Hosted by the Anglican Provinces of Rwanda and Burundi, the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN) began its triennial meeting September 25 in Kigali, Rwanda, with a welcome from Rwandese Archbishop Emmanuel Mbona Kolini, who greeted the representatives from 17 provinces (list below) of the Anglican Communion, many of them from conflict regions.
The meeting, which concludes October 3 in Bujumbura, Burundi, is focusing on conflict transformation and exploring the role of violence in societies throughout the world. Bishop Pie Ntukamazina of the Diocese of Bujumbura is host to the Network and a leader of its steering committee. Dr. Jenny Te Paa of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is the Network's convener.
In his welcome address, Kolini told the APJN members that their gathering "is a sacramental moment," noting that such a group of international visitors recalls memories of "Rwanda of 1994, a time when the world abandoned us." From April-June of that year more than 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in what was later acknowledged as a genocide. Citing Genesis 12:2-3, Kolini read of God's call to Abraham to be a blessing to the nations, and asked how the Church and individuals can now be a blessing to the earth in the wake horrific acts against humanity by other human beings.
He noted that Rwanda is 90 percent Christian, and that the genocide occurred amidst a failure of the Church to prevent it. "How could this genocide have happened?" he asked. "It is easy to be religious, but very difficult to be the people of God. What went wrong was a problem of the soul. The Lord is calling us to be a blessing." The Archbishop then offered a blessing over the APJN participants.
The members visited the Rwandan genocide museum with its graphic depictions of the 1994 massacres. The museum also features reminders of other genocides, including the Holocaust, Armenian, Balkan and Namibian tragedies from the 20th century. The group visited a Catholic Church where 5,000 people were slaughtered after taking refuge. The site now serves as a sober memorial to the dead.
The Network also met with a group from the International Anglican Women's Network, made up primarily of women from the Great Lakes region of Africa under the leadership of Priscilla Julie of the Seychelles. Two women survivors of the genocide shared moving accounts of their experiences. One woman recounted being hacked by a machete and lying amidst bodies all night only to be kicked by her victimizers the next day to make sure she was dead. Assistant Bishop Micah Dawidi of Juba, Sudan, led a prayer for the two women before Kolini offered a spontaneous reflection.
"For justice to be done in Rwanda, two things are required: repentance and forgiveness," said Kolini. "There must be both, but, up to now, there has not been enough repentance. We have a long way to go." He also returned to the failure of the Church as well as the United Nations, the colonial history of the country and Rwandans themselves. "The Church must confess its sins first," he said. "Hope begins there."
The Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of Peace and Justice Ministries for the Episcopal Church, and long-time APJN secretary, said: "Archbishop Kolini could not have been more gracious and welcoming. He guided us through a very difficult experience in his country with sensitivity and compassion."
Te Paa also expressed sincere gratitude on behalf of the APJN to Kolini and his diocesan staff for their "abundant hospitality." She noted the importance of the two networks working cooperatively "on the critical issues of God's mission in the world" and joined her voice with the women present giving thanks to those church leaders "who are giving urgent and justified priority at this time in the life of the Communion to the needs of those who are suffering so disproprotionately in God's world."
Provinces represented at the APJN gathering include: Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia, Burundi, Canada, Central Africa, Central America, Congo, England, Japan, Korea, North India, Philippines, Rwanda, Scotland, Southern Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.