

    You may kill as many people as you want, but you cannot kill their memory. Memory is the most invisible and resistant material you can find on earth. You cannot cut it like a diamond, you cannot shoot at it because you cannot see it; nevertheless it is everywhere, all around you, in the silence, unspoken suffering, whispers and absent looks.
    Philippe Gaillard (1)

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To Rwanda and Back

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