Remembering the Rwandan Righteous Silas Habiyambere

by Jean Paul Habimana

Below the contribution of the writer and professor of religion Jean Paul Habimana - a survivor of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda - on the Mass organized in honour of the Rwandan Righteous Silas Habiyambere, who passed away few weeks ago. Silas Habiyambere saved - along with his wife Maria - at least 31 people from the massacres perpetrated in Rwanda in 1994. Jean Paul figured among them. The acts of Silas have been remembered with commotion and gratitude by the participants - which included several people he saved during the genocide - who decided to project, in addition, a video tribute of the Rwandan Righteous during the ceremony.

On June 24th, 2023, at 3 pm, a Holy Mass was celebrated at the Saint Joseph of Namur parish in Belgium to honor the Righteous Silas Habiyambere. Silas was born on September 10th, 1953, and passed away on May 14th, 2023. 

Father Alexis Nshimiyimana, the former parish priest of Silas, was among the many participants at the ceremony. He fondly remembered Silas as a devout Christian who actively contributed to the activities of the Parish. Silas was responsible for Umuryangoremezo ("basic ecclesial community") and had a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary as an active member of "Legio Mariae," a Marian devotional movement. One interesting aspect of Silas's spiritual life was his unique approach to the sacrament of reconciliation. Each year, a week before his wedding anniversary, Silas would request an hour of the Father's time. Then, he and his wife would attend the morning Mass to discuss a Bible verse with Father Alexis. They would spend the entire day at the parish, in a spiritual retreat. Father Alexis described Silas as a peaceful individual who never engaged in arguments and was often called upon to promote reconciliation.

Jean Bosco, Silas's nephew, shared his personal experience of how Silas taught him to read the Bible. He also recounted a childhood story where Silas lent him the New Testament from his collection of religious books. Although Jean Bosco couldn't finish reading the entire book by the due date, he chose to continue reading it while traveling to his uncle's house. This story highlighted how Silas influenced Jean Bosco's prayer life and instilled in him a love for the Word of God.

Theresia Mukarutabana, Silas's sister who had been living in Belgium since the late 80s, described Silas not only as a brother but also as a dear friend. She reminisced about Silas's energetic and enthusiastic nature during their childhood. Silas was a hardworking individual who maintained peaceful relations with everyone. He had a particular fondness for "ubugari" (cassava fufu) and excelled as a farmer, earning recognition as a model farmer in the district. Local authorities would often seek his expertise on cultivating various plants in the area, given his reputation for modern and meticulous farming practices. Silas cultivated each crop separately, even before it became a mandatory practice by the Rwandan government. Theresia concluded her speech by expressing how deeply moved she was upon hearing testimonies from survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, as they escaped with Silas's help.

As a survivor of that genocide myself, I took the opportunity to speak at the Mass and convey what Silas represented to those he saved. A video tribute to Silas, created by the people he helped survive, was also presented. The video showcased the survivors' decision to gift Silas a cow as a symbol of gratitude for his brave actions. Silas had a profound connection with the people he assisted, as he risked his own life, along with his family's, to save up to 71 individuals during the genocide. Sadly, 23 of them did not survive despite Silas's efforts, but fortunately, 48 were able to survive. Personally, I will always remember Silas for his love, his unwavering love despite the circumstances. Silas had a connection with a Prefect during the genocide, which was a source of pride at the time. While many people chose to assist their relatives in carrying out the massacre, Silas decided to help the Tutsi.

Lastly, during the Mass, the Alleluia chorus of Louvain, "La Nueve," and the chorus of Saint Paul of Namur uplifted the atmosphere with beautiful chants, including "Urukundo" (the love) by Rugamba Cyprien, a song that held a special place in Silas's heart. After the Mass, a moment of togetherness was organized, where all the participants chose to commemorate Silas's life by highlighting his profound Christian devotion, his simplicity, and, above all, the love he had for his friends.

29 June 2023

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Remembering the Rwandan Righteous Silas Habiyambere

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