KIGALI, May 5 (Xinhua) -- Rwandans who participated in the 1994 genocide against Tutsi are coming face to face with survivors to openly ask for forgiveness in a country where reconciliation is now preached by the state and religions.
At Nyamata Parish in Bugesera District, eastern Rwanda, Pierre Butoki, a former genocide perpetrator in the area knelt down holding a candle, was sprinkled with spiritual water and listened to hymns and praise by clerics and other Christians.
The man was former police officer having served from 1960 to 1973. He was an active member of Interahamwe militia, responsible for mass slaughters during the genocide.
Butoki recalled participating in attacks at Ntarama Church in the district and other places, killing many Tutsi, including a priest.
He said he was "forgiven after going through heart-healing process."
"I was tired of burying my head in shame. I decided to ask for forgiveness though it's not as easy, just like forgiving someone who committed grave crime against you or your relative."
Butoki lived with guilt for more than two decades. But six months ago he attended a heart healing course where he spoke openly about his crimes.
"I was shunned even in church and looked at as a genocide perpetrator. I have a terrible history. I felt a spiritual void." he said.
Genocide perpetrators who are yet to reconcile with survivors are many in Bugesera district. While there are no official statistics, officials say the reconciliation journey is still long in the area.
Nyamata Parish's head priest, Emmanuel Nsengiyumva said the number of genocide perpetrators who have so far come out remorsefully are few.
Bugesera district is one of the areas which witnessed mass killings during the genocide.
Churches where people could go for purification, blessings, prayers and holly communion turned into slaughter houses in 1994.
Chantal Niwemugeni, a survivor recalls the gruesome massacres that took place at Ntarama church specifically.
"I have fresh memories of the massacres like it happened yesterday. Bitter memories stuck in my mind. I can't forget the church choir who used to sing for us -- its members were killed with machetes, clubs, and other sorts of traditional weapons," she said at a recent commemoration event in the district.
She particularly recalled the militias draped in banana leaves racing up and down shouting on April 11 in 1994. Niwemugeni survived with her brother and father Deogratias Munyarugarama who was a teacher then.
Her father later died of trauma related illness. Up to 5,000 people were killed in the former Ntarama church in the district, now turned into a national memorial site.
"At some point some of us preferred to commit suicide than facing gruesome murder but due to God's mercy we were rescued by (RPA) Rwanda Patriotic Army soldiers," she recalled. RPA then became the ruling party in 1994.
Reconciliation is inevitable, she said.
Butoki, just like about 60 other former genocide perpetrators said after going through heart healing since July 2016, they asked for forgiveness from survivors, and it was granted. He was part of a larger group of 247 former convicts who underwent the healing course.
The first group of 166 completed the course and were reconciled with survivors on in January 2017. But nearly 30 others are yet to complete the due process.
Angelique Mukabukizi, a survivor from Bugesera district said after showing remorse she no longer sees the former genocide perpetrators in the lenses of Interahamwe militia.
"I now feel relief after knowing the person who killed my father. I forgave him," she said of Butoki. "All former perpetrators should come forward in the name of love."
Apart from the church, other reconciliation efforts are spearheaded by Rwanda's National Unity and Reconciliation Commission.
The 2016 Rwanda Reconciliation Barometer done by the commission indicated that 92.5 percent of Rwandans believed that unity and reconciliation had been achieved and that citizens lived in harmony.
However, the report also showed that 27.9 percent of Rwandans still viewed themselves through ethnic groups.