Justice & Mercy have Kissed…

Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.
–Psalm 85:10

What a humbling and inspiring story, brought to us thanks to Rocco (and via Cassy Fasano), and what lessons to ponder, here. We could think on this for the rest of our lives and not fully comprehend this mystery:

…the most emotional and profound of the bunch came when the monthlong gathering was addressed by a Rwandan religious, Sister Genevieve Uwamariya, whose recounting of her own experience provides a perfect reflection on the assembly’s chosen theme: “The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.”

Originally given in French, here’s a Vatican translation of Sr Genevieve’s intervention:

I am a survivor of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda 1994. A large part of my family was killed while in our parish church. The sight of this building used to fill me with horror and turned my stomach, just like the encounter with the prisoners filled me with disgust and rage.

It is in this mental state that something happened that would change my life and my relationships.

On August 27th 1997 at 1 p.m., a group from the Catholic association of the “Ladies of Divine Mercy” led me to two prisons in the region of Kibuye, my birthplace. They went to prepare the prisoners for the Jubilee of 2000. They said: “If you have killed, you commit yourself to ask for forgiveness from the surviving victim, that way you can help him free himself of the burden/weight of vengeance, hatred and rancor. If you are a victim, you commit yourself to offer forgiveness to those who harmed you and thus you free them from the weight of their crime and the evil that is in them.”

This message had an unexpected effect for me and in me….After that, one of the prisoners rose in tears, fell to his knees before me, loudly begging: “Mercy”. I was petrified in recognizing a family friend who had grown and shared everything with us.

He admitted having killed my father and told me the details of the death of my family. A feeling of pity and compassion invaded me: I picked him up, embraced him and told him in a tearful voice: “You are and always will be my brother”.

Then I felt a huge weight lift away from me… I had found internal peace and I thanked the person I was holding in my arms.

To my great surprise, I heard him cry out: “Justice can do its work and condemn me to death, now I am free!”

Read the whole thing.

I read something like this and wonder, why O why
should I ever bother paying any attention to politics, when this is reality; this is what is sound, authentic and true, this genuineness overpowers all of the illusory things.

But then I recall, it was politics that had a hand in creating all of that chaos, which brought about this meeting of heaven and earth.

Perhaps, after all, we are all of our lives, simply reliving that very moment of creation, when chaos became formed by the Word. As this sister says in her remarks:

From this experience, I deduce that reconciliation is not so much wanting to bring together two persons or two groups in conflict. It is rather the re-establishment of each in love and allowing internal healing which leads to mutual liberation.

And here is where the importance of the Church lies in our countries, since her mission is to offer the Word: a word that heals, liberates and reconciles.

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.
– Isaiah 50:4

What a lesson this Sr. Genevieve Uwamariya brings us! I am so humbled, and so sorry for my pettiness, and the times I have not shown mercy. You think I would have learned this from Immaculée Ilibagiza’s incredible story or from the astonishing witness of Namrata Nayak, or the barely-known steadfastness of of Ignatius Kung Pin Mei.

Instead, I have to learn this, over and over again – and to be reminded, again and again, that contrition and forgiveness -the kiss of justice and mercy- is what slays the dragons.

So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it.
–Isaiah 55:11

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • http://amba12.wordpress.com amba

    Devastating! It’s not possible to imagine forgiving the killer of your father. That takes grace.

  • Bender

    The last couple of years I have used the example of Immaculée Ilibagiza’s forgiving the man who killed her family, as well as hunted her, to demonstrate the extent of the power of the Holy Spirit — grace — to my CCD Confirmation prep students. God gives us the power to do the impossible, including the ability to forgive the unforgivable.

  • http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/iconsandcuriosities/ Sally Thomas

    Yes. To all that. I heard Immaculee Ilibagiza speak just a couple of weeks ago at our diocese’s Eucharistic Congress and was reminded of how often in the confessional what I have to talk about is my own lack of forgiveness, generally over stupid, trivial stuff.

    When I think of my own totally human capacity to hang on, with vengeance in my heart, to something somebody said to me decades ago, and then I think of what God has empowered these women to do — well, if it weren’t for the “God has empowered” part, I’d be filled with despair. Instead, I’m moved to hope.

    [Sally, so often in confession, I find myself beginning with "I am FAILING in love!" Why is it the thing God offers most abundantly, and we all crave so deeply, is the thing we consistently fail at? You'd think it all a no-brainer, and yet day after day, God help me, I fail in love. -admin]

  • kelleybee

    Tutsi genocide in Rwanda fomented by the media. here chilling to realized that the press could be warped like that.

  • SjB

    Thank you for posting this beautiful story. Rwanda has such a devastating history with such surprising stories of forgiveness that could only be wrought by the hand of God.

    I love hearing again and again, and being reminded regularly of the good God has brought into the Rwanda holocaust. It leaves me in awe to see his promise, “to work all things together for our good” (Ro. 8:28) so powerfully answered in Rwanda and to see God’s faithfulness in action. Again, thank you for posting this.

  • grace

    “If you have killed, you commit yourself to ask for forgiveness…”This is where the Church has failed when confronted with the abuse scandal.

  • waywardinn

    My first thought when I caught sight of your title to this post was, “I love those words. They remind me of ‘Babette’s Feast.’”

    They grab me every time I see them or hear them.

    Vengence is one of those things God’s been bringing forcefully to my attention these past few weeks. I have this almost overwhelming need for vengence.

    I’m going through another reckoning.

    I once met and spoke with a German Special Forces soldier who had come upon the church in Rawanda full of murdered bodies that you talk about in this post. It was his job to bury the dead. He was pretty upset that the bodies were just left in the church to rot. He wanted to know what kind of people would just leave the bodies rotting there in the church.

    It sure helps to hear some of “the rest of the story.”

  • B. Durbin

    The fascinating thing about Rwanda is that it doesn’t follow the Western patterns of thinking, either in the genocide or its aftermath. For instance, many of the prisoners turned themselves in voluntarily, and remain in prisons that would barely merit the term “minimum security” in the US.

    The nearest analogy I can come to is that the genocide was a madness, a mental illness that attacked a culture that was particularly susceptible to such a thing. (Among other things, there is an automatic deference to authority almost unheard of in the US.) I can see that culture also being particularly open to reconciliation and redemption.

  • http://blog.jim.com/ James A. Donald

    Forgiving great wrong does not bring peace. I predict that the she will perceive the ghost of her father visiting her, and asking “why am I not avenged?”

  • Bender

    Mr. Donald –

    It is unfortunate, indeed, but I believe you fail to comprehend the transformative power of the Cross.

    It is on the Cross that truth and mercy meet; it is on the Cross where (a) the truth of the full reality of sin, and the justice of payment for that sin, kisses (b) the full reality of love in the merciful forgiveness of that sin of all the world, resulting in peace.

    Forgiveness does not ignore wrong or pretend that it did not happen. Because of the Cross, forgiveness fully recognizes the wrong, but recognizes that justice has been done by the Crucified One.

    Forgiveness is the only way to true peace. If not, then Jesus wasted His time enduring a pointless, horrible death.

  • cathyf

    I read a story about 10 years ago about a particular Rwandan survivor. Her husband and children were hacked to death in front of her, and then she was gang raped for days by the murderers. She became pregnant.

    The story was about her and her five-year-old, and mentioned that the surviving members of both her family and her husband’s family shunned her because she loved her child.

    I read this in true horror and recognition: people who hack their neighbors to death with machetes? Even having confronted the pictures, it’s still somehow beyond my comprehension. But those small self-righteous gossips whispering their scandalized horror, and taking out their outrage on the victims rather than the perpetrators? Oh, how I know about that!

  • cathyf

    The fascinating thing about Rwanda is that it doesn’t follow the Western patterns of thinking, either in the genocide or its aftermath… The nearest analogy I can come to is that the genocide was a madness, a mental illness that attacked a culture that was particularly susceptible to such a thing.

    I think that such thinking is a dangerous conceit. What I have read about Rwanda is all-to-frighteningly familiar. My diagnosis is that the Rwandans were “community organized” into genocide. Their politicians spent decades convincing the Hutus that they were victims of terrible Tutsi oppression, and that all of their problems were caused by Tutsis. So that by 1994 it seemed completely reasonable for “right thinking” Hutus to hack their Tutsi and any “collaborator” Hutu neighbors to death.

    The notion that grievance mongering, the politics of victimhood, and demonization of one’s political opponents is something that we are immune to in the West is a dangerous arrogance. It is precisely these things at the root of all of the other genocides of the 20th century, whether in Armenia, Germany, Cambodia or Rwanda. Given that geographic distribution, it looks to me like the genocide carried out by Rwandans was carried out for all-too-human reasons, rather than anything unique to Rwandan culture. And our precise worry should be that we are in great danger from the Jeremiah Wrights and ACORNs and LaRazas of our world, because we are just like the Rwandans (and Turks and Germans and Cambodians) and susceptible to having our hatreds whipped up and manipulated, and then for those hatreds to get out of control.

  • Bender

    There is, indeed, a great danger in thinking of the Rwanda genocide as a singular experience, although I took B. Durbin’s comment to also mean that they were more willing to forgive than is the modern Western way of thinking, which has largely rejected Christian virtues (even on the so-called Christian right, which all too often places the demands of criminal justice above forgiveness and reconciliation, even after someone has “paid their debt to society”).

    But back to the danger of thinking that Rwanda or, more typically, Nazi Germany, is such a unique and singular experience of evil that it could never happen again, much less here, is that such things are NOT all that unique. Oh sure, we may never march behind some pipsqueak with a cartoonish moustache and silly arm-salute, but we have all too often embraced many of the same ideas pushed by his regime.

    Wide-spread death camps, where millions are gassed and incinerated in ovens? Probably not. But clinics, where millions are sliced and diced in the womb before being sucked out and thrown in the trash? Absolutely. Hospitals, where people are denied the extraordinary medical treatment that is known as food and water, or where doctors stand by and do nothing but watch a perfectly healthy young person die after she has chugged down poisonous antifreeze, or where people are otherwise simply given overdoses of morphine, all on the grounds of relieving suffering and the counterfeit compassion of believing that they are better off dead? Absolutely. We may not have any Auschwitz’s, but we most certainly have a few Hadamar’s.


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