Callixte Uwimfura couldn’t go on. Trying to hold back tears, he ran from the
room. Six women and two men remained seated in a right circle unable to speak.
After a few moments, the two men got up and went after Callixte. He needed
comforting. That, after all, was why they had gathered. They had joined
together, each a Rwandan refugee living in Nairobi, Kenya, each with a story of
bloodshed and carnage, to participate in a two day healing seminar conducted by
Father William Knipe and Sister Jane McAndrews. "They came to us, Hutu and
Tutsi refugees, seeking reconciliation," said Knipe. "They wanted to teach
their children and other Rwandan refugees to hate war and love peace. But first
they needed to be healed themselves."
Knipe and McAndrews, aware of the healing benefits of confession, and sensitive
to the rich oral traditions of Africa, devised a seminar of reconciliation based
on storytelling. "Each one of them had a story to tell, a big story," said Knipe.
"We simply provided them with a safe environment to tell it." There were two
ground rules: no interruptions during the telling and, once finished, no
comments other than "Thank you."
Safe environment and guidelines notwithstanding, it was still painful for Callixte to recall the bloody pandemonium in his country days after the
presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were killed in a mysterious plane crash on
April 6, 1994. But after regaining his composure, Callixte returned to the
group and resumed his story. A 40-year-old Hutu pharmacist living in Kigali,
the Rwandan capital, with his Tutsi wife and six children at the time, he hid
for weeks to avoid bloodshed. But when the killing intensified, he decided to
flee with his family to the relative safety of the Democratic Republic of the
Congo. Driving toward the border he was stopped at a Hutu militia roadblock.
After learning Callixte’s wife was Tutsi, she and the children were ordered out
of the car and hacked to pieces while Callixte, restrained, looked on
helplessly. He was spared, they told him, only because he was a Hutu.
Participants in the healing seminar were asked to be open to God’s grace and
reconciliation in telling their story. Even so during the seminar itself Callixte was unable to forgive his family’s executioners. But healing had
begun. "Months later, Callixte told me he was praying for those who committed
the atrocities," said Knipe. "He forgave them in his