Monday Message, April 15, 2024

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Thank you to everyone who attended the meeting last week with Bishop Caggiano. If you have not yet read the Gender Identity document, please log into LEAD and check your tasks.

The pastors met on Thursday and were given several handouts. I offer them here for your information.

We have a Parish Leader Check in tomorrow at 11. We will be reviewing next year’s calendar and our end-of-the-year gathering. Link is here.

Project Beloved aspires to fill this gap – offering a path to parenthood, in accordance with God’s plan, and through more dignified means, while also accompanying the woman/couple on the healing journey as they carry this cross. See this flyer for more information.

Catholic Brain had a great webinar last week. You are invited to watch it here and then check out the LEAD channel for Catholic Brain.

If you have a Confirmation retreat taking place before May 16, please email Loren.

There will be an Informational Session for Catechists and Directors of Religious Education on April 23 at 8:00 pm Eastern time. This one hour informational meeting on how to start a Children’s Rosary prayer group in your parish. May is a great time to launch the Children’s Rosary or plan ahead for next year. The Zoom link is here. Contact Blythe Kauffman for more information.


Thirty years ago this month, the people of Rwanda experienced a tragedy my western American mind could not fathom. Over the course of ninety days or so, members of the Tutsi minority ethnic group, as well as some moderate Hutus, were killed by armed Hutu militias. Neighbors killed neighbors. Family members turned on other members of their family. Even ministers, gathering their flock into the Church, betrayed the faithful and saved themselves.

By the time it was over, nearly a million people were dead. Most of the world, including the US, just watched.

Because justice was such a slow process – and in an attempt to heal the communities – the Gacaca courts were established. These trials, to put it simply, allowed those who were willing to admit their part in the killings a chance for early release. There were conditions: if they showed where bodies were buried, and if the communities were willing to take them back, people who had participated in the atrocities could be released from jail to return home. Nearly two million trials were held and though the system was plagued with problems, nearly a million people were released.

Ten years after the genocide and eight years before the Gacaca courts were shut down, I was in Rwanda with a small group from Catholic Relief Services. We were there to witness, among other things, what micro-finance programs had done to reestablish small businesses, restore dignity to the people – especially women – in the years after the genocide. We were also there to pray with the people, visit the mass graves, and talk about what the country had been through. It was then, and likely will always be, one of the great honors of my life. It was also deeply disturbing.

After several days in the city of Kigali, the group was split up and my friend, Anthony, and I traveled to the far western part of the country to the Diocese of Cyangugu. There, we visited parishes, prayed with the residence, played soccer with the students, and visited refugee camps (the people fleeing Congo). Mostly, we listened to their stories.

It has been twenty years since our visit, but several conversations remain in my mind as though they occurred yesterday. On one particular morning, we were sitting with less than a dozen people, listening to their stories of the days of the genocide. We heard how people hid from neighbors. They spoke about never finding the bodies of loved ones. They spoke of darkness, fear, and what it was like to run for your life.

Then, unexpectedly, one man introduced himself and said he had participated in the genocide. He had killed many people. He had been jailed. Then, through the Gacaca courts, he had admitted to what he had done, revealed the mass grave to his town, and been freed – welcomed home, returned to his family, and was now sitting across from me.

I think my shock surprised them. My limited capacity to love could not comprehend how this person was free. He had killed people. We had been to that mass grave. I vaguely remember saying something, more to myself than anyone in the room, “How does that happen?”

The elderly woman sitting next to me took my hand. I can still feel her small, wrinkled fingers on top of mine. Through our interpreter she explained.

“If we do not forgive, hatred wins.”

That was it. That was her explanation. For her, it was just that simple. Either you forgive or you rot inside. Suddenly, the loss I had experienced in my own life – losing grandparents, a brother, friends – my own struggles in life – all rearranged in my head. My loss was nothing compared to theirs. My life was easy compared to theirs. My whole world needed a reboot. All these years, I had believed forgiveness was something you gave to others, but this woman, still holding my hand, reminded me that, often, forgiveness is something you give yourself.

The alternative is you can let hatred win. You can let yourself be eaten from the inside out with the anger, disillusionment, frustration, and lament. At the cross, Jesus loves hatred to death. His “yes” to God gives hatred a space to die. This man who is not owed forgiveness, forgives others. He sees what is happening around him and knows the world needs saving. He knows, at his core, if we do not forgive, hatred wins.

I think about the people of Rwanda all the time. I am still challenged by the words of that old lady and I am still struggling to forgive as she had, as her community had. But each day, I feel like I get a little bit closer.

This week, let us strive to forgive those little things around us. May our perspective be rearranged so we understand injuries as inconveniences and people who irritate us as opportunities to love other people more sincerely.

Most of all, may we love the hatred around us to death so that new life can begin again.