First of all, please accept my apologies for the abbreviated post yesterday. While the hotel we stayed in — the Centre Saint Andre owned by the Diocese of Kabgayi in the Muhanga district was beautiful, the Internet connectivity (and the hot water — as my photos will prove) leaves much to be desired. It’s probably just as well… I’ve been averaging about five hours of sleep per night here in Rwanda, so one night without Internet did me the favor of letting me catch up on sleep a bit.
Our first visit of the day was a courtesy visit to Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege of the Diocese of Kabgayi. While we expected to be greeted politely for a few moments, Bishop spent quite a lot of time with us. Our first portion of the meeting involved introductions. I finally gathered a bit of courage and introduced myself to him in French and presented him with a copy of my books. While I doubt seriously that Bishop Smaragde will sit and read A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms, it brings me great joy to know that a copy of it will reside in Rwanda. Bishop Smaragde is a very charismatic religious leader. In our conversation, he spoke with great animation about the Church’s response to the Rwandan genocide and her continual commitment to service to the survivors. When I asked him we — as Catholics — might better serve the survivors, he carefully explained that it was important that the Church continue to personally — on a one-to-one basis — examine the individual needs people have rather than coming up with blanket solutions. He gave us a personal example of a woman who desperately came to him one day recently with two children in tow and obviously pregnant. He personally found her shelter, then located a family member to care for her children while she was placed in shelter to await the delivery of her next baby. Imagine a Bishop taking time and care to be involved in such issues. We know that they are all men of great compassion, and yet Bishop Smaragde so beautiful exemplifies the teachings that we are currently hearing from Pope Francis that we must all love and serve one another.
After sharing this story, Bishop took us to a lovely gallery of photos in his residence area, telling us the history of all of the dioceses in Rwanda and introducing us to the Rwandan bishops. He paused with great compassion before the now famous photo of Popes Benedict XVI and Francis in prayer together and expressed his great affection for both pontiffs. We were also able to see a beautiful photo of Bishop Smaragde with Pope Francis. With bishops such as this man in Rwanda, the future of the Church is undoubtedly bright here. After having met him and having attended Mass with Rwandan young adults, it is obvious to me why the country’s seminaries are overflowing.
A Broken Nose
After our visit with Bishop Smaragde, we took time to visit and pray in the gorgeous Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady. Then it was time to visit the hotel and pick up our items before heading to our next appointment. Unfortunately, a small mishap occurred when our friend Helen Blakesley had a small accident. Helen is CRS’ regional information officer for West and Central Africa. She is based in Dakar, Senegal and along with being our primary translator on this trip, she has been a great source of light for all of us with her warm and engaging personality and infectious smile. It became clear to us that Helen had likely broken her nose, so our CRS leader LeAnn and I decided to forego our plans and accompany Helen to the “hospital”. The mom in me kicked in, and I simply thought of what I would want to have happen if one of my sons were injured in foreign country. LeAnn was there to handle all of the admissions process and I simply sat and held Helen’s hand – she was quite brave! In the end, it was determined that her nose was indeed broken — Helen will now have a big story to tell and I have a firsthand view of the medical system in rural Rwanda.
The personnel at the hospital were extremely warm and caring, but it’s clear that the system is still in development. A picture of Helen’s “medical record” shows you one small example: it is a tiny notebook made up of recycled notebook paper stapled and scribbled with minimal details. Yet another reminder to me of how blessed we are in our country, and how important it is that we supportive aid agencies such as CRS who toil in other countries to bring the basic necessities of life to the underserved.
At the hospital, we met a lovely nun named Immaculee who was clearly in charge. She greeted us personally as we sat on a bench outside after Helen had been discharged and followed up for additional information. An angel in disguise!
Helen is recuperating, but please keep her in your prayers! And while you are praying, please remember the many pregnant mothers and babies that we met at the hospital. They raise families in very challenging circumstances but are never short of smiles and friendly greetings for us foreigners!
Institute for Research on Peace and Development
While I had to forego the visit to Radio Maria Rwanda to accompany Helen to the hospital, I was able to learn about this media outlet from my other journalist friends who visited the radio studios. Just as in the United States, Radio Maria here broadcasts religious content and is listener supported. They operate with outdated technology, but a committed staff of volunteers to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel across Rwandan airwaves.
Our next meeting was with Professor Rwanyindo, the Director of the Institute for Research on Peace and Development. Founded in 2001, the Institute is a major peacebuilding leader in Rwanda and contributes in many ways to reconciliation in the country in the wake of the genocide. A leading think-tank, the Institute conducts broad research and issues results-based recommendations to policy makers with an aim towards adding data to help shape policy and law in this country. Professor Rwanyindo was quite generous with the sharing of his time as well as his personal circumstances before, during and after the genocide. In Rwanda, it is rare that you meet someone who has not been impacted in some way personally. This professor and his colleagues are clearly turning their personal loss into a fantastic effort to aid in the construction of a united Rwanda.
After our meeting at the IRPD, it was time for a bit of souvenir shopping at Caritas Rwanda. While the store was overflowing with goodies and we only had a limited amount of time, it is wonderful to know that our small purchases will aid in Caritas’ support of those living in poverty in Rwanda. If you ever have a chance to visit Rwanda, I recommend that you purchase your gifts at this lovely boutique for a good selection of hand-crafted Rwandan artifacts.
National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide
Our next stop was to CNLG – the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide. Our host for the afternoon was Jean-Damas Gasanabo. An expert on genocide prevention and education, Gasanabo leads a unit of CNLG which is charged with research and documentation. Among his many responsibilities is the stewardship and preservation of over 40 million Gacaca court documents from the aftermath of the genocide. As always in RWanda, I am reminded of the incredible strides made by many individuals and organizations here who lack the technology and resources we sometimes take for granted. As with other meetings on the topic of genocide prevention, this meeting with Mr. Gasanabo inspired me to educate myself further on this dark period of Rwanda’s history and how we might each personally participate in eradicating genocide in the future.
Tonight for dinner we dined at the lovely Sol e Luna restaurant in Kigali. While I felt guilty eating pizza in Rwanda (and washing it down with a passion fruit margarita!), I must admit that dinner was delicious! Our companions for the meal were two remarkable men. Professor Paul Rutayisire — a former Catholic Relief Services staff member — is the Director of the Centre for Conflict Management at the National University of Rwanda. Also joining us for dinner was Peacemaker Mbungiramihigo, the Executive Secretary at the Media High Council Rwanda. The Council works to promote freedom, professionalism and responsibility among Rwandan media. During a lively conversation, I especially enjoyed discussing blogging and social media with this incredible knowledgeable professor of communications who holds such a responsible position in the Rwandan government. I believe that social media will have a great role to play in Rwanda’s movement forward towards continued peace and prosperity.
As I type this, my clock now tells me that it’s after 1:30 am Rwandan time and that all too soon my alarm will be ringing. I look forward to a hot shower and a final day of Rwandan adventures in just a few short hours! What an amazing adventure this has been!
Copyright 2013 Lisa M. Hendey