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Kroc fellow discusses spirituality, Africa at SMC

| Friday, March 31, 2017

Emmanuel Katongole, associate professor of theology and peace studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, spoke Thursday at Saint Mary’s about Christianity, violence and identity politics in sub-Saharan Africa.

Katongole spoke about two traditional narratives of Africa. He said these stories are important for the way we understand and view Africa because many people think of Africa as a continent without hope.

“It is true there is too much violence,” he said. “ … [Having] violence does not mean [the people] are doomed to live in violence. Stories like this are important to confirm that Africa is not a hopeless continent; Africa is filled with hope.”

Katongole said even though these are stories about violence in Africa, they carry lessons and wisdom that can be used in the United States.

“It is important that we think about our lives here, as we face the severity of violence, of fear, of hatred, of discrimination based on gender or race,” he said. “We need stories that can inspire us to show that there is another way.”

Katongole said there are four intersecting elements at work in these stories told about violence and kindness in Africa.

“It’s a similar notion of excessive love, of tenderness, of compassion and new community — similar elements and notions that are at work in any attempt to respond to violence,” he said.

The first story Katongole told came out of the Central African Republic. He spoke about the recent conflict there between the Christians and Muslims and the mass murder that occurred as a result. A young priest named Father Bernard Kinvi opened a church that became a place of refuge for all people who were being targeted and killed by Christians, including Muslims. Katongole said Kinvi’s compassion came from his own experiences with pain.

“What is playing out is that excess of love — God’s love for the poor, for the sick, the weak [and] the marginalized,” Katongole said. “There is something about the tenderizing of his own heart through his experiences of suffering and tending to his sick dad that not only tenderized his heart, but enlarged it.”

Katongole next told the story of a woman named Maggie Barankitse, who witnessed the mass murder of 72 people right in front of her eyes in 1993 at a Catholic bishop’s residence she worked at in Burundi. After the massacre, Barankitse gathered all the children who were there and took them into her care — starting a housing program called Maison Shalom, Katongole said. He said she has raised over 25,000 children there.

For Maggie, they are not orphans,” he said. “There are no orphans in the household of God. With the excess of love, all of us are princes and princesses in the household of God.”

Katongole said these two individuals who did so much good in different ways have some things in common, including giving others hope for the future.

“What do these two individual have in common? The excess of love that is displayed in both of their lives — the excess of God’s love that is reflected in their own lives,” he said. “The most successful love is borne out of suffering, out of tenderizing their own hearts. It expands their sense of, ‘Who are my people?’ This is what give me hope about Africa: They speak to what I eventually see [as] an evolution of tenderness.”

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