By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
With dance, songs of worship and prayers uttered in their native languages, people in the African community remembered victims of violence during the seventh annual Memorial Service for the Victims of Violence, War and Genocide in Africa. The service was held April 11 at St. Thomas More Church in South Louisville.
The interfaith service — organized by the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry (OMM) — brought together dozens from the African community, many of whom had fled such violence in their homeland.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said during his homily that the event was an action of lament for those who have died as well as a call to prayer for peace.
“From Africa to the United States, the cry for peace, justice and liberation for all people has been proclaimed,” said the archbishop. “We cry to God to heal our heart and pray that we may be on a pathway of peace.”
The archbishop shared with the congregation a poem written by a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. The author’s entire family had been among the hundreds of thousands who’d been massacred in 1994 in the central African nation. He wrote the verses of the poem in the voices of those he’d lost.
The archbishop shared the following verse:
“If you really knew me and you knew yourself, you wouldn’t have killed me,” the verse read.
He told those gathered that this part of the poem brought to mind the writings of St. Paul, which, he said, tell us that we come to know ourselves through Jesus Christ.
“When we discover Christ in our life we become our true and lasting self,” the archbishop said. He went on to tell the congregation that Christ is of the utmost importance on the pathway to peace.
“The closer we draw to Christ and one another the more peace-abiding we become,” he said. The archbishop reminded those present of the importance of peace and forgiveness and said they must begin in their own hearts. He also said it’s important to pray “for those who had a part in that terrible act” of genocide.
In commemorating the lives of those who’ve perished, the survivors who fled and started new lives find a way to heal, said Dr. Joseph Twagilimana, African ministry consultant for the OMM.
Most of those who take part in the memorial service annually are from Rwanda, Burundi and Congo — countries with a history of violence and division between ethnic groups, said Twagilimana.
“The prayer service has helped all of us realize that we are not much different from each other,” he explained. Twagilimana said that at this event he’s seen people hug each other and talk about the problems their relatives are facing in their different countries.
“We recognize that we still have differences, but that they shouldn’t be sources of conflict,” said Twagilimana.
This memorial event, he said, has helped them to focus on what they share — their faith and the belief that they are all sons and daughters of God.
In closing, Archbishop Kurtz reminded those present that the building blocks for the path to peace are found within the family.
It is important to treat one another with dignity; that children treat parents with respect, he noted. He urged his listeners to “pray for the gift to be instruments of peace. We do this through the grace of Jesus Christ.”