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Rwanda Bearing Witness Retreat 2011: Day #4

Inspiring morning at the Closing Ceremonies of the National Week of Mourning at the Rebero Genocide Memorial, just outside of Kigali. In the early hours of the genocide on April 7, 1994, the Hutu extremists then in control of the Rwandan government murdered a number of moderate Hutu politicians on a hit list who refused to support or openly opposed the genocidal ideology and plans of the extremist. These politicians are buried at Rebero along with about 18,000 Tutsis, murdered in the surrounding areas. The theme of the closing ceremonies was good governance. The speakers, poets and singers honored the fallen political leaders for their courageous stand and exhorted current leaders to put their country and the needs of the people ahead of personal interests. Just like the other two major national events we have attended, the Opening Ceremonies at Amarhoro Stadium with President Paul Kagame on the 7th and the Nyanza ceremonies on April 11th, many of the speakers referenced the need to continue to challenge and fight against those who seek to deny the genocide or rewrite history to undermine Rwanda’s progress. The theme of this year’s commemoration is: Uphold the Truth and Preserve Our Dignity. The greater part of the speeches touched on themes of unity and reconciliation, good governance, hope and the importance of the youth of Rwanda in creating a new and brighter future. We sat just behind the government leaders, diplomatic corps, other dignitaries and families members of the fallen political leaders. For me it was like watching a people uplift themselves and rebuild their country right before our eyes, refusing to give in to fear and hatred or to remain beaten down by the darkness of the genocide … the power of basic goodness in action.

In the afternoon we visited to churches, major massacre sites during the 1994 genocide, descending again into the darkness and horror. 5000 Tutsis were brutally slaughtered by goverment troops and interahamwe in a tiny brick church at Ntarama. More than 10,000 were massacred at the larger Nyamata church. The blood stained clothing and thousands of skulls and bones of the victims are on display in the churches. We descended into one of the mass graves at Nyamata, a catacomb containing the skulls and bones of thousands of slain innocents.

In the face of all this darkness and survivor accounts of unspeakable atrocities committed against men, women, children and babies, we held our late afternoon peace circles outdoors on the grounds of Nyamata, adjacent to the mass graves. The weather was beautiful, gorgeous blue sky and perfect temperature. The juxtaposition of the beauty of the surrounding and the hard things we were sharing and listening to in the circles took us further into not knowing … darkness and light, horror and hope, brutal inhumanity and humanity … no way to separate it all out … just bearing witness to the extremes of human experience and everything in between.

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