No22 February 1997.2
Father Guy Pinard, a Canadian Missionary of Africa (White Fathers), was shot and killed on Sunday morning, February 2, 1997, in his parish of Kampanga, in the diocese of Ruhengeri in northwestern Rwanda. Father Guy was born in Shawinigan, Quebec, and was just two months shy of his 62nd birthday. At the moment he was killed, he was celebrating the Eucharist, the memorial of Christ's death: but it was his own death as well that he offered. He was distributing communion: but it was his own body as well that he gave. Together with the people of his parish, he was remembering that Jesus laid down his life for the salvation of the world: but it was his own blood as well that he poured out. "The disciple is not above his master." (Mt 10:24)
When representatives of the world's major religions gathered in Assisi, Italy, they had occasion to join in prayer to the Lord, the Master of the Universe. Some prayed for the oppressed peoples of the world, expressing deep sorrow at the unfairness of their sufferings. One such prayer was shared by the Jainists (members of an Indian religion):
The one you plan to strike is in truth none other than yourself. The one you seek to oppress is in truth none other than yourself. The one you plot to torture is in truth none other than yourself. The one you desire to enslave is yourself. And the one you have decided to kill is none other than yourself. Know that violence is the root of all unhappiness in the world. May the Lord, the Master of the Universe, see fit to give us health, illumination and the supreme blessing of peace.
Martyrs are like flowers given to God. Father Guy Pinard was one such flower, gathered in his prime. He offered his life to the reaper who came so unexpectedly. And as the sandalwood perfumes the blade of the axe that cuts it, so he will surely bring salvation to the one who killed him.
"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." (Lk 23:34)
Words that have been spoken thousands of times down through the centuries by the faithful who have followed in the footsteps of their master, Jesus Christ. So absurd, so pointless, these violent deaths, we might say to each other. And yet they are so full of meaning.
"The blood of martyrs," said Tertullian, "is the seed of Christians."
Martyrdom is a symbol of the life that gives itself freely. There is no trace of egotism in it. It is a sign of God's loving presence, a God who offers himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world, a God who made himself poor and of no account, and begged for our love; a love that killed him.
"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (Jn 15:13)
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you for my sake...Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven." (Mt 5:11-12)
Who are these missionaries, where do they come from? They leave their homes and travel far to proclaim the Good News of a God who loves humanity; they accept the joys and hardships of their nomadic life. Sometimes they find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. In their desire to be "all things to all people", in the words of the great missionary St. Paul, they must serve executioner and victim alike. This often places them in a very precarious position, condemned by both sides. They are slandered and looked upon as troublemakers. If they see flagrant injustice and decide to speak out against it, it is with the full knowledge that they will be accused of being biased. The same is true if they act to defend someone who is being attacked. But the only bias a missionary has is in favour of the weak. Because missionaries work for peace, they too are vulnerable to violence. That is the price of solidarity.
They work under all kinds of conditions; they travel to distant places; they are ready to lend assistance wherever people are suffering, whether rich or poor, powerful or powerless, Muslim or Christian, believer or unbeliever. They are not concerned about borders and are heedless of danger. Their purpose is to give their life for a neighbour who is in need.
Jean-Guy Dubuc, a journalist with the Montreal daily La Presse, wrote an excellent piece on missionaries several years ago:
We have always equated missionary work with conversion, in other words, with religious matters. But missionary work is basically love and charity. Faith is important: it is what inspires these people to do such bold and foolish things. But they do not force their faith on others: their faith is something inside them that is outwardly expressed in acts of solidarity, social commitment and sharing. Those who witness their actions understand. Their survival is their way of saying thanks.
Are they heros then? No, they aren't! They feel weak and totally unequal to the mission they are given. But they go anyway, often with a knot of fear in the pit of their stomach.
Fanatics? Not that either, because they would never, ever try to use God to impose their beliefs on others. They offer their faith, they do not compel others to believe. And certainly not by force of arms. Perhaps it has not always been this way, but that is how mission happens today.
Are they a little crazy? Well perhaps, but crazy about the One they encountered one day in faith, and whom they decided to follow. They could not resist the call of the God of all mercies.
Brave? That, definitely! Because true courage does not belong to the fearless. It is the privilege of those who are willing to admit to their fear and go beyond it.
They do mission work for years on end in their countries of adoption, learning languages and customs, becoming Chinese with the Chinese, Brazilian with the Brazilians, Zairian with the Zairians. They struggle alongside people of all races and cultures to bring about a better world, in both material and spiritual terms, and to eliminate the causes of injustice and misery.
And when the political climate deteriorates, when aid workers flee the sinking ship, when others urge them to go home and save themselves, they refuse to leave.
Are they tired of living? Are they foolhardy? Are they unaware of the dangers they face? No, that's not it at all. If they decide to stay, no matter what, it is out of solidarity, and solidarity alone.
"No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord." (Jn 10:18)
Of what race are these missionaries? Their race: they are Christians.
Guy Pinard was a Quebecer from Shawinigan. He knew who he was. He became a Rwandan with the Rwandans. He suffered the same fate as some of his African sisters and brothers: those hundreds of thousands killed in the genocide. He had high ideals, and a firm faith in love for love's own sake.
So this is what he gets for his pains, the cynics will say.
Here indeed is what he gets for his pains: he sowed seeds of love around him during his life, and because of that, he is now reaping an abundant harvest of love in the arms of his God.
Whoever sows the wind reaps the whirlwind, the saying goes. Yes, but... Whoever sows a gentle breeze reaps fine weather, say those who seek God.
Go with God, Father Guy! Until we meet again.
Michel Fortin, M.Afr.