We have to rescue people, we have to protect them
Rwanda is a country in Central Africa. In April 1994, the conflict between two peoples of Rwanda – Tutsi and Hutu – escalated. Almost one million people, mainly Tutsi, perished within 100 days. The impulse for the massacre was shooting down a plane with the President of Rwanda. However, the genocide had been planned beforehand. The majority of victims were murdered at their places of residence, often by their own neighbours, beaten by the machetes used by the Hutu mobs.
The African continent has been a site of internal conflicts for years now. The borders, delineated by the colonizing powers, did not consider the ethnic divisions. The ethnically diverse states and weak governments were the main causes of the state of affairs.
In Rwanda, she was dubbed the angel of the poor. The Nyamata mission had been the home of Antonia Locatelli since the 1970s. Back then, she was a member of the Congregationis Sororum Ospitalarium a Beatae Mariae. She founded and managed a school for girls 30 km from Kigali, the country’s capital.
The mission totalled 80,000 members. Having left the congregation – her duties at school and surgery overlapped with the communal life – Locatelli worked as a secular missionary.
She gained the locals’ sympathy and trust with her natural directness, sincerity or even bluntness acquired in her home village near Bergamo, Italy.
In 1990, the ethnic conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi escalated into a civil war. Antonia witnessed the killings. “We have to rescue people, we have to protect them, but only the government has means to do that,” she kept repeating. Several hundred of Tutsi found refuge in the Nyamata mission.
Antonia made numerous phone calls to the Belgian Embassy. She tried to get the RF1 Radio and BBC interested in the Rwandan tragedy.
The pressure exerted by the public opinion – alerted by Antonia – prevailed upon President Juvenal Habyarimana to refrain from the murderous crimes of the army and the mobs connected to it.
In 1992, the school functioned as a camp for 7,000 refugees. At the night of 9 to 10 March, despite the curfew, Antonia left the house and headed for the school. On the way, she was shot by the members of a paramilitary Hutu group sent from the capital. According to some reports, the bullets reached Antonia’s mouth and heart – a punishment for informing the world on the genocide raging in Rwanda.