JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which will be regularly posted to our blog.   Our weekly newsletter was designed to provide us with an opportunity to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with some of the projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:    Rwanda

Bringing “Families of Peace” into being 

By Robert Lalonde,

Translated and adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

It was in 1995 when the partnership between Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the Montreal Institute of Integration and Formation (IFHIM) was first formed.  Since that time, numerous bursaries have been given to students who have come from countries on every continent.  ACN has supported various other formation projects with pastoral goals.  The following experience is one which merits highlighting.


FAMILLE DE PAIX 3Msgr. Servilien Nzakamwita, the bishop of the Byumba diocese in Rwanda, came to know of the Montreal Institute of Formation and Integration (IFHIM) while assisting in the evaluation of the preceding ten years of commitment by the Ibakwe group (former students of IFHIM in Rwanda).  Profoundly touched by the formative work for peace that these people had accomplished within the country, he expressed his desire to see the benefits he perceived brought forth by means of these initiatives, and the work of the Ibakwe group be provided throughout his diocesan.

After coming to Montreal, where he met with African sisters and priests, as well as the first African missionary to Africa, Jean-Claude Kaburane, a Rwandan, and after having participated in seminars, listening and questions, he decided to integrate a process of humanization in his diocese through which people should be formed.

In 2008, the seed was planted and lay people committed in a variety of milieus, sisters and priests alike, were trained to become ‘bridge builders’.  Then in 2010, a second session would serve to extend the training for people to become a little more solid in order to intercede wherever they were enlisted to help.  Further, in 2011, young people would begin joining in with the adults and people from other religious denominations.


Meeting with 48 couples

After all these experiences, Msgr Nzakamwita, felt concern for families and wished to create ‘families of peace’, people who, above and beyond their differences would come together as people and discover themselves through their own active participation and enter into a lifetime commitment.  So he undertook a process which would support IFHIM to give formations to families which would result in ‘families of peace’.

In July 2012, a caravan of former students from IFHIM, composed of twelve helpful people, with their director Marie-Marcelle Desmarais at the helm as educator, would leave for Byumba to meet with 48 couples, along with two sisters committed to Action for the Family and five priests who had been trained in the sessions and who would eventually become relay contacts in the daily lives of these couples.

“It was of utmost importance to allow these people to discover their vital human strengths in their daily living experiences, for it is from their strengths that they will build love and peace between them and around them,” explained the director, to us.

The couples were then invited to share an experience in which both of them had done something helpful for the other.  They discovered that these initiatives were undertaken in order to treat the other, like a person. And from this understanding, their love for one another was revealed to them.  Before the sheer surprise and joy which began to manifest on the couples faces who dared to speak, it became clear that each one had needed to have these lived experiences.

Afterward, the couples were invited to pair-up, two by two, to uncover the riches in their lives, those which they could invest in. “If you could have seen their faces light-up as they discovered these experiences which they never would have spoken of,” said the educator.  The whole process also allowed them to see how they were able to become aware of the effects of their anger toward their children, which would result in a decision to learn how to manage it in order to truly love them.


 “What kind of medicine have you given them?”

At the end of the session, all wished to share an experience related to their process: “What we have just learned,” said one among them,” truly shapes us.”  My life will never be the same.  I would like to turn my home into an oasis of peace.  I have decided to help my wife and my children, for I was even preventing my children’s peace.”

Six months later, Auréa, the Ibakwe coordinator, who was sure the Byumba couples would become ‘Builders of Bridges for Peace’ and also multipliers in their entourage, communicated with Msgr Nzakamwita.  Here is what he said: “The group continues to meet and to live in solidarity and in dialogue with one another. They have become ambassadors for other couples who have not followed the course.  I even heard one person who holds a position of authority in the country ask what kind of medicine we have given them, because the number of trials dealing with domestic conflicts has decreased.”

A new session took place in August 2013 as a follow-up to the last.  Even though it is not the best time of year to attract massive participation, not only did many couples return, but they were accompanied by many newcomers. The experienced couples said, “As much as the newcomers, those of us who are experienced need to be, and to profoundly become,“builders of bridges of peace,” in order to bring into being “families of peace” in our world torn by all kinds of violence.”

The number of couples continues to grow.  From 50 they have expanded to 86. “The next step,” concludes Sister Marie-Marcelle,” consists in equipping them for their mission as multipliers.” This formation deserves to be supported year after year, especially if we wish to see the number of families who will benefit grow even more and expand across this country, which has suffered so deeply.

Imagine the hope this represents, for this country which, only 20 years ago lived through an unspeakable genocide!


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