Catholic Relief Services in Rwanda
No one who attended this additional One Book Villanova program on February 6 and heard Nathalie Piraino’s personal memories of the horror of the Rwandan genocide could avoid being touched by her story. Attendees had the special opportunity to hear and meet Nathalie, a Rwandan who is now the Catholic Relief Services country representative to that nation, and Dave Piraino, her husband, who is the CRS executive vice president of Human Resources.
Dave explained the role of CRS in the world and how it has evolved. The Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States created CRS in 1943 to feed the hungry. In the 1960s and 1970s, CRS saw its mission as both to provide food and to address the root causes of hunger. Following the genocide in Rwanda, however, CRS developed a new vision: while continuing to facilitate social and economic development, CRS now seeks to advance the idea of the solidarity of all people, build relationships, further peace and justice and promote the sanctity of life. CRS goes to a country only at the invitation of its bishops. Catholic schools and health centers are used as sites to launch CRS’s services.
In 1994, in a period of 90 days, approximately one million Rwandan citizens, mainly from the Tutsi ethnic group, were killed in Rwanda by their fellow Hutu citizens. This unforeseen event was not the result of overt ethnic tension. Rather, this horror happened in a country with one language and one culture. The people had been living seemingly in harmony with the other ethnic group. Many Tutsis and Hutus had intermarried. The cause of the genocide was a message of hate expounded by a few politicians who exploited fractures in society that were remnants of a legacy of colonialism.
Especially poignant was Nathalie’s description of the murders of her mother and other close relatives. Over one hundred of her Tutsi relatives were murdered by Hutus between April 10 and 18, 1994, all killed by people who knew them as neighbors, friends or coworkers. Nathalie still does not understand why this happened.
What is also astonishing is that the rest of the world did nothing. The United Nations, the United States and other countries decided they had no compelling interest in Rwanda.
The killers, meanwhile, had been brainwashed or coerced into killing, according to Nathalie. Some have confessed their actions and have been forgiven. Others have never admitted guilt. A number are on the run in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, where the genocide continues.
The people of Rwanda are still hurting. It is a country desperately in need of further reconciliation.
Visitors to Rwanda can tour sites in the country where people were killed in great numbers, generally at churches and schools. Given this tragic history, it would be easy to be angry and distrustful. Nathalie asked that we all take an active interest in our world: "Speak out against injustice. Adopt or sponsor a child somewhere. Treasure our families. Do something for somebody else every day."
Villanova University and CRS have a formal partnership dating from 2005 that focuses on advocacy, research and service. Villanova students are invited to explore the possibility of internships or employment opportunities with CRS.
Falvey Memorial Library hosted this event as part of its continuing support of the University’s One Book celebrations.
Earlier, One Book author Immaculee Ilibagiza signed copies of her book, Left to Tell, in the first floor lounge.
The atmosphere inside the Library suggested the Rwandan experience, with help from graphic artists Chris Barr and Joanne Quinn who created colorful posters, placed books on display, and mounted maps and textiles on the walls and ceilings.
University Librarian Joe Lucia, a charter member of the One Book effort, serves on the executive committee.
Contributed by Dennis Lambert; top photograph by Natalie Tomasco, lower photograph by Taryn Kay