Christ's heroes bear his cross everywhere


24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 16, 2012
Isaiah 50:5-9 | Psalm 116 | James 2.14-18 | Mark 8.27-35

Maria Kozakiewicz

September 10, 2012

“Whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.”

I rarely watch TV. A few days ago, however, as I waited for an incoming storm and could not work in the darkness and tension, I flicked the remote control and found myself in Rwanda in April 1994.

Shooting Dogs is a movie you will not find on Netflix. I wonder if you can rent it. I doubt that it made much money. Yet it contains so much truth that you will never forget it.

I stayed put before the TV screen, frozen, unable to move and, later on, unable to sleep.

Rwanda may be old news. In case we have forgotten, however, within about 100 days in 1994, about 800,000 members of the Tutsi tribe were hacked or clubbed to death by those belonging to the Hutu tribe.

UN peacekeepers were gradually withdrawn from locations to which desperate Tutsi refugees had fled, leaving them unprotected, soon to be slaughtered.


In the movie (based on actual events) the abandoned Tutsi – who preferred to die swiftly by a bullet than to be hacked with machetes – asked the departing white troops to kill them. The answer was no.

White expats or visitors from other nations, then living in Rwanda, were evacuated efficiently and swiftly. Rwanda was left to deal with its problems, its murderous leaders only once admonished by the U.S. to “end violence.”

While the Tutsis were dying, the great powers of the world, the UN and U.S., carefully avoided the word “genocide.” By law, that magic word would have forced them to act. Rwanda was no Kuwait and had neither oil nor anything needed for the great corporations. And so the blood ran.

The first person to use the word “genocide,” when pleading for help for Rwanda, was Pope John Paul II, mortified by the loss of life of innocent people, many slain in churches and schools.

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. - Mark 8.34


A figurine of Mary stands among the skulls left at the Catholic Church in Nyamataro, Rwanda

'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'

Mark 8.34

Many were priests or nuns. Rwanda’s armed groups slaughtered three bishops, 101 priests and 64 nuns in 1994. In February 1997, a Canadian missionary, Father Guy Pinard, was shot dead by a gunman while distributing Communion during Sunday Mass in the village of Kampanga.

In Shooting Dogs, a priest chooses to stay behind with 2,500 of the condemned Tutsis, abandoned by the Belgian troops and all their white friends. As he is saving several children, he is shot to death, but able to look with love into the eyes of his killer. “Whoever loses his life for my sake,” said Jesus.


About 170,000 Christians die for their faith each year. A website – – lists some of their names while only God knows them all. These are the heroes, the seed of the Church.

Is there, however, only one way one can lose one’s life for Jesus and the Gospel? What about those husbands or wives who, despite mental illnesses or serious character flaws of their spouses, stay true to their marriage vows? How close to martyrdom may a genuine smile be against an angry face? How much of a cross is it to forgive a betrayal or pray for someone who curses you?

What about the abandoned, mistreated children who try to forgive their parents – and fail in doing so – yet try again? Isn’t that carrying the cross and following Jesus faithfully?

What about the depressed people who wake up to a grey, dark day and yet get up and go to work, or tend the children and the house – all without a moment’s spiritual comfort? They do it because these efforts fulfill the vows taken once before God. They may not even be able to pray – yet they are heroes, too.


Leadership itself has a cross embedded in it. In 17th century Poland newly-appointed military leaders, as they received golden symbols of power, would say, “I accept them for my sins.”

Yet all these noble efforts at goodness would have been masochistic if not for Jesus’ presence among us. He is the source of our strength and it is his love that wipes tears off the faces of us all and shows us eternal hope.

He was there in Rwanda; he suffered with the murdered people. He never abandons his children. As we walk our own way of the cross, we must talk to him and acknowledge his presence in the midst of our suffering.

For there is no more desperate place than the Way of the Cross without Jesus.