Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Miracle in Rwanda

Leslie Lewis Sword’s performance drew me in and held me for this hour-long show; for me she became Immaculee Ilibagiza, the survivor of the 1994 Rwanda genocide she portrays. I felt her fear as she hid in a small bathroom with 11 other people for two months while her fellow Tutsis were being slaughtered.

She also became the pastor who hid them, the Hutu militia who hunted them and her father in this one-woman play she created with Edward Vilga. It was performed Sunday as the final work in 59E59 Theaters’ East to Edinburgh series and will be seen throughout August at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It should be well received.

I liked the way much of the story is told through prayer. As Immaculee hides, she prays the rosary, personalizing it to her situation. She talks to Jesus as she begins each decade of the Sorrowful mysteries -- the agony in the garden she understands now from her own suffering in that small space, knowing, as Jesus did, that people want to kill her.

But the Lord’s Prayer, which is said throughout the rosary, stops her. She cannot bring herself to utter the words “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As the weeks go on, though, and she persists in prayer, the miracle happens. She reaches the troubling part and is able to say the words and mean them. Only then is she able to truly pray the Glorious mysteries, beginning with the Resurrection.

The story of the slaughter of nearly one million Tutsi is now familiar to us through news accounts and possibly even more so through the powerful movie, “Hotel Rwanda.” Ms. Sword has chosen to tell one of those stories from a faith perspective, which should provide much theological reflection for members of her audience. I have certainly given it a great deal of thought.

It has been written that forgiveness is the hardest and most important lesson we have to learn on this earth, ranking even higher than the importance of love. “Miracle in Rwanda” shows how difficult -- yet ultimately necessary -- it is if one is to move beyond survival into life and resurrection.

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