First Impressions: On Forgiving the Impossible


June 10, 2018

Dear Diary:

We’ve been anticipating this trip for months now, and spent the last week almost non-stop getting ready to leave – gathering children’s books for the Missionary of Peace school, freezing casseroles for the family to eat while we’re gone, weighing the luggage over and over to be sure we don’t go over. In between, I try to imagine what we’ll find there. After months of working with Father Ubald — questioning him over and over about his experiences, transcribing and shaping his own notes, and reading a dozen books about the history and culture of Rwanda — I am eager to meet the people at the heart of his story: his brother and sister, who also survived the genocide. Sister Donata and the Missionaries of Peace, who have labored alongside him to bring healing to the people. And of course, to meet Straton, the man so recently released from prison, who had taken responsibility for the deaths of Father Ubald’s mother and so many family members.

Try as I might, I cannot imagine what I will say to him. What could I possibly ask, and how could he possibly respond to my questions, in a way that would make sense of the great tragedy: one million Tutsi men, women, and children slaughtered in the space of just 100 days — not through the impersonal detonation of a bomb, but in bloody combat, at the hands of former neighbors and friends?

And how could it possibly be true that this kind of violence could be forgiven? And how could the two sides be so reconciled that they would once more be able to live together in peace? Clearly, there was still much reconciliation still left to do — Father had told me that he continued to receive messages from people who had killed members of his family, who were afraid to speak to him face to face. “Tell them I forgive them,” he always said. “Tell them forgiveness makes you free.”

Try as I might, I cannot imagine it. This, I need to see for myself.

Heidi Hess Saxton is Father Ubald’s editor at Ave Maria Press. His book, Forgiveness Makes You Free will be released in April 2019. You can read more of Heidi’s writing on her blog “Life on the Road Less Traveled.”