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He tells us

Rwanda is scarred

Perpetrators, victims

Living side by side.

Reconciliation spoken

Unheard in broken hearts.


He tells us

A victim living in pain among perpetrators

Might forgive but not forget.

A perpetrator living in shame among victims

Might confess but not feel safe.


He tells us

Existence means capacity to endure,

To believe the unbelievable

Forgive the unforgiveable.

We have no choice.


He tells us

He creates prayer groups,

Spaces for the heart to open,

To cry, to tremble,

Places to begin healing.


He does not tell us

His heart feels too much pain.

Wrenched with tears he cannot shed

He cannot find the words to speak

The unspeakable shame of his church.


Who then forgives?

Who then confesses?


John Mac Phee is a first-year Ignatian Volunteer in New England and is a Community Service Coordinator at Emmanuel College in Boston. John helps the Community Service Learning Program provide opportunities for students to grow in their religious and civic commitments to service. John spent three months at Catholic University in Rwanda teaching Conversational English and continues to advocate and support the educational future  of Rwandan children.  

5 Responses to “EMMANUEL”

  1. Elizabeth Clifford

    .Thank you for drawing us into this great tragedy. It invites our ongoing prayer for healing and strength for all the people of Rwanda

  2. Fran

    Rwanda needs the gentle but deep healing from a gentle Jesus. Let us pray for that for Rwanda.

  3. Judy W

    These words are about so much more than even Rwanda.
    They are about all the pain and hurt and anguish of the human condition everywhere.
    They leave me weeping in desolation and Hope, to the only one who can heal each of us – and all of us.

    Thank you, John, for finding the words to touch hearts deeply.

  4. Louise Sandberg

    I run women’s support groups for women who were abused as children. Some of them now have the duty to care for their perpetrators. When they do so, they seem to do it with quiet dignity and impossible love. To treat with respect and kindness when one has been treated with neglect and abuse is about as Godly as one can get.

    Loving without even needing to have the abuse validated and amends made.

    Thank you for this poem that reflects that love and that spirit.

  5. Mary Harrington

    Here in Rhode Island we are about to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Station nightclub fire which killed 100 people and maimed many more. It was eerily similar to the nightclub fire that happened recently in Brazil resulting from the use of pyrotechnics. There is still so much hostility here toward the owners of the club and at the trial judge (a wonderful man from my church) who chose to push through a plea agreement for the owners of the nightclub rather than conduct a trial for what was in essence a tragic accident. Your poem captures perfectly the angry, unforgiving atmosphere here in Rhode Island not just towards Judge Darigan but also the two owners (brothers) who thought they had installed safe soundproofing. Pray for both the victims, their families and friends and for the perpetrators and my friend the judge as we as a state must sift through those awful memories again, Thanks John,


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