Father Mario Falconi (1944)

the Barnabite who saved 3,000 people during the genocide in Rwanda

“Homeland Hero”, “Guardian of peace, unity and reconciliation”, “Righteous of Rwanda”. These are the titles of honours awarded by the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, to Father Mario Maria Falconi. A Barnabite originally from Borgo di Terzo, born in 1944, Father Mario has been a missionary for 52 years. His first destination, in 1972, was the Democratic Republic of Congo: he spent almost twenty years in the east of the country, between Birava and Bukavu, then in 1990 he crossed Lake Kivu and landed in Muhura, Rwanda. Muhura is in the north, 120 km from the capital Kigali, on the road to Uganda. When Father Mario arrived, the situation was already difficult: relations between the Hutus, who were in power at the time, and the Tutsis were tense. But nothing could indicate what would happen after the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana. It was 6th April 1994 when the plane on which he was travelling with his Burundian colleague, returning from peace talks in Arusha, was shot down.

This was the beginning of the most terrible hundred days in the history of Rwanda, costing one million lives. In Muhura, due to its geographical position along one of the 'escape routes', clashes became immediately violent and massacres daily. Father Mario, who had never made any distinction between ethnic groups, tried to save anyone he could. One day, while driving to the parish a group of Tutsi children he had hidden in the chapel of a nearby village, he came across a checkpoint of the Interahamwe, the extremist Hutu militia. He immediately realised that if he stopped, the children would be massacred: paramilitaries already had machetes in their hands. He prayed, closed his eyes and pushed the accelerator: they moved and he managed to get away with the children.

It was with a lie, however, that he saved some 3,000 people. As mentioned, Muhura is not far from the border with Uganda, from where the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), formed by Tutsis, had entered Rwanda to put an end to the civil war and free the country from militiamen. But the end of hostilities was still a long way off when Father Falconi spread the completely false rumour that the RPF was already at the gates of the town. Extremists - but also the mayor of a local village.... - had ordered him to hand over the refugees, threatening that if he did not, they would kill them and him. However, based on fake news spread by the priest, fearing an immediate clash with the Front, militiamen postponed the attack they had planned, and when the liberation army actually arrived, the Tutsis who had taken refuge in the parish centre were safe and sound.

Father Mario, who immediately after the start of the clashes had decided not to leave his mission using the helicopter provided by Italian consul Pierantonio Costa, went back to Italy at the end of April 1994, bringing some sixty orphans to safety, but in October he was back at “his” sacked and devastated mission, all to be rebuilt. The journey of reconciliation began after some dramatic months, in which revenge and reprisals were order of business. Today, Rwanda has “erased” ethnic groups by law (“we are all and only Rwandans” is President Kagame’s motto). Father Mario has built a dispensary, an orphanage, schools, an aqueduct and a dozen or so churches scattered throughout the territory. For everyone. He is no longer the parish priest of Muhura (when he is in Rwanda, he lives in Kigali) but he has founded another parish some ten kilometres away and is setting up yet another. He is working to set up a congregation of religious that he wants to call “Brothers, friends of Jesus”. Because there is a great need for fraternity, in Rwanda as in the whole world.

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Righteous Encyclopedia - Rwandan Genocide

Those who reacted by providing help, rescue, and solidarity are worthy of consideration and respect because they acted differently from those who could not, or did not want to, react and take action.

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