Love is a Weapon that Destroys All Evil

November 07, 2011
By Catherine Larson

If you happened to be on CNN's homepage today, you got a glimps of a photo essay by the very talented celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, who traveled to Rwanda this summer with filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson to photograph some of the faces of forgiveness and reconciliation. Among these faces, you will see John and Chantal, whose stories are told in both the film and in my book. I also spotted a few backdrops I recognized as well as a few other people who I interviewed for the book, but whose stories did not get included. You can check out the moving photo essay here and Jeremy's own thoughts on the radical power of forgiveness in this article also posted on CNN today.

As We Forgive Goes to Italy

May 19, 2011
By Catherine Larson

Well, my husband and I, and our 14-month old son are off to Italy where I'll be speaking about forgiveness and reconciliation at a conference on war. The eStoria Conference will take place in Gorizia, Italy, site of much blood-shed during both World Wars. I'll be speaking with several other experts on a panel about conflicts in East Africa. I'm eager to share the message of hope that I've encountered first-hand through the stories I shared in As We Forgive.

Rid of My Disgrace

January 22, 2011
By Catherine Larson

When it comes to the topic of sexual assault, there’s a shortage of trustworthy material on the market, especially from a Christian perspective. That’s one reason I was so encouraged to hear that Justin Holcomb, a pastor and founder of Mosaic has released a new title on the subject. It’s called Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault. I can’t think of someone whose experience could have more sensitively prepared him to deal with such a subject. I avidly followed Justin’s posts about his annual trips to minister and train pastors in Sudan. He and his wife Lindsey bring sensitivity and insight to a very difficult subject. Here’s what others are saying about the book.

It Happened in Italy

January 28, 2010
By Catherine Larson

You are probably familiar with the film Schindler's List, but the name Giovanni Palatucci is one you've probably never heard. Read more about this amazing story in a recent BreakPoint that I researched and contributed to:

In evil times, the choice to defend life can come at a high price. But it is always worth paying.

In 2005, the United Nations designated January 27 as an annual day of commemoration for the victims of the Nazi regime. They chose the 27th because on this day in 1945, the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz. Most know the grim tales of what happened in Nazi death camps only too well—six million Jews killed, the gas chambers, the crematoriums, forced labor.

But while the horrors of concentration camps in Nazi Germany may be familiar, what happened to Jews in concentration camps at the same time in Mussolini’s Italy is not.

For Elizabeth Bettina, the story also would have been unknown had it not been for one intriguing photograph of her grandparents’ wedding in the early ‘40s in the tiny village of Campagna, Italy. There in the photo of her Catholic grandparents amidst a priest, some police officers, and other smiling wedding guests, stood an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi.

Bettina couldn’t stop wondering about it. How could it be that a rabbi would be standing near smiling people, including police officers, during World War II in Mussolini’s Italy? That photo launched her on a journey that would be life changing, which she recounts in her new book, It Happened in Italy.

Bettina soon learned that one of several Italian concentration camps was located in Campagna. But this concentration camp was so different to those of Nazi Germany that the resemblance stopped at the name.

In her book, Bettina interviews several survivors. They each say they were treated humanely in the Italian camps. They were well-fed and well-dressed. In Campagna, for instance, they were free to come and go, so long as they were present for roll call in the morning and in the evening when the doors of the camp closed.

When Italy surrendered to the Allies, the Germans acted quickly to deport Italian Jews to death camps in Germany. But many Italians rose up to protect the Jews from that horrible fate.

In fact, one man, an Italian police official, Giovanni Palatucci—known as the Italian Schindler—played a major role in saving thousands of Jews. When the Germans tried to deport the Jews in Italy, Palatucci hid the list of names from the Nazis. He supplied false documents to help many leave Italy, and others he hid with his uncle, a bishop.

When the Nazis figured out what Palatucci had done, they sent him to Dachau, where on February 10, 1945, he died the death he had saved so many Jews from. “Greater love hath no man than this...” Israel has acknowledged Palatucci as one the “Righteous among the Nations” for his deeds.

Bettina writes, “This story of goodness in a time of evil must be told.” She’s right. It Happened in Italy is a great reminder that the kind of evil we saw happen in Nazi Germany only happens when individuals participate, or choose to turn a blind eye.

What happened in Italy, however, reminds us that in evil times, those who serve the cause of life can write a different kind of story. If the phrase “Never again” is to be true, that’s a lesson each of us needs to learn and re-learn.

God's Tattoo Parlor

November 19, 2009
By Catherine Larson

When I first began researching for As We Forgive, I was simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by some photographs of Rwandan survivors whose bodies were marked by jagged machete scars.

As I wrote in the book, the scars came to symbolize for me both our incredible capacity for evil, and God’s amazing ability to heal unthinkably deep wounds. Scars came to represent to me a seam in the fabric of time. On the one hand, a scar will always symbolize the past—the wrongs, or wounds, or sufferings done to us. But on the other hand, they represent God’s ongoing miraculous healing in our present. The fact that they are no longer gaping wounds, but fused back into a new kind of wholeness is itself astonishing.

It forced me also to think about the scars of Jesus. Unlike the survivors I met in Rwanda, Jesus did not miraculously survive the wounds inflicted upon Him at the crucifixion. We know from God’s Word, and from the familiar words of our creed, that He died, was buried, and was resurrected. After the resurrection, He appeared to His disciples. And when Thomas famously doubted whether or not he was really seeing his Savior, Jesus told him to put his fingers into His scars.

For some reason, God, who had the power to heal every wound, to create things totally anew, left Jesus with the scars of His crucifixion in His resurrection body. This is a great mystery. I wonder if we will touch and see these scars when Christ comes again for us. If we ever get to hold the hand of Christ, I know these scars will speak to our souls of the depths and the riches of God’s gracious love toward us. (To continue reading, click here).

The Blog Tour Continues

May 04, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Dan Cruver over at Together for Adoption interviews me today about As We Forgive. Here's a little from their website about what Together for Adoption stands for:

Together for Adoption (T4A) sponsors adoption conferences that focus primarily on vertical adoption (i.e., God adopting us in Christ), with a secondary focus on its implications for orphan care and horizontal adoption (i.e., couples adopting children).  In fulfillment of our objectives, we desire to see conference attendees walk away from a T4A event:

  • understanding why it is that vertical adoption is the highest blessing of the gospel
  • rejoicing afresh in the gospel
  • moved to act on James 1:27 both locally and globally

This week's interviews will mostly focus on the two stories I tell in As We Forgive which particularly focus on the lives of Rwanda's genocide orphans.

Also, today, Jordan Ballor of the Acton Insitute mentions As We Forgive in his discussion of restorative justice over at Touchstone's Mere Comments.

Faithful Reader "Highly Recommends" As We Forgive

April 06, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Marcia Ford at The Faithful Reader reviews As We Forgive:

Few stories of cultural transformation are as compelling as the story of Rwanda's ongoing recovery from the unthinkable brutality the country suffered in the spring of 1994. As the 15th anniversary of the horrific genocide approaches in April 2009, a number of books, films and documentaries are being released not only to remind people of the horror but also to show them the remarkable progress toward reconciliation and healing that the country is experiencing today.

That progress is nothing short of a miracle --- not by the trite use of the word "miracle" that has been cheapened by overuse and misapplication, but miracle in the purest sense: a change brought about by divine intervention in human affairs.

Continue reading "Faithful Reader "Highly Recommends" As We Forgive" »

World Magazine Reviews As We Forgive

March 27, 2009
By Catherine Larson

I'm very thankful for the string of positive reviews As We Forgive has been getting. Here's another from the latest edition of World Magazine. This is by Susan Olasky:

As We Forgive | Catherine Claire Larson
Catherine Claire Larson traveled to Rwanda to learn about the forgiveness journeys of both victims and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. She tells the victims' brutal stories of murder, rape, and betrayal, and also tells the murderers' stories of joining the killing madness and (in some cases) becoming weighed down by guilt and shame. Larson describes face-to-face meetings between the guilty and the innocent, and how repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation occurred. She sensitively conveys her subjects' stories and pulls from them lessons about forgiveness that all of us must learn.

Part Four of Six Part Interview with Author Mary DeMuth on As We Forgive

March 23, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Today, part four of the six week interview with Mary DeMuth appeared on her blog, My Family Secrets. The discussion today centered around the eight stages of genocide and the similarities we see in the downward spiral in interpersonal relationships. Here's an excerpt:

1. On page 226, you describe the 8 stages of genocide. What are they?
The International Campaign to End Genocide has identified eight stages of genocide: (1) classification, (2) symbolization, (3) dehumanization, (4) organization, (5) polarization, (6) preparation, (7) extermination, and (8) denial.
Classification involves an us-versus-them mentality. In genocide, these categories develop along racial, ethnic, or religious lines. Such differences may be symbolized in the culture negatively. This may take the form of a literal symbol, such as in Nazi Germany where the Star of David was used to target Jews. Many times a symbol will also be dehumanizing, as in the use of the word “cockroaches” to describe Tutsi in Rwanda.  As the differences between groups are negatively characterized and classified, dehumanization increases as does further polarization between the groups.

2. How do some dysfunctional childhood families emulate some of those stages?
On a much less extreme scale, it is interesting to note the similarities between the downward spiral of genocide and what psychologist John Gottman has labeled the four most likely predictors of divorce: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Differences are classified and verbalized with absolute statements such as “You never” or “You always.” Spouses become polarized. Contempt for the other solidifies.  Contempt—an intense feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior, base, or worthless—is only a step away from dehumanization. The result is that some spouses may stonewall or deaden their feelings toward each. They have closed out the other—a psychological exterminating of the other’s presence. Of course, severely dysfunction families may actually use physical violence as well.

It's interesting how physical or emotional abuse often follows similar patterns of separation and dehumanization before moving to more intense forms of physical or emotional harm. Seeing another person in light of our shared humanity, as another human made in the image of God, can alternatively enable us to treat the other with respect and dignity. For  the full interview, check here.

Novelist Calls As We Forgive Life-changing

February 23, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Novelist Mary DeMuth just posted a fantastic review of As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda  over at Relevant Blog. Check it out:

As We Forgive by Catherine Claire Larson is one of those life-changing books that will linger with you the rest of your life. It’s not for the fainthearted. It’s not for the hard-hearted or those bent toward stubborn unforgiveness. It’s primarily a story of hope.

During 100 days of 1994 800,000 people were brutally murdered in Rwanda—a genocide swifter in execution than Nazi gas chambers. Imagine Denver and Colorado Springs—every man, woman and child—suddenly gone from our population and you’ll appreciate the scope of the horror. (And go look on a map of Africa. Trace your finger due South of Uganda, due West of the Congo and you’ll appreciate how little this country is.)

As We Forgive shares the stories of genocide survivors, recounting the unspeakable. But it does not stop there. Larson pulls back the curtain of the most ostentatious acts of forgiveness I’ve witnessed, where genocide survivors choose to forgive those who perpetrated such violence.

Together, through reconciliation practices and restorative justice, they are rebuilding their country from the ruins of hatred—all on the back of the One who still bears the scars for our sins today.

I came away from this book changed, deeply moved, and inspired. Having seen the power of God to help people forgive the seeming unforgiveable, it gave me hope that my own wrestling with forgiveness would end in hope. I also appreciated that none of the forgiveness modeled was simple or easy or quickly won, nor does the book purport that reconciliation is merely forgiveness while forgetting. For true restoration to occur, the person perpetrating the atrocity must first fully own his/her own sin and grieve it as such. And for the person who was sinned against to heal, he/she must revisit the place of grief in order to heal.

All this dovetails beautifully into the message God’s been birthing in me—to help people who suffer silently to tell the truth about their pasts, to choose the difficult path of forgiveness, in order to heal.

If God can reach into a genocide victim’s heart and offer peace; if He can transform a murderer into a productive member of a reconciled society; then surely He can transform your pain today. That’s the patent hope this book gives. It’s a gift to all of us. And I pray it’s a gift all open.

DeMuth's latest novel, Daisy Chain hits stores in March. In it she explores the suffocating power of family secrets in a novel that some are comparing to To Kill a Mockingbird  and Peace Like a River. DeMuth's Family Secrets blog is seeking to help others who have struggled with a secret that has a death grip on their lives. Obviously there's a clear connection to the secrets which plague us and a need to forgive ourselves, others, or confess the guilt we carry.

As We Forgive on the Road

February 16, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making interviewed Emmanuel Katongole, the co-director of Duke’s Center for Reconciliation and me at last week’s National Pastors Convention in San Diego. Later that day, after a screening of the documentary film, As We Forgive, director Laura Waters Hinson and World Relief President, Don Golden joined Crouch, Katongole and me for another panel discussion.

Catherine with Andy Crouch and Emmanuel Katongole I really appreciated the deep questions Emmanuel Katongole raised during both interviews. He is a deep thinker and it is evident that raising the tough questions is part of his forte.

I read Katongole’s deeply engaging Mirror to the Church on the plane ride home. I highly recommend it. In it, he pushes the reader to face facts squarely and to realize that the reason that many Christians in Rwanda failed to protect their fellow man in the 1994 genocide was that the stories of their culture had a deeper grip on them the reality of their faith. Katongole raises this reality up like a mirror to the West. He asks us to consider what stories in the West have a deeper grip on us? Where in our experience, he asks, does the blood of tribalism run deeper than the waters of baptism? If you think of tribalism not in its common association, but in almost a metaphorical sense, you begin to see how profound his question is.

It was also a great pleasure to meet Andy Crouch. His encouragement concerning my book meant so much to me. He shared in front of the convention crowd that the book brought him to tears as he read it in Starbucks. And he shared with me privately how much he appreciated the artistry of the book. That was rich encouragement to someone who has labored long and hard in the crafting of this book. If you haven’t read, Andy’s Culture Making it is an absolute must-read. It recently won top honors in Christianity Today’s 2009 book awards, along with another book by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice called Reconciling All Things.

Speaking of encouragement, my interview the week before last with New Testament professor Reggie Kidd over at Common Grounds Online certainly buoyed my spirits. Here’s just a snippet from that interview. Reggie Kidd writes, “When I pick up an ‘issues’ book, I don’t have high literary expectations for it. Because I know you and your love for words I wasn’t terribly surprised, but I was nonetheless delighted, at the lyrical hand you brought to this work. Page after page of my copy is marked with phrases I simply wanted to hold onto ...” You can read the rest of the interview here.

Earlier that week Tim McConnell also reviewed As We Forgive. He writes: “What struck me in reading was the fundamental truth that forgiveness is unnatural; forgiveness cannot naturally follow what these victims endured.  It is not natural for a girl who has been mauled, raped, and left for dead to grow to offer forgiveness to her terrorizers.  It is not natural for a boy who watched his father and family killed by neighbors he knew to turn to them with grace and favor.  Forgiveness is an intervention.  It is some sort of divine intervention that must enter from another plane of existence.” You can read the rest of this review here.

Excerpt from As We Forgive

February 02, 2009
By Catherine Larson


Secrets of the Umuvumu's Scars

The gash across the face of Emmanuel Mahuro, a seventeen year-old Rwandan native, is no longer an open wound. Today, like a jagged boundary line on a map, a scar juts down the plateau of his forehead, across the bridge of his nose, and up the slope of his right cheek. It is impossible to look into Emmanuel’s eyes without seeing this deep cut, a mark of division etched across his face — and the face of Rwanda — fifteen years after the genocide.

My first reaction to such scars is to avert my eyes. But to look away from Emmanuel’s scars is to look away from him. Strangely, as my eyes adjust to Emmanuel’s face, there is an impulse, not to recoil, but to follow the line of the scar across his skin. Emmanuel’s scar testifies to two realities. It is a witness to the human capacity for evil. To look at it is to hear it scream the brutality of an April that aches in the memory of an entire people. Yet his scar testifies to another truth: the stunning capacity of humans to heal from the unthinkable. To trace that scar is to discover the hope of a people who, despite losing everything, are finding a way to forge a common future for Rwanda.

Rwanda’s wounds, like Emmanuel’s, are agonizingly deep. Today, they are being opened afresh as tens of thousands of killers are released from prison to return to the hills where they hunted down and killed former neighbors, friends, and classmates. In the everyday business of life — purchasing corrugated metal for roofing, burying bananas in the ground to make urwagwa, and hauling harvested sorghum to the market — survivors commonly meet the eyes of people who shattered their former lives. How can they live together? This is not a philosophical question, but a practical one that confronts Rwandans daily.

Continue reading "Excerpt from As We Forgive" »

As We Forgive Released Today!

February 01, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Today is the official release date of the book! It's a joy and relief to finally be to this point. In the next few days, I'll be posting some excerpts from the introduction and first chapter. But for tonight, I just want to say thanks to all the people who have helped make this book a reality; my family, friends, colleagues, church community, and the community at large. I also want to thank the people who had both the courage and the hope to share their stories with me. Their hope has given me hope. Their faith has challenged and stretched my faith.

If you're looking for the book, you can find it on Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Nobles, Books-A-Million, and several more. Once you've read it, I'd love to hear from you here on the blog at And I'd love for you to post a review on Amazon! Thanks so much. 

Book Buzz

December 09, 2008
By Catherine Larson

Here are a few of the endorsements, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda has already received:

In compelling stories and thoughtful reflections, Catherine Claire Larson gives us glimpses of the powerful transformation taking place in Rwanda today. Reconciliation can indeed follow unspeakable evil; forgiveness is the key.
       Daniel W. Van Ness | Executive Director
       Centre for Justice and Reconciliation

Those who fear the breadth of America's left-right gap should see how radical forgiveness is healing Rwanda's far, far greater divide.  Catherine Claire Larson realistically reports both scars and grace.
       Marvin Olasky
       Editor-in-chief, World
       Provost, The KIng's College

Catherine Claire Larson is a bright, talented writer who has given us one of the most moving tales of reconciliation in one of the most difficult places in the world.  This is a book I can wholeheartedly endorse.  Read this.  It will strengthen your faith.
       Chuck Colson
       Founder, Prison Fellowship

I had trouble reading Catherine Claire Larson’s book—As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda, because of the lump in my throat and the flood of tears that made it difficult to focus. These stories of forgiveness in the wake of the Rwandan genocide are miracles of the highest order.  Catherine does not just tell the story but she does so with a deft literary touch that actually does justice to the extraordinary stories. Like me, the reader may find their vision blurred from tears, but please persevere and discover what true forgiveness really looks like.
       Frank A. James III
       President, Reformed Theological Seminary/Orlando

Ignore the doubters, skeptics, and experts about Rwanda and reconciliation after the 1994 genocide. Catherine Claire Larson has witnessed the same thing that I and a handful of other Westerners have, which is that everyday Rwandans who take the risk of biblical forgiveness soon experience new joy beyond human understanding. This book chronicles the miracle of forgiveness in a distinctive, evocative, and potent way.
       Tim Morgan
       Christianity Today

A painful and beautiful story.  I now see that sin is worse, and the cross of Christ greater, than I had ever imagined.  In fact, the cross is our only hope of resurrection.
       Kelly Monroe Kullburg
       Founder, Veritas Forum


November 30, 2008
By Catherine Larson

Perhaps you’re here because you’ve heard about a strange trend in Rwanda of survivors forgiving the people who killed their family members.

Perhaps you’re here because you are researching Rwanda’s genocide and you’re curious to learn about what’s happening today in this small African nation.

Perhaps you’re here because you’ve already been a part of the support team that has helped make my journey, investigation, and now the book possible.

Or perhaps you’re here because you’ve heard about the forthcoming book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda, or the film that inspired the book and you want to know more.

However, you stumbled upon this site, I want to welcome you to the website/blog for the book As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda by Catherine Claire Larson. 

Explore the tabs to find out more about the book, about me, about upcoming speaking engagements, and about the film that inspired my journey to Rwanda. Click here to read the introduction as well as the first chapter of my book. Click here to pre-order your copy, to be released February 1st from Zondervan publishers.

And check back, in the coming weeks and months I hope to share thoughts here on all things relating to forgiveness, reconciliation, Rwanda, restorative justice and other themes that I’ve explored in the book. I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts, questions, and hopefully encouragement along the way!