Aug. 3, 2008 (KIGALI, Rwanda) — Rwanda is a land of great contrasts alongside great hopes.
It is overpopulated without feeling crowded, dusty but not dirty, poverty ridden and joyful, war-ravaged yet peaceful and safe.
The country is strewn with genocide memorials. The one at Ntarama church in Nyamata contains the skulls of most of the 5,000 Rwandans killed in one day at the site where they ran for safety. The jagged gaps in the brick walls are where grenades were tossed in the church after people had gathered there, tearing up the building and those inside.
In the 1959 killings, Freddy Budaramani explains, the people who sought refuge in churches were spared. "They were in Gods house," he says.
Not so in 1994. The churches were used to lure people to their slaughter.
"Where were the priests?" asks Wilma Galiber.
They ran away or worse is the answer. That fact has created a certain amount of confusion among the faithful of this country which is 90 percent Catholic.
Cross at NTARAMA Church. Site of the massacre of 5,000 people.
"New" churches have sprung up. The one we attended on Sunday morning Shining Light was founded in 1998. "People had lost hope," says co-pastor Jolly N. Murenzi, who ministers to the church along with her husband, Charles.
"When you go back to your island, please tell them Rwanda has been restored to peace," Jolly asks.
Peace is also the message coming from Rwandas first lady Jeanette Kagame in an audience Sunday afternoon.
"We have seen many countries that have failed to reconcile with their history," Jeanette Kagame tells us when asked how it is that after the brutality that destroyed her county leaving it with a million dead and no infrastructure, that Rwandans have been able to forgive.
"At times we underestimate what people are capable of doing when they have faith and not just spiritual faith, but also faith in the leadership."
However,the countrys stunning comeback has not been without complicated and difficult decisions, the first lady says.
Among the decisions has been reconciliation between the killers and the families of the dead.
The first thing that was done was to categorize the killers; those who planned the genocide, those who were willing to carry it out and those who were forced under threat of death.
A testament to her commitment to reconciliation, Mrs. Kagame tells us she employs the daughter of the former president, under whom the killings were carried out.
"It took her awhile to accept what her father had done. We think she is feeling better now," Jeanette says.
"We must rebuild the country together," the first lady says, explaining to us about Rwandan Peace Baskets. Widows are paired with the wives of the men who killed their husbands to make baskets, which are not only sold in Rwanda, but have made it to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
"We came from basically nothing," says Kagame. Making the hard decisions, which also included returning land to refugees, some of them related to the killers, was "a gamble that worked."
I am not a betting woman, but if I were, I would gamble heavily on the continued growth and success of this tiny country. I think I speak for all of us on this trip when I say we will all be watching and praying for its continued peace and prosperity.
To be continued
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