By Julia Bloechl
21 June, 2019 marked the second day of the conference “Reinventing Theology in Post-Genocide Rwanda: Challenges and Hopes.”
The first theme of the day and the second of the conference was, “Justice, Reconciliation, and Reconstruction.” Shelley Tenenbaum presented the first talk entitled, “Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda and the Jews in Europe,” in which she compared the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda to the Holocaust in Germany. She highlighted the similarities and differences between the two noting that both involved the transformation of a fluid to fixed identities. Ultimately, she suggested that while all genocides are unique, the similarities between them can help inform our ability to resist and prevent their reoccurrence.
Tenenbaum was followed by Shawn Copeland whose talk was entitled, “Responsibilities of Theology in Post-Genocide Rwanda.” She noted that none of the existing theological paradigms are sufficient in post-genocide Rwanda and began to outline the necessary qualities of a comprehensive theology in the country today. Instead, it must be a political theology through which theologians can think for themselves and in which history is seen and recognized. Theology is to be outraged by corrosion of freedom and exploitation. Finally, she noted that participants in a political theology should vigilantly remember the dead and speak openly as witnesses of the genocide and its horrors. She concluded by stating that political theology in Rwanda must work to see in the way Jesus saw.
Next, organizer Marcel Uwineza, S.J, gave a talk titled, “Reimagining Humanity: A Theology that Makes Sense of the Wounds of History.” His talk compared the dry bones seen in many memorials in Rwanda with the country’s enduring scars. In his reflection on these “dry bones” he emphasized the theological imperative of memory. Uwineza then moved to a consideration of the importance of human dignity by comparing the work of Rahner and Aquinas. According to Aquinas, the human person follows directly from God as God’s message is primarily concerned with the human person. Rahner reflects on similar sentiments as he suggests that the world is both anthropocentric and theocentric as the two are not mutually exclusive. Finally, Uwineza noted that just as Jesus’ work began with the wounds of the sick, a new theology in Rwanda must also be born from the wounds of the suffering. The church should recognize and make sense of the history of genocide in order to move forward.
Next, Elisée Rutagambwa, S.J provided the first presentation of the second theme, “Leadership and Human Rights.” His talk was entitled “Rethinking Genuine Leadership Through the Prism of the Ethics of Apology.” He noted that in the wake of horror, some apologize, some partially apologize, and some refuse to apologize all together. Rutagambwa discussed the various forms of apologetic discourse and suggested that though this is the era of apology, many still refuse to recognize and repent for their sins. He suggested that in moving to address its sins and apologize for them, in a comprehensive way, the church can be a more credible source of leadership in the pursuit of the common good. J.J Carney followed with a talk entitled, “Healing, Reconstruction, and Truth: Three Models of Prophetic Leadership in Post-Genocide Africa.” He discussed the work of Madame Anne-Marie Mukankuranga, Bishop Nicholas Djomo Lola, and Rosalba Ato Oywa putting them forth as examples of prophetic leadership in the Great Lakes region. Carney suggested that their ability to put truth to power, engage in social analysis, and participate in humanitarian missions provide examples for those wishing to restore and promote the ethical mission in post-conflict regions. Innocent Rugaragu, S.J discussed “The Religious and Secular Leadership we Need: 25 Years After the Genocide Against Tutsi.” His talk focused on the qualities that the ideal Rwandese leaders of today should possess. Among the many important qualities he mentioned were the ability to assert positive influence, the ability to inspire, the possession of knowledge, and an understanding of what is needed by a community. A leader with these qualities is sure to promote peace, reconciliation and progress in Rwanda.
The fourth theme was “Scripture and the Body of Christ” and its first speaker was Michel Kamanzi, S.J whose research studied “ ‘The Temple of his Body’(Jn 2:21): Rediscovering Churches and Human Beings as Sacred Spaces.” He discussed the fact that churches were the sites of many terrible massacres during the genocide in 1994. This served as a defilement of the house of God and prayer. Kamazi traced the importance of churches throughout the Bible discussing the building and rebuilding of the temple in the Old Testament through the New Testament in which the body of Christ became a symbol for the church. Though the temple is a valuable host to the tabernacle, the ultimate sign of the church is the body of Christ presented, in large part, through the united community of believers. Humans are all, themselves, sacred spaces.
A talk called “A Pauline Foundation for Social Reconciliation” was then presented, via video, by Thomas Stegman, SJ. He emphasized the Pauline language of reconciliation in which God is the primary agent of. He compared the notions of vertical and horizontal reconciliation. Through horizontal reconciliation, we seek to reconcile and find unity in our own communities, which is a necessary precondition for vertical reconciliation in which we reconcile with God through his infinite mercy. The final speaker on this theme was Martin Nizigiyimana whose talk was entitled, “From Divine Trust to Human Responsibility.” The core message of his talk was that divine trust and human responsibility are a theological pair; as with trust in God, we recognize that he has put his trust in human beings. Rwandese are obligated to reinvent the church in the country, replacing suffering with faith and providing a noble witness to the importance of fraternity. It is through doing so that we fulfill the human responsibility bestowed by God.
The final theme was “Remembering and Suffering” and began with Yvon Elenga, S.J’s talk entitled, “The Amnesic Hope: (Re)living the Faith 25 Years After the Genocide Against the Tutsi.” He discussed the importance of memory and the transmission of stories. Elenga suggested that the best form of memory that can be exercised in Rwanda is a forward-thinking memory that ties the past to the future. We must account for suffering while considering how it informs the ways in which we may move forward. Elenga was followed by George Griener, S.J’s who presented, “The Task of Theology in the Face of Horrendous and Widespread Suffering that has Plagued the human race in the Last Hundred Years.” He spoke on the theology of suffering emphasizing the essential role of suffering in God’s creation. This comes from the idea that human freedom is fragile and all of creation possesses a degree of finitude. Thus, that which makes existence possible also serves as the source of human suffering. This was followed by the day’s final speaker, Ogonna Hilary Nwainya, whose talk was entitled, “Twenty-Five Years after the Genocide: Can Rwanda Embrace an Ethics of Recognition?” His talk focused on the importance of recognition of the “other” and the atrocities of defacement. He spoke of defacement as the most expedient method of genocide in its defamation of the dignity of the other. He referenced Peter’s recognition of Jesus and his recognition of Peter, in response. In essence, he spoke of the human need for recognition as essential in the process of transformation.
After a fruitful day of scholarly discourse, we look forward to our final sessions tomorrow.
For more see the Rwanda-Burundi website