KIGALI, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- One of the challenges facing post-genocide Rwanda is unifying the country that had been deeply divided after the 1994 genocide.
The genocide, launched by extremist Hutus, claimed close to 1 million lives, mostly members of the minority Tutsi, and left many widowed and orphaned.
Claudette Mukamanzi, a resident in Bugesera district, was still haunted by the memory of the mass killing, in which all her family members were killed and she was hacked to near death.
But when the mother of four appeared at a gathering over two decades after the genocide, she hugged one of her family killers and decided to forgive him.
The event of reconciliation, attended by hundreds of people at Nyamata Catholic Parish last Sunday, was part of the nation's efforts to heal the trauma and reunite the people.
Testifying before a congregation, Mukamanzi's deep scars on her body told it all: She was 14 when a neighbor and another man attacked her family with machetes.
Apart from the army and militia, a number of Hutu civilians, incited by extremist propaganda, participated in the genocide, especially in the rural areas, where many Hutu villagers reportedly killed their Tutsi neighbors.
"I was hacked on seven separate occasions. I know them (attackers), I meet some and bitter memories are unbearable," Mukamanzi said.
"But I forgave you," Mukamanzi told one of her former attackers named Jean Claude Ntambara, and hugged him in front of the congregation.
The event saw 166 former genocide perpetrators reconciling with survivors after six-month of repentance and forgiveness course championed by Rwandan cleric Father Ubald Rugirangoga.
Under the initiative, perpetrators confessed and asked for forgiveness for their crimes.
Nyamata Parish's head priest Emmanuel Nsengiyumva said 252 former genocide convicts have registered for the healing courses, which demands expression of remorse and asking for forgiveness from survivors who were hurt or whose relatives were killed during the genocide.
Ntambara, a resident of the same district, was a police constable during the genocide. He confessed to have shot many people dead then.
"I killed many people and I hurt many. I asked forgiveness from those I remember," he said.
He was convicted of genocide and handed a 20-year jail term by the traditional Gacaca courts, did community works as part of punishment for seven years before he was set free.
"In the aftermath of the genocide I avoided those I hurt due to guilt but now, after reconciliation we even hug each other," said Ntambara.
"We have begun to co-exist again. People are capable of living normally," he added.
Like Ntambara, many former genocide perpetrators are now committed to living harmoniously with survivors and vowed never to commit such heinous crimes again.
John Rwikangura, an official with genocide survivors association (IBUKA) in the district, commended survivors for forgiving their former tormentors, describing it as an heroic act.
The district of Bugesera witnessed some of the most brutal killings during the genocide.
Nyamata church was turned into a memorial site, after an estimated 10,000 Tutsi were brutally killed inside. Remains of more than 45,000 victims are now buried there.
A new church stands about 50 meters from the old Nyamata Parish church.
Father Rugirangoga, who spearheads the confession and healing initiative, said forgiveness is a precious gift that former genocide perpetrators can receive from survivors.
Initiated in 2008 at Mushaka Parish in western Rwanda, this church-driven initiative tries to supplement the government's reconciliation efforts done through the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission.
The commission was created in 1999 by a parliamentary law to promote unity and reconciliation among Rwandans in the aftermath of the devastating event.
Its mandate is to fundamentally change the effects of bad governance based on discrimination and exclusion through various awareness campaigns.
Fidele Ndayisaba, executive secretary of the commission, on Sunday encouraged churches to embrace unity and reconciliation through truth telling.
The 2015 Rwanda Reconciliation Barometer conducted by the commission showed that up to 92.5 percent of Rwandans today feel there is unity and reconciliation in the country and that citizens live in harmony.
The survey sampled 12,000 respondents in 450 villages across the country's 30 districts.
However, it showed some 27.9 percent of Rwandans continued to view themselves through the ethnic lenses of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa, while 25 percent of them still feel divisions and genocide ideology among their compatriots.