DON’T MISS: Fighting for Forgiveness

By on September 20, 2017

A Rwandan priest’s journey from refugee to healer

Father Ubald Rugirangoga is in the business of healing. Parishioners allege he has cured leukemia, helped a paralyzed person walk out of a wheelchair, and saved a leg from amputation. 

But more important are the wounds we cannot see, according to Fr. Ubald.

Wounds, he said, are more than just physical. They are spiritual, and that is where Fr. Ubald said he has the deepest understanding. 

Fr. Ubald survived the Rwandan genocide of 1994 that killed upwards of 800,000 people. He offered refuge on his church property to 45,000 people. Every one of them was killed was killed on the church property within days. 

“It was a surprise to me,” he said. “To decide to kill people, children… because of who you are. Not because you’ve done wrong.” 

He tenses up recalling memories of the genocide that killed the refugees his church housed, along with much of his family. 

But anger and hatred are heavy burdens to bear, Fr. Ubald said. To demonstrate, he lifts people [this reporter included] onto his back.  

“To stay with such hatred, it is a weight to carry,” he said. “When you are carrying a big weight, you are crying. You are suffering.” 

So he teaches people to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Only then, he said, is anyone truly free.

Fr. Ubald’s journey from Rwandan refugee to a missionary who claims to have healing powers is the subject of an upcoming documentary, Forgiveness: The Secret of Peace. 

The film premieres September 27 at the Center for the Arts in Jackson. 

“What you experience is not only yours,” Fr. Ubald said of his decision to participate in the film. “You have to share with society.” 

The best ways to share, he said, are by writing a book or making a film. He doesn’t have time for a book yet—he evangelizes and heals around the world, and is constantly on the road—so he let someone follow him around with a camera instead. 

“He can’t be everywhere, but a film can be,” said co-producer Katsey Long. “We knew his story was big enough and broad enough.

Fr. Ubald was a Catholic priest before the genocide, and has had a life that’s consistently been dotted by violence. 

The priest’s father was killed in 1967 in Rwanda, and Fr. Ubald fled to Burundi in high school to escape “division and ethnic hatred,” Long said. 

Tragedy struck again on April 6, 1994, when Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot out of the air. The act was the catalyst for violence that had long been brewing between the Hutu and the Tutsis. 

Violence broke out in Rwanda, and eighty members of Fr. Ubald’s family were killed. Members of his parish turned on him, and Fr. Ubald, whose mission has always been to preach kindness, was arrested. 

“Because I was a Tutsi,” he said. “Coming back I said—cried—it is injustice. I have been arrested because of belonging to Tutsi ethnic.”

But ethnicities, Fr. Ubald said, are a human creation. 

“God created people, not ethnicities,” he said. And to kill someone for the way they were born is to fight God, according to Fr. Ubald. 

After the violence in Rwanda had finally calmed, Fr. Ubald made it his mission to preach peace through forgiveness. 

He began the Mushaka Unity and Reconciliation Program in 2006 for victims and perpetrators of violence to learn about, and exercise, forgiveness. 

It’s a practice he has had to complete himself. After the genocide, Fr. Ubald found the man who killed his mother—and paid tuition for the man’s two children. 

His mother’s killer now works alongside Fr. Ubald.

“Forgiveness, it is a way to survive,” Fr. Ubald said. “When you realize that, you are a free man.” But it’s not always easy. First, he says, the victim must make an active decision to forgive. “Then you fight.”

“Forgiveness always incorporates grief,” Long said. “Because you’ve lost something. You go through the stages of grief, and work through that emotional component.” 

Fr. Ubald is currently working to build a Center for the Secret of Peace in Rwanda, and takes his message and his mission around the world. 

There will always be violence, he says, but there is also always hope. 

“We are all people, we are all humans. We have to preach about forgiveness. There is injustice of course, but we are fighting to have justice all the time.” PJH

Fr. Ubald’s film debuts September 27 at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $15 and are available at JHCenterForTheArts.org. 

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