Rutland Dismas House will celebrate its nineteenth Annual Benefit Dinner and Auction on Saturday, May 30, at the Holiday Inn in Rutland. The non-profit organization will present the 2009 Jack Hickey, O.P. Award to the Baasch family and Grace Congregational UCC Choir from Rutland.
But the prime focus of this year's dinner will be its famous keynote speaker-Joseph Sebarenzi, a recent resident to Vermont, peacemaker, and survivor of the tragic 1994 Rwanda genocide. Few know that Sebarenzi served as president of the Parliament of Rwanda, for a short time, from 1997 to 2000.
The former president, a regular contributor to the BBC and Voice of America, broadcasts messages of reason and peace via radio to the war-torn great lakes region of Africa.
"After the Rwandan genocide of 1994-in which I lost my parents, seven siblings, and numerous relatives-I suffered the inner monologue where I kept thinking and obsessing as to why my loved ones were murdered," Sebarenzi said during a 2006 dialog with the genocide survivors group One by One.
"I was angry and sad. Gradually with time, I came to realize that dwelling on the past was harmful to me; I discovered that my best interests were in reconciliation-not in remaining stuck on depressing thoughts," he said.
See Sebarenzi, page 6
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Sebarenzi weaves his deep Christian faith with his political convictions. His message cautions people everywhere to shun all forms of revenge, particularly political revenge.
"The reason why I continue to choose the journey toward reconciliation has to do with my personal spiritual beliefs," he added. "I realized that my Christian spirituality, like any other spirituality I know of, teaches reconciliation-not revenge. The Bible instructs us 'not to take revenge, not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good'. One of the great messages from Jesus to his followers was: 'You have heard that it was said,'eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist evil by evil.' I therefore believe that if we truly respect our spiritual teachers and if we uphold the best in our religious traditions, we need to embrace reconciliation and reject revenge."
Sebarenzi adoption of the philosophy of reconciliation also makes sense for a more practical consideration-
"My journey toward reconciliation is quite simple and basic-or the care for my health, my well-being. As you may know, anger and resentment are the great enemies of physical and emotional well being; these destructive emotions are corrosive; they are the greatest enemies of happiness, the greatest enemies of good relationships between friends, comrades, and neighbors. I've learned that forgiveness is just as important to my health as eating the right foods. I am not trained as a psychologist or a physician, however, as a layman I needed to discover this God-given secret to good health."
Sebarenzi's 1994 ordeal will be told in a new book, titled "God Sleeps in Rwanda"; the book will be published this fall. And when he is not writing or speaking, Sebarenzi is a busy sociology instructor at the School for International Training in Brattleboro.
Before Sebarenzi's speech on May 30, Dismas House officials will present the Jack Hickey, O.P. Award to the Baasch family. For over eight years the Baasch family has been fundraising for a Zimbabwe Orphanage project.
According to Rita McCaffrey of Rutland Dismas House, the Baaschs use their love of music to raise funds for orphaned children. They have performed in Europe, Africa, South America, China, the Caribbean, and across the United States. (In 2005, the Baaschs invited Rip Jackson, Kathy Willis and Jennifer Wright, from the Rutland Grace Church Choir, to join them on a trip to perform in Zimbabwe.) The family's annual concerts have raised over $40,000 to help the orphanage.
To reserve a dinner ticket, call 824-3660 (no tickets sales will be made at the Holiday Inn the night of the dinner).
Rutland Dismas House offers transitional housing to men and women coming out of prison.