Encounters with conflict and peace

Too much to believe

The militia have been killing all week. Brother Otto looks out the window of his room at St Paul's Church and sees that the pile of bodies has been getting bigger and bigger.

The other day prisoners in pink uniform came and picked up a huge load of corpses. But they will have to come again. Somebody said they come every three days. He hopes so. It is too much to believe, this mound of corpses. The smell from the bodies is bad. It covers everything these days. Brother Otto has seen things that no training could have prepared him for. "The brutality, the brutality of these young thugs. They think they can solve their problems by killing the other ethnic group."

We were overwhelmed

A madness at work

But it's not just the youngsters. The army are much worse. The other day he saw soldiers throwing stones at the children to rouse them into killing. Some of them did not want to kill but the army forced them to take part. Everybody must have blood on their hands. Then no one person can be blamed.
Nyarutovu kids
The German brother has worked here for years. He thought he knew these people. What did he know?
'There is a madness at work. They kill and then steal everything. They want to be like the rich, like the government people. Kill the head of the household and take what he owns.'

The killing goes on and on. Otto has been wounded now and he cannot stay at St Paul's. There is shrapnel in his arm. But if he leaves what will happen to the Tutsi orphans who are hiding in the house? His friend Brother Henri has been holding the militia off for days.

Henri is small but a tough man. He faces up to them and says, 'Kill me but leave the children alone. ' So far they have not taken him up on the offer. But if they wanted to, the Interahamwe could come in and kill all of them. If they leave, the orphans will die; if they do not, Otto may not survive. The children know this and they start to become very frightened.

Leaving the children

Nyarutovu kids
The brothers decide that they must leave. Otto's wound is getting worse and the fighting is intensifying. Inside, Otto is churning up. He wonders how he ended up in this situation. He had come to Africa because he believed in the power of God's word. But where was the good here? What a world where children are hiding because death is edging closer and closer to them.

Henri talks to the children and prays with them. They know what is coming and so they ask a favour. 'Brother, please lock us in the room. If you lock us in here, they will not find us. Please lock us in.'

It is as if the children understand that there is no choice. All choices have been removed.

And so looking at their faces for the last time, Henri closes the door and locks them in. There is no food to give them. The supplies have run out. Henri and Otto leave. They leave the children. Now, as he is telling me the story, Henri starts to weep. He places his hand underneath his glasses and rubs his eyes, but he cannot stop crying. Henri is looking into the wide frightened eyes of the orphans. He is hearing their voices as he walks down the corridor away from the room. Beside him Otto sits with a look in his eyes that begs my understanding.

We were overwhelmed

Ntarama broken wall
'We were overwhelmed, you see. We were overwhelmed by this great evil, by these acts of wickedness,' he says.

Henri then speaks: 'Somebody said to me that when they got out of Rwanda they would be insane. As for me... I am left with lifelong questions. What did I do that I should not have done? What did I not do that I should have done?'

I take Brother Henri's hand and try to comfort him. These brothers feel a terrible guilt, but they are good men. Overwhelmed. Yes, that is the word for what has happened to them. Overwhelmed.

On 14 June, a week after the rescue of the brothers, the militia murdered fifty men and boys who had been seized from the church.

SOURCE  This is an excerpt from Season of Blood. A Rwandan Journey, by Fergal Keane
Photos by Dave Fullerton

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