On Saying Goodbye to Father Ubald Rugirangoga

by Ellen Nolan

It’s still hard to believe. As midnight approached on Thursday, January 7th, in the year of Our Lord 2021, in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the United States of America, our beloved, joyful Apostle of Forgiveness, Father Ubald Rugirangoga took his last breath, and passed on to his eternal life. He had contracted Covid-19, the virus responsible for the global pandemic, in late October 2020, and for almost three months endured its most severe consequences while being cared for in an intensive care unit. Thanks to the mercy of God, and unlike so many persons in similar consequences across the world, he was not alone at the end of his life. In addition to what he described as the constant presence of Jesus with him, he also had a dear friend praying the Divine Mercy chaplet at his bedside. 

We can only imagine the brilliance of that moment as he approached the Throne of Grace. Surely there were angels singing, trumpets blaring, and loved ones coming to escort him home. Glory! But there was also deep sadness for everyone on earth who knew and loved him, including those who had only known his beautiful evangelical and healing ministry through social media. Friends and brother priests gathered for a memorial service led by the Most Reverend Bishop Oscar A. Solis of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Fr. Ubald’s body was then returned home, and funeral services in Rwanda were led by the Bishop of the Diocese of Cyangugu, the Reverend Edouard Sinayobye, and the Cardinal for Rwanda, His Eminence Cardinal Antoine Kambanda, of the Archdiocese of Kigali, along with dozens of his Rwandan brother priests. Fr. Ubald is buried at the Center for the Secret of Peace, destined to be a place of pilgrimage.

Together, we find ourselves in the unexpected position of having to say goodbye to our friend and spiritual leader, and to forge a new path for his ministry of forgiveness by taking it on as our own. 

Most of us know his story. As a young Rwandan priest, Father Ubald discovered that the Holy Spirit had given him a charism, which he used in the service of those who came to him for healing of mind and body, and to bring people closer to Jesus. Over many years the tribal tensions and political climate in Rwanda became increasingly volatile, and in 1994 the genocide of nearly one million Rwandans began. Fr. Ubald did what he could to protect his 45,000 parishioners, but to no avail. After their slaughter, he heard God tell him to flee, which he did under the cover of night through the Rwandan bush into Congo. Eventually he found his way to Lourdes, France, and despite his anguished grief from the loss of his friends and parishioners plus 80 members of his own family, he experienced an inner healing of such depth that he felt compassion for the perpetrators. He heard the Lord tell him to pick up his cross, and he realized that he was meant to return home to help his people heal – through the transformative power of forgiveness. This was to become his life’s purpose, and for which he had been spared.

Over the next 26 years he accomplished many steps toward that goal. He established the Mushaka Peace and Reconciliation Program that brought together victims and perpetrators, through forgiveness and reconciliation, to heal each other and thus restore the social fabric of Rwanda. He co-founded the Missionaries of Peace of Christ the King, to promote the spiritual, social and technological welfare of the people of Rwanda and greater Africa. He officiated over Masses in stadiums filled with tens of thousands of believers seeking healing through Jesus Christ. He modeled forgiveness by providing for the care and education of the motherless children of the man who ordered the death of his own mother, a man he had met in prison and forgave in the powerful name of Jesus. Together they demonstrated for others the freedom that comes with forgiveness. The fruit of Fr. Ubald’s ministry is abundant: countless miracles have been attributed to Fr. Ubald’s prayers and obedience to his vocation, and many have been converted to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. 

In 2009 Fr. Ubald traveled to the United States and began a twelve-year ministry that resulted in the development of the Center for the Secret of Peace in Rusizi, Rwanda, a TED talk on Extreme Forgiveness, a documentary called “The Secret of Peace” and the autobiography, Forgiveness Makes You Free, which is, in part, about the five keys to healing, which he included in every healing Mass. Along the way he met and befriended people of every skin color, native language and from every walk of life, united by a love of God and a need for healing.

How do we say goodbye to our dear friend? Hospice, the end-of-life healthcare tradition, teaches the Five Goodbyes. The first four, in no particular order are: Thank you, I love you, I’m sorry, and I forgive you. 

“Thank you”. Most of us have a lot for which to thank Fr. Ubald. Thank you for answering the call to your vocation, thank you for picking up your cross, thank you for showing us what forgiveness looks like. Thank you for showing us the love of God. Thank you for your joy. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your prayers. 

“I love you”. Fr. Ubald was easy to love. He was joyful and that is attractive. Part of his charism was his own capacity to love first. Sounds a lot like God! It felt good to be with him. He would raise his hands in greeting and with his booming voice cry out “Hello!” and often, “let us make joy!” Although he was very serious about his priestly vocation and his ministry, he was also equally ready to celebrate the daily pleasures of life such as shared meals, shared hopes and ideas, outdoor activities, and especially Jesus.

“I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”. These goodbyes are the essence of Fr. Ubald’s ministry. He taught that forgiveness was not only required of us by God, but its own path to liberation and joy. It’s hard to imagine having to forgive him for anything. It’s easier to regret not having given him more time and support during his lifetime. But as with Jesus, the Divine Mercy, if we expect judgment, we get instead mercy. Fr. Ubald said, “be merciful, as the Lord is merciful”.

The last goodbye is: “Until we meet again”.  As Christians we have reason for hope. Death does not get the last word. Jesus is Risen, and we are assured of eternal life with Him. Grief counselors teach that the final task of grieving is to reinvest the love and energy once given to the relationship with the lost loved one. Foundations are created in this spirit. As friends of Fr. Ubald, we already have the Center for the Secret of Peace and its mission. We can continue to support the ministry financially and by continuing to live out his message of forgiveness and reconciliation, and to share our testimonies of healing with others. As Catholics we believe in the communion of saints: the spiritual union of Christians, living and dead. Therefore, we can ask our friend Fr. Ubald to intercede for us in the following prayer:

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for Your servant and priest Father Ubald Rugirangoga, whose life and ministry manifested the miraculous power of Your Divine Mercy. Facing unspeakable pain and sufferings, he entrusted himself to You through intense prayer and total surrender. In Your infinite goodness, You sent Father Ubald to his beloved Rwanda and to the world as a joyful apostle of peace and reconciliation, preaching forgiveness and healing in the name of Jesus. His testimony, fueled by his love for the Eucharistic Presence and his filial devotion to the Blessed Mother, brought a multitude of souls to the Church and to a living and loving relationship with You in the Holy Spirit.

If it be Your will, O God, glorify Your servant Father Ubald and make known his holiness by granting the favor I now ask through his prayerful intercession: (Mention your request.) 

To report any spiritual or physical favors granted through Father Ubald Rugirangoga’s intercession, please visit https://frubald.com

We have reason to believe our dear Fr. Ubald is already quite busy interceding on our behalf, and with Our Father in Heaven. Just send your prayers directly to him! We hope that someday we shall indeed meet again, joined at last and for eternity with the angels in a heavenly chorus of praise for our Creator.Father Ubald+, Pray for Us!!