A major motivation for heading to Rwanda was the One Book Villanova program, which urges everyone on campus to read the same book and participate in discussions. The book for the 2007-08 academic year was Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza. Subtitled Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, it chronicles Ilibagiza's horrifying experience during the killings and her subsequent discovery of the power of forgiveness. As part of the program, Ilibagiza gave a lecture on campus in January 2008.
"I was so impressed with her ability to forgive, to move on—not to forget, but to get to the place where she is at peace with herself," says trip participant Tom Mogan, director of student development, who was co-chair of the One Book program.
"After being there, I am even more impressed with her story, how she was able to find the strength to forgive the killers of her family," he says.
Rwanda is not like Germany and Eastern Europe after the Holocaust of World War II, where few victims survived and most who did, then left.
"Fourteen years later, the specter of genocide is still alive, the country is still in trauma, still grieving," says Horner. "It is trying to move forward, but there is no model to follow. The perpetrators are still amongst them."
Frances Keen, assistant dean and director of the undergraduate program at Villanova's school of nursing, says this is hard to imagine until you see it.
"If that had happened to me—if I knew that the man down the street had killed my parents—I would just move away," she says. "But they don't have that opportunity. This is the land they have, where their house is, their livelihood. So they are forced by their economic situation in many ways to find a way to deal with this."
The Villanova delegation visited both a Gacaca court—dealing with more minor crimes perpetrated during the genocide and using the community as the jury—and a CRS-sponsored workshop where Rwandans learn how to teach principles of reconciliation.
"In that room there were the widows of men who had been killed in the genocide and of those who committed genocide," Toton says of the workshop. "There were survivors and released prisoners. There were diocesan leaders. There were all these people who had come together—first of all—to work with one another on forgiving and rebuilding relationships and restoring community, and then to train others.
"Here were these people in the same room—which in my mind was just unimaginable, to bring them all together—now praying and singing and committing themselves, for the sake of their children, to building a different future," she says. "For me, this is the Church, this vision of justice and mercy and compassion and dignity that was very palpable in that room."