Today is Liberation Day in Rwanda. On this day in 1994, the Genocide officially ended.

Paul Rusesabagina is the 2000 Recipient of the Immortal Chaplains Prize for Humanity, founder and President of the The Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation (HRRF), recipient of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom (NPR interview; National Geographic story). I quote from p.191-2 of his autobiography, An Ordinary Man:

An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography In a village south of Kigali is a church that is no longer a church. The compound is surrounded with a low stone wall and the ground is covered with weeds. The building itself is shaped like an auditorium; the walls are of red brick. The floor is poured concrete. The stained-glass windows are cracked and broken. Splatters of grenade fragments are in the walls and the tin ceiling is shot through with hundreds of bullet holes. On sunny days you can see shafts of thin light streaming through, and the spots they make on the floor look like a constellation of stars.

This is the former parish church in the community of Nyamata. The name means “place of milk.” The church had been renown as a safe haven during Rwanda’s past troubles. When the killings started in the spring of 1994 the Tutsis of the region were encouraged to hide in the sanctuary. The refugees locked the iron gates and prayed while their friends and neighbors eagerly struggled to break inside to murder them. On April 14 the Presidential Guard was called in from Kigali and they threw grenades at the gates, blasting them into shards. The ordinary people and the soldiers flooded in and thousands of people were massacred.

The building has since been seized from the Vatican. It is now an official memorial to the genocide, but it functions also as a crypt. There are burlap bags full of skulls in a side room. Some of them bear a slice where a machete chopped into the brain. Out in the backyard is an open tomb with thousands of skeletons, with the skulls arranged in neat rows, the bones stacked up on wooden shelves. Most of them were found in the sanctuary, where the bodies were stacked three deep, but others were recovered from mass graves and pit toilets around the village. The altar is covered with a bloodstained cloth. The back wall has stains on the bricks left by the children whose heads were smashed against it. Quietness reigns.

Standing out front is a sign draped with a purple cloth. It bears a pledge in four languages: “Never Again.”

We all know these words. But we never seem to hear them.

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