Rwandan genocide survivor at peace

Applied Christianity: Rwandan genocide survivor Father Emmanuel Nsengiyumva brought his message of forgiveness to St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Wollongong on Friday night. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Applied Christianity: Rwandan genocide survivor Father Emmanuel Nsengiyumva brought his message of forgiveness to St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Wollongong on Friday night. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

When Father Emmanuel Nsengiyumva kneels before the altar he whispers prayers for his brothers, their killers and all those affected by the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.

Forgiveness, he said, took time and support, but he has reached a stage where he has been able to guide victims and perpetrators to reconcile.

The 38-year-old, who has been touring Australia, spoke of the horrors he witnessed - and his healing process - at St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Wollongong on Friday night.

At his parish in Kigali city, more than 10,000 people were killed when they fled to a church for refuge during the genocide.

Historically it had been a safe place for survivors, but this time the perpetrators had no fear of God, he said.

"The bodies were piled up inside the church, it became an instant tomb," he said.

His own family suffered the loss of two brothers who were both bludgeoned to death in one of the attacks by militia forces.

They were part of the Tutsi ethnic group, who were the primary targets of the murders.

"I was lucky because we got a chance to be saved when the patriotic army protected us," Fr Nsengiyumva said.

Before the mass murders, he had been studying at a seminary for three years.

But in the aftermath of the genocide, he was filled with too much hatred, anger and revulsion to pursue his priestly studies.

"I didn't realise at the time, but I was so angry and revolted against myself and God," he said.

"I asked, God why have you permitted this to happen?"

At university he pursued an electromechanical engineering degree, as well as joining choirs, attending seminars and national memorials, which helped him to heal.

"I could not continue feeling like this," he said.

"I recovered my call to priesthood in 2002 and went back to the seminary two years later.

"I decided I would be more effective helping others to heal, forgive and reconcile if I became a priest."

Fr Nsengiyumva hopes to raise funds on his Australian trip for a new church in his parish to help restore life to the community.

To donate or for more information call Catholic Mission on 4222 2482.

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