Bishop John Rucyahana, of Rwanda, has lived through unspeakable horrors, including the genocide of his people and the butchering of members of his own family and church.
But on Wednesday, the message Rucyahana shared with a group of Aspen High School students was one of hope.
“I get overjoyed talking to students. I feel the warmth and hope, and I feel like investing every bit of information in you because you are going to make this global village a better place for all people,” said Rucyahana, who was in Aspen speaking to the high school’s Africa in Action club and other social-studies students. “You have the greatest opportunity in history to make it a better world.”
Toward that end – and after sharing some history on his country’s slide into genocide and recent reconciliation efforts – Rucyahana asked the students assembled to think about how their choices and actions impact their communities.
“You have to invest in making America better,” he said. “You have such beauty here; you have so much. We do not have all of this.”
But still, his people are happy, Rucyahana said. He is happy choosing not to become part of his country’s systemic hatred but rather an instrument of change. Among other things, the Anglican bishop founded the Sonrise orphanage and school for children orphaned in the genocide, and he now leads reconciliationefforts between his own Tutsi people, the victims of the massacre, and the perpetrators, the Hutus.
“We have made horrors, and we have made mistakes, and now we want to face our mistakes,” he said. “We can no longer afford to blame others. We must build a nation out of the brokenness. We cannot afford to fail.”
Rucyahana pondered aloud whether the same could be said in the United States. If not, why? He asked the students to reflect on how they can effect change. And he invited them to his country – which has come so far since its low points in the mid-1990s – to see and experience the differences.
“People in America do not understand this. They wonder where do we get such joy, such hospitality, such an open relationship,” Rucyahana said. “You must come and see and experience, and when you return home, you are different.”