Rwandan sisters' courageous witness to hope

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Wednesday 08, December 2010 | Category:   Consecrated Life

During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were murdered, the Benebikira Sisters sheltered hundreds of orphans and others who sought refuge in their convents. At the Benebikira motherhouse in the village of Save, a militia stormed the convent and demanded that the sisters separate themselves by ethnic groups. The sisters said no—aware that at other convents 20 sisters had been killed for standing up to the militants. The militia then looted all their food, cut the water lines, and told the sisters they would return to kill them.

When the genocide ended, the sisters found themselves caring for about 350 orphans, most of them traumatized after witnessing the brutal murders of their parents. The children “had food and clothing,” Sister M. Juvenal Mukamurama told Kathleen L. Sullivan of the National Catholic Reporter, “but it was no life for them. Family is very important in our country. They needed a family. So we decided to build community houses and make families.” The sisters built 39 houses and grouped the orphans into “families” of six to eight children.

Benebikira means "Daughters of Mary" in Kinyarwanda, the native language of Rwanda. About 56 percent of Rwanda's population of more than 10 million is categorized as Catholic. Founded in 1919, the Benebikira Order is native to Rwanda and today has about 380 women religious whose primary mission is education. They run two preschools, eight primary schools, three vocational schools, and 13 secondary boarding schools in Rwanda and Burundi. Since the genocide they have opened four new schools.

Last September the Benebikira Sisters were honored with the Courage of Conscience Award by the Peace Abbey, a Sherborn, Massachusetts multifaith retreat and teaching center dedicated to nonviolence, peacemaking, and social justice. At the award presentation, Sister Mukamurama said: “It is nice to know people appreciate what we did and what we do. We do not do the work to be appreciated, but this appreciation does give us encouragement.”

“The sisters,” said Dot Walsh, program coordinator at the Peace Abbey, “told us it was the first time they had publicly been acknowledged for the courage and faith they displayed during the genocide, and they were very touched.”

The sisters have also established the Ministry of Hope, Healing, and Reconciliation in Rwanda to provide pastoral counseling for those affected by the genocide and to train young adults to serve as peer counselors.

“Rwanda wants to move forward,” said Sister Mukamurama, who is marking her 40th anniversary as a Benebikira sister. “We want to build our country, our relationships, a new life. We are no longer seen as Tutsi or Hutu. We live together. We are no longer separate. We are Rwandans.” A Benebikira Sisters Foundation Scholarship Video:

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.




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