“Risen From The Ashes: Theology as Autobiography in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” by Marcel Uwineza, SJ

Life is a beautiful mystery and so is the story of Marcel Uwineza. “Risen From The Ashes,” is a book by Rev Fr Dr. Marcel Uwineza, SJ, a native of Rwanda and the principal of Hekima University College. The book details and kneads together the horrors of the Rwanda Genocide in 1994 from the eye of a survivor. It is the answer to your faith struggles from the mouth of a wandering paynim who found Jesus on a dark and lonely path.

The book opens a path of reflection into the past misgivings of a people, a young nation, dogged by hate and failing humanity to learn that forgiveness warms the heart and cools the sting.

The book is divided into nine chapters beginning with the story of a young Marcel and his doting love for his parents: Chrisostome Hitayezu (father) and Louise Nyinawingeri (mother). Just like any other family, the early childhood days of Marcel is full of love and wonder. However, at the age of 12 years, the sting of life begins to tear into this young boy’s reality as his father is killed in a bomb in Kigali in 1990. His story of strength and grace, of pain and blood starts from here in the village of Kinihira.

The narrator’s, Marcel, vivid description of his life is interesting and his writing style is easy to follow. He takes the subject of hope and forgiveness. A reader is taken through a glance at the realities of pre and post-colonial Rwanda, the genocide and a nation picking up from the rubble. Marcel narrates the story of his life from rejection to join the minor seminary of Kabgayi, to joining the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and finally to addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2019. Such is the spirit of this faithful man, whose life story so far, if reenacted into a movie could win an Oscar. Not for his achievements amid the stumbling blocks of life but for the testimony it bears that in life, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

He writes, “My exposition of my ashes and testimony that have sprung from them are not meant to engender pity for me. Rather, this book seeks to assist the reader, indeed, humanity to understand, at least in part, why we are who we are and how various conditions and circumstances influence the choices we make.”

The common theme that emanates from all the chapters in the book is hope. Hope in the face of adversity and the belief in the unending Grace of God. He sums it up beautifully in this statement; “it is not God who failed during the genocide; it is humanity.”

He weaves the delicate and troubled history of his life surviving the genocide with a detailed retrospect like it happened yesterday. Paragraph by paragraph, his words paint a picture in black and white of what his walk from the jaws of death may have felt like. Moving from one hideout to the next, being shielded from cold in his grandmother’s thighs and the sheer strength that his mother, with a failing health, endured this emotional agony of losing children and him losing siblings and relatives in their quest for safety.

In this poignant story of survival, striving and hope, much like Daniel in the lion’s den, the beauty of humanity also emerges. At the height of the genocide and while escaping the murderers, Marcel and his family, after a priest denies them sanctuary at a Church hall and then decides to lock himself in the rectory, receive help from the most unexpected of sources. A Joseph Kabera hides them in his beehive compound among other worthy individuals. This story in Chapter Three, ‘The Mountain: Surviving the Genocide’ is akin to the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 10:25-37). With ease, he draws you to understand the intricate web of lies, hatred, dirty politics, nepotism and subterfuge, evils that are still present in the world today that led to the genocide in Rwanda.

As a reader, you experience the journey with him, from Kinihira-their village in Ruhango District, through the towns of Rwabusoro and Ruhuha, and finally to Kigali, which feels like a promised land. His words speak to your fears. They draw your inner resilience and give you that necessary push, the strength to climb that mountain of doubt and uncertainties in your life.

“Risen From The Ashes,” is theology expressed in an autobiographical language. It is an authentic tell all about the struggles of every vocation and how choices indeed influence our circumstances. It not only delves into the truths we are called to believe but also grants us insight and direction into how best we can live our lives, true to our different calling in life.

It is theology in everyday life. It answers the question of how practical can theology be in our everyday life while considering the doctrines of the perspicuity of scriptures and divine providence.

By Paschal Norbert