Where I've Been

June 16, 2010
By Catherine Larson

Well you may have noticed a little blank air in the blogosphere lately and you might be wondering where I've been. Let's just say, I've had my hands wonderfully full. My husband and I welcomed our first-born in March. To read more about his marvelous entry into this world, follow me to Dappled Light, my regular online column with BreakPoint Online.

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).

As We Forgive Premieres Nationwide Tomorrow on PBS

July 14, 2009
By Catherine Larson

If you have yet to have a chance to see, As We Forgive, the documentary film which inspired my book As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda tune in tomorrow to your local PBS channel. The film, by my friend and filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson, will air on Wednesday, July 15th coinciding with the last of the 100 days of remembrance, the day which the genocide was brought to an end.

If you have read the book, you will enjoy seeing several of the characters from the book in the film. Rosaria and Saveri, Chantale and John, Joy, Bishop John Rucyahana, Pastor Gahigi, and others. If you happen to see the film first, the book will give you a chance to explore these stories and several similar tales of forgiveness. You'll learn in detail about how these characters survived the genocide and go in depth with the circumstances surrounding their decisions to forgive. The book also provides reflections on issues at the heart of forgiveness and reconciliation as well as discussion questions to facilitate going deeper.

The film will be airing in 25 states in the weeks to come. Meanwhile, the film has been touring across Rwanda with very enthusiastic response. On July 4th, the film premiered at the Amahoro Stadium which holds approximately 3000 people, a few days before there was a special pre-screening for members of the Rwandan government at the Serena Hotel in Kigali. There are plans for the film to be screened in all Rwanda's 30 districts in schools, prisons, churches, and villages followed by a complete discussion.

In other news, if you have read my book, you'll be excited to learn that the characters Phanuel and Prisca, both survivors of the Nyange school shooting married each other last week. When I intertwined their stories in the book, I had no idea that their lives would be intertwined in marriage. Congratulations to them both! Look for pictures in the weeks to come.

As We Forgive Sighting and Soundings

June 03, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Yesterday, Jackson Mvunganyi of Voice of America's Upfront segment interviewed me on the proces off forgiving, whether we should forget, and if reconciliation practices in Rwanda are transferable. The program aired today across Africa and the conversation is an interesting one, ranging from man on the street interviews to a spokesperson from the Forgiveness Project and others. Jackson is originally from Rwanda.

Also, today, Jason Boyett of the Pocket Guide series featured As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation on his blog. Here's a short bit of what he had to say:

I can't say I fully understand that kind of extreme forgiveness or even want to understand it, but I'm pretty sure I agree. Faced with tragedy or heartache, you can choose to carry the burden of anger around with you forever. Or you can forgive. It doesn't take away the pain or grief. But it does help you excape the corrosive burden of anger, bitterness, and revenge. Grief can be turned into strength, but bitterness is almost always detrimental.

He's offering a free copy of the book to one lucky commenter.

A Catalyst for Hope in Rwanda

June 02, 2009
By Catherine Larson

I'm deeply grateful to see my book spoken of so highly by Brad Lomenick, the director of the Catalyst movement. Catalyst has been a huge supporter of Rwanda over the past few years by promoting groups like Compassion International, Rwanda Clean Water, and many other great groups dedicated to improving the lives of Rwandans.

Brad and several other Catalyst leaders just returned from a trip to Rwanda, sponsored by Compassion. He speaks about some of his experiences in a recent podcast and shares a few photos on his personal blog down in the right hand corner.

Welcome Steve Brown Listeners!

May 15, 2009
By Catherine Larson

If you tuned in to Steve Brown, etc today you probaby heard me speaking about forgiveness, reconciliation and the Rwandan genocide. For listeners, I hope you'll take a look around this site, and particularly the get involved page to find out more about how you can do just that.

If you're a reader of my blog and wondering what I'm talking about, you can listen to the interview I did with Steve Brown here. Enjoy!

As We Forgive Featured on PBS

May 14, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Laura Waters Hinson's film, As We Forgive, which inspired my book is on PBS this month on various stations across the US. For a full listing of the times and channels where you can find the film, check out her schedule. If you haven't seen the film, and you've read the book, you'll enjoy being able to put faces with the names of several of the characters that you've read about in the book.

Also, if you haven't had a chance to explore the newly launched Living Bricks Campaign website, take some time to do so. Hinson and Prison Fellowship International are working together to raise funds and support for the ongoing work of reconciliation in Rwanda. If you've read my book, you'll remember the story of Rosaria and Saveri. The campaign will help other exprisoners like Saveri and Mattias whose stories I share participate in building homes for survivors like Rosaria. In doing so, they are tangibly showing the reality of their remorse, and helping in some small way to better the lives of those they have wronged. The Living Bricks Campaign is one of several ways to get involved in helping Rwandans today and something which I've been promoting on my 100 day blog tour.

Urban Faith and Reconciliation Blog

May 14, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Ed Gilbreath, author of Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's View of White Christianity, has interviewed me this week on forgiveness, reconciliation in Rwanda and posted the conversation on Urban Faith. I really enjoyed this Q&A and had the chance to delve into issues like what role the church played in this tragic history and what we can learn from it.

Also on Ed's personal blog, Reconciliation Blog, he writes:

Over the last week or so, I’ve been absorbed in Catherine Claire Larson’s new book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda. If you’re interested in a deeper understanding of what happened in Rwanda in 1994, or a deeper understanding of the miraculous process of reconciliation, I commend this great book to you.

Next week the blog tour continues at Jeff Cook's Everything New site. Jeff has also written a powerful book called Seven, which pairs the seven deadly sins with the beattitudes adding a lot of fresh ideas to an ancient subject.

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.

Live Chat Tonight, 9 pm EDT

April 30, 2009
By Catherine Larson

I'll be live-chatting tonight about As We Forgive over on Thinking Christian. Join us for the discussion. It ought to be a lively one.

Tom Gilson, the blog's author, has had a three-part review up this week with some very kind words for the book. He writes, "I have just experienced one of the most remarkable books of my life." That's pretty hefty praise. He goes on to share a bit of his own personal struggles in losing two family members to murder. He writes:

I come from a very small town, from very middle-class roots. My mother’s parents were both immigrants from Norway, homesteaders in North Dakota, hard-working, God-fearing people. They moved their large family to Michigan late in the 1920s, to a small town south of Flint, which at the time was very much a thriving community. All of their children—my mother and aunts and uncles—lived out their values of hard work, love, and respect. You wouldn’t think that two of their grandchildren would meet their ends through murder.

My cousin Jeanette was jogging in a park in Lansing. It took fifteen years to identify her murderer, which finally happened through some outstanding detective work aided by a virtual miracle of evidence found after all those years. Her case was featured on the A&E channel’s Cold Case Files show. I didn’t see it when it first aired. I happened on it while alone in a hotel room on a business trip, surfing through channels with the remote control. Let me give you this advice I hope you never need: if you are ever going to see the story of a relative’s murder on TV, don’t do it while alone far from home. I could hardly bear to watch it. It wasn’t that the story was new to me; I had been keeping up with it all along through the family. But it was brutal to see it played out before me on the television screen. I could hardly stand watching it, but there was no way I could turn it off, either. This was family. At the end they interviewed my Aunt Muriel and my cousin Joe, Jeannette’s brother. I sat there watching, crying, alone.

My cousin Brian was walking his dog in an upscale gated community just west of Orlando. A car drove by, going too fast, and he called out to them to slow down. Somebody got out of the car with a gun and shot him for it. I saw him in the hospital a few weeks later, again while traveling alone on a business trip. The first time I saw him—well, to describe his condition would be to go beyond the bounds of what I ought to write. He hardly looked human. The second time I saw him, a few months later, there appeared to be hope. He was able to sit up in bed, and was in good spirits. But he succumbed to a final infection. His killer was never identified.

I'm very humbled by stories like these and how the book is being used to reach across cultures and touch lives, working in massive wounds and small ones alike to bring the power of hope.

Blog Tour

April 22, 2009
By Catherine Larson

This is week two in what I hope will be about a one hundred day blog tour designed to highlight ways people can get involved in supporting reconciliation efforts in Rwanda. So far, here's the schedule:

I'm still finalizing details on the weeks after that, so check back in to see where I'll be next. And if you've found your way here from one of these blogs, stay a while, and be sure to check out my get involved page to find more details on some of the great groups working to promote reconciliation in Rwanda today. Dig deeper with one of them and think about how you might be able to support their work.

100 Days of Hope

April 14, 2009
By Catherine Larson

This time of year in Rwanda is a difficult time of remembrance. One of the people I interviewed in the book wrote me recently to request prayers for his fiance. They have recently unearthed another mass grave and will finally be able to bury her father, 15 years after the genocide. The pain still gnaws through to the surface. It is still fresh--real.

I find myself often wanting to do something to help. I have been so encouraged and challenged by the faith and forgiveness of Rwandans that I want in some way to give back.

I'm hoping that I can do a little of that over the next 100 days. Coinciding with the remembrance of the 100 days of horror, I'm planning to stop at a different blog each week to raise awareness about the ongoing need and work of reconciliation, as well as the many great organizations that are at work in rebuilding, reconciling, and restoring lives and communities. (I've already made my first stop at the Dawn Treader blog. Check it out here.)

If you aren't familiar with some of the organizations involved in Rwandan reconciliation, take a look at my Get Involved page, just as a place to start. There are lots of meaningful ways, both big and small, we can support those in Rwanda. It can be as small as drinking a cup of Rwandan coffee to as big as paying a year's worth oftuition for a Rwandan orphan or sponsoring the building of a house by a repentant ex-prisoner for a survivor. There are many meaningful ways we can share in carrying this heavy load.

For each person who has purchased a book, you've already unknowingly given to that goal, as a portion of the proceeds of each sale go directly to support reconciliation in Rwanda. But pick a way to help a little more, and perhaps together we can make "Never Again" a reality for Rwanda by being a part of the reconciliation that brings shalom.

I Saw What I Saw

April 14, 2009
By Catherine Larson

This is the time of remembrance in Rwanda, and lately as I've been thinking and praying for my brothers and sisters in Rwanda, this song has come to mind. Sara Groves puts words and melody to how much these stories have changed me. The least I can do in return for the hope and courage so many Rwandans have given me is to remember, pray, and walk alongside.

Rwanda 15 Years Ago Today

April 06, 2009
By Catherine Larson

On this day, 15 years ago, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane plummeted from the sky after being hit by a missile. It became the albatross around the neck of the Tutsi people when Hutu claimed that the RPF shot it down. The most widely accepted theory today is that radical Hutu unsatisfied with the direction of the peace talks, assasinated the Rwandan and Burundian presidents. Either way, the sudden streak of a missile and the fiery light of a falling plane were a diabolical kind of fireworks that night--evil's unseemly opening ceremonies to a hundred days of slaughter that would consume the country.

Within hours of the plane's metal shrapnel gashing Rwandan soil, Hutu sharpened their machetes to do likewise. Radios hissed a message that "the season for slaughter" had arrived. In the days to follow, Hutu killed the Tutsi and their sympathizers at a rate five times higher than the mechanized Nazi gas chambers.

Hope Amidst the Bones

April 06, 2009
By Catherine Larson

This week Newsweek features Chairman of Prison Fellowship Rwanda, Bishop John Rucyahana, who returned to his Rwandan homeland after the genocide to help rebuild the broken nation. Ellis Cose documents some of his experiences in this week's piece:

When Rucyahana got back to Uganda in mid-July, he rented a minibus, hired a driver and took to the road with 10 other pastors. They crossed into Rwanda and made their way to Nyamata, near Kigali, the capital. The violence had died down but death was everywhere: "We saw mass graves; we saw dead bodies. In one home, we found 27 dead bodies. . . ."

Rucyahana had to act. Initially, he ran seminars, urging people to repent and rebuild. But that wasn't enough. So in 1996, he packed up his family and returned to the land of his birth to preach hope standing on "a pile of bones," as he puts it. One of his first tasks was to build a boarding school for orphans: "Having lost a million people, lots of babies were left behind." The school in Musanze, near the Volcanoes National Park, opened in 2001. It is now one of the best schools in the country. It is called Sonrise, which, Rucyahana explains, "means the Son of God rises into the misery, into our darkness."

I share part of Bishop John's story, and one of the stories of a student at the Sonrise School/Orphanage in As We Forgive. To read his full memoir, take a look at his own The Bishop of Rwanda. I'm so glad that the wider world is being introduced to Bishop John, the recipient of BreakPoint's 2009 Wilberforce Award, and to the amazing things God has been doing in the aftermath of this tragedy.


Closing Interview with Mary DeMuth

April 06, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Today, the closing interview with author Mary DeMuth on As We Forgive is online. To read all of the six part series, click here. I really appreciated the wonderful in-depth questions that Mary asked, and the way she particularly challenged me to connect the message of the book with her readers. I highly recommend Mary's latest novel, Daisy Chain, a coming of age story that has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird and Peace Like a River.

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" »