Father Rene Laurentin told the FIDES news service that the trial of Bishop Augustin Misago of Ginkongoro, Rwanda, is part of "a campaign against the Catholic Church, to make her appear as the cause of an evil which she sought tin every possible way to prevent and to stop."
Bishop Misago is facing charges of genocide, in connection with the mass killings that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. His trial began on August 20, but has been recessed until September 14 at the request of the defense.
Bishop Misago of Gikongoro was arrested on April 14 in Kigali, a week after Rwanda's President Pasteur Bizimungu accused the bishop of complicity in the 1994 genocide. The president made the accusation during an April 7 memorial celebration marking the 5th anniversary of the genocide. Government circles accuse the bishop of being directly involved in the slaughtering of 150,000 Tutsi in his diocese, and in particular the killing of 30 girl students who were under his protection.
FIDES recently interviewed Father Laurentin, a French theologian who has developed a worldwide reputation as a Marian scholar. Father Laurentin became acquainted with Bishop Misago-- and with the overall situation in Rwanda-- when he was called in for advice about reported Marian apparitions in the town of Kibeho in 1986.
The text of the FIDES interview with Father Laurentin follows:
FIDES: How did you come to meet Bishop Misago?
FATHER LAURENTIN: I first met him in 1986 when I visited Butare, his home diocese, at the invitation of Bishop Gahamanyi, to express my opinion, as a theologian, on the Kibeho apparitions. I was there during the third-last apparition, on November 28 of that year. At the time Misago was rector of Butare's major seminar,y which he directed in perfect harmony with other members of the staff.
Misago is a Hutu and Frederic-- the chairman of the Kibeho enquiry commission-- is a Tutsi. I saw that there was a good relationship between the two and also between the bishops of both ethnic groups. They were supported by the democratic government of those times, which furthered the spread of justice and reconciliation. This enabled them to promote the faith, and peace and reconciliation.
I saw in Bishop Misago a man of intelligence, culture, a good theologian and historian. He was the leading member of the Kibeho inquiry commission. He had written an admirable report, representative of the best African theology. Later, in Zaire, he published a sizeable book on the apparitions. I appreciated Misago above all as man of balance and a lover of peace. He ran the seminary admirably despite the scarcity of means. I was delighted when I heard, in June 1992, that he had been appointed first bishop of the newly established diocese of Gikongoro, in which the Shrine of Kibeho is situated.
FIDES: Then the genocide began. Did you see him change in any way?
FATHER LAURENTIN: During the genocide a thousand people, in flight, took refuge in the church at Kibeho. The building was set on fire and all those who had sought refuge inside the church died. Then a second wave of refugees, less numerous, was massacred on that holy ground-- which had been recognized as a place of worship on August 15, 1988. I admired the lessons Bishop Misago drew from those scandalous and terrifying events: that the most important thing is prayer and work for peace: to seek ever deeper conversion of heart, and to have complete confidence in God and constructive hope.
I met Misago last year. He asked for the meeting. I noted a spiritual growth produced by the deep suffering he had experienced.
FIDES: What do you think about the tragedy of the Rwandan people which began in 1994?
FATHER LAURENTIN: I was horrified to see violence and death take hold in a people whom I had encountered during a period of authentic peace, in which-- slowly but surely-- justice was making headway. The Hutu revolt provoked the hardening of heart among the Tutsis and acts of vengeance against the bishops and against the Catholic Church, which the authorities are trying to blame for the genocide, whereas the Church has always been a promoter of peace. Those who have orchestrated this activity criticize the Church for being subject to Rome, to a foreign power. They say, like all dictatorships, that the Church should be under the state.
FIDES: How do you reckon with the fact the Bishop Misago is to stand trial?
FATHER LAURENTIN: I think it is scandalous from every point of view. A major French lawyer told La Croix that the trial is "a deadly mixture of justice and revenge." I find it preposterous that the President of Rwanda should say Bishop Misago is guilty, before any inquiry or judgment was undertaken, and that, defiant of justice, he should declare: "even if he were proved innocent, I do not want him in the country." Misago is condemned to exile even before the trial.
FIDES: Why is this?
FATHER LAURENTIN: His personality, his qualities, his influence overshadow those in power.
Here is a significant fact. In 1959 Bishop Perraudin [at that time the bishop of Kabgayi: now retired and living in Switzerland] called, unsuccessfully, for social and democratic reforms to proceed despite the privileges accorded to one ethnic group. On April 4, ten days before Misago was arrested, on the occasion of the 60 anniversary of Bishop Perraudin's ordination, Rwandan emigrants in Switzerland staged a demonstration; they accused the elderly bishop of genocide. In Switzerland, as in Rwanda, there is a campaign against the Catholic Church to make her appear as the cause of the evil which she sought in every way possible to prevent and to stop. The same scene was repeated on April 18 against the bishop of Kigali. How can this campaign be stopped?
The document was signed on August 12th by Bishop Joseph Suwatan of Manadao, President, and Bishop Johannes Hadiwikarta of Surabaya, Secretary of the Episcopal conference.
The text, made public by the Vatican news agency, FIDES, states: "We reprimand and strongly warn the political elite, who have failed to behave for the people's good. Certain narrow group interests, and worse, selfish personal interests, should not become the leaders' way of thinking because they harm peace and the just course of social development and the future of our people."
The document, entitled "Moral and political appeal and statement of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference," calls on politicians to serve all the peoples' interests, either in short or long term policies, and to "avoid using the money of the people and of the state to manipulate and support unjust political structures, harmful to the people."
The bishops also demand of government officials, political leaders and business people to give priority to a more humanitarian approach towards the people, particularly to the plight of malnourished children, education for the youth, and assistance for suffering poor people, instead of swindling the peoples' wealth in banking corruption and manipulation of public service offices.
The Church leaders call for attention to the establishment of a rule of law and stressed the importance of the principle of equality of all people before the law. "Stern and consistent implementation of the rule of law should become the commitment of everyone," the text continues. "The nation's leaders should not make unclear statements confusing the people, or worse, tell lies thus impairing the people's confidence and their efforts to live and to strive for upright living."
It is very clear, the bishops point out, that for the progress of the nation the people's sovereignty and basic rights as citizens, openness and togetherness towards achieving the nation's interests, should be the criteria for the political leaders' conduct.
The text also recalls the troubled region of Aceh, riot-torn Ambon and violence-rocked East Timor. The Bishops say they are "deeply concerned" with the recurrent tragedy in the region of Aceh, the northern tip of Sumatra; that loss of life and security and peace must be stopped.
Regarding the situation of East Timor, the Indonesian Bishops summoned the government to bide by its promises whatever the cost and give the suffering people a just opportunity to self-determination in peace. ZE99083105
According to professor Sandro Benedetti, chief architect of the "Fabbrica di San Pietro" (St. Peter's Workshop), the Vatican department in charge of the upkeep of the Basilica, "the restoration of St. Peter's was anything but simple compared to other buildings made of 'travertino.' Even though St. Peter's façade is also made of the typical Roman stone employed in numerous churches in the city, Carlo Maderno -- who designed and built the structure in 1612 -- finished off the façade with a unique coat of color. The difficulty of the restoration process was trying to clean the surface without removing the original paint, which itself is an integral part of the façade."
Mainly because of this factor, the work of restoration was not entrusted to the normal companies who specialize in this field. "It was done first-hand by the personnel of St. Peter's Workshop who carried out the long and laborious work, dedicating as much time as necessary," Benedetti explained.
If all goes according to schedule, the scaffolding should be completely removed from the façade by the end of September.
Contrary to what has appeared recently in the Italian press, Michelangelo had nothing to do with the design and construction of the majestic façade, in fact, he never would have allowed it since it would have hidden his greatest masterpiece, the "cupula" or dome of St. Peter's. The Italian artist died in 1564, three decades before work on the façade even began. ZE99083104
In the aftermath of the controversial ruling, even Governor George Bush is backing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate pregame prayers which has been a tradition in the Lone Star State for as long as football itself.
Some school officials have sought to accommodate acceptable alternatives. In New Braunfels, for example, just outside San Antonio, a moment of silence before the kickoff will substitute a formal prayer. In other places, the students have taken matters into their own hands.
According to the Stephenville "Empire-Tribune," a group of 15 students, led by juniors Joel Allen and Alan Ward, defied the federal court judge's ruling by leading the fans in a voluntary prayer.
"This was not about football, it was about God. We decided to pray for God." Ward said.
In the afternoon before the opening game, the students spoke with school superintendent Dr. Larry Butler and Stephenville High School principal Curtis Rhodes, who informed them that, even though they were sympathetic to their cause, it would be best not to carry out any type of prayer and risk a possible lawsuit.
In order to avoid direct involvement of the school in their "protest", the students obtained a portable speaker system from a local church and were careful not to inform the school's administration of their final plans.
Dr. Butler later said: "I applaud them for doing something that they feel really strongly about. I think the entire community of Stephenville believes in school prayer ... as a private citizen, I feel a lot of the things that have happened at schools around the country, like at Columbine (Littleton, Colo.), is because what has been taken out of the schools. I believe there are a few in authority who are attempting to make decisions for the masses and I don't think that is right. It is debasing the morals that our country was founded upon," Butler told "The Empire-Tribune."
No one really seems to recall what the final outcome of the game was last Friday night at Tarleton's Memorial Stadium, but everyone remembers the moment of silence before the game, and the prayer. ZE99083120
This request for pardon, the Holy Father told a crowd of 8,000 people at the Vatican's Paul VI auditorium, is in line with the directives of the Second Vatican Council. He also repeated his own observation that the quest for reconciliation should be a major theme of the Jubilee Year celebration.
Among the offenses that have been committed in the name of the Church, the Pope spoke first about "the sad reality of division among Christians." Noting that the responsibility for past schisms must be broadly shared, he insisted that the result-- the continuing divisions among the Christian faithful-- constitute "a scandal in the eyes of the world."
Next the Pontiff spoke about the historic "use of methods of intolerance, and even of violence, in the service of the truth." Even if the people who used those methods were motivated by the desire to strengthen the Christian faith, he said, "it was certainly not in line with the Gospel to think that truth can be imposed by force."
Finally, the Pope spoke of "the lack of discernment among some Christians" when they were faced with "situations in which fundamental human rights were being violated." Some of the offense in that category, he said, could include acts of omission or weakness, and indecisive or inappropriate responses to injustice.
The proper recognition of such historical failings, the Pope continued, requires Christians today to see the past in the proper context. The goal of such historical study, he said, is to construct a complete and accurate picture of the past, taking into account the cultural realities of the times in which certain actions occurred. Only when that study is complete, he said, can we assign moral responsibility to the proper individuals. He cautioned strongly against "generalized sentences of absolution of condemnation with respect to certain historical eras," as well as judgments based on "confessional or ideological prejudices."
Pope John Paul insisted that a properly penitential attitude must not be mistaken for "false humility" or for abandonment of the "two- millennium history, which is certainly rich in merits in the works of charity, culture, and holiness." Rather, he said, Christians should take a lesson from history, so that they might offer "a witness that is even more pure," at a time when the Church turns "a new page in her history."