The Pax Christi USA intergenerational Peace Pairs program launched in February 2022 to build mutual co-learning and accompaniment between peacemakers in their 20s and 30s and Ambassadors of Peace/founding members of our movement. Each of the seven pairs were invited to work on an outward-facing project. The blog post below is one of a series of writing projects of Peace Pair Honorine Uwimana and Donna Grimes.
The danger of a single image
Thea: A Dear to the world
by Honorine Uwimana
Pax Christi USA National Council member
Growing up in Rwanda, East Africa, my parish church walls were covered by Western and martyred saints, and naturally came the question: Is there any saint of my own identity or struggles? Such a question would sound taboo or bend towards church secrecy, something no good Christian should ask. These questions were thought by many of us, but they were not meant to be spoken out loud. In addition, my parents and spiritual mentors had never known a Black African saint, apart from the martyrs of Uganda, and would find spiritual models in consecrated men and women who were at the forefront of health, education, and spiritual direction in a post-colonial era.
Less often than not I would hear: “Grow up, be righteous and be a saint.” Or, “With what is happening in our backyards (incessant wars and epidemics), why would you expect a saint to be one of us?” Deep inside I would wonder why not, since the mother of all saints, Our Lady of Kibeho herself, marched on lands of ours and wept at what was happening in our backyards.
I came to learn about Saint Josephine Bakhita a few years ago. This was long after I had made peace with my mind that there is no possible light of sanctity from people of my identity or struggle. In 2016 I learned about the cause for the canonization of a Rwandan couple, Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba; and then, three years ago, Sister Thea Bowman (pictured at right, from the archives of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration).
I realized that I never thought of myself — or women who look like me — as saints, for they did not look like the images I always see of saints: women whose stories are not those of martyrdom nor of leaving behind a life of plenty and privilege for philanthropy to the deprived; women whose lives did not fit the definition of saints I had always heard and seen through images and stories.
Just like Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie puts in her distinguished TED Talk, “The danger of a single story”, my experience was flattened, my encounter of models of holiness flattened by the single image of saints, the single story of holiness. Yet here is Servant of God Thea Bowman, a woman who witnessed the burdens of this time — racism and white supremacy, the disproportionate toll of breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, premature death in Black communities, and torture within the church.
Through her 35-minute address to the USCCB, I met an incredible woman who did not hold back her Black self, or her Black culture, for her Catholicism to be approved. I met a woman who was truly both and it was heavenly. Throughout her speech, I met a woman who did not have to choose between suffering and being joyful but a woman who in suffering breathed a joy that whispered: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” I met a woman who invited me to check what I left at the doors of the church, one who reminded me that Christ does not want some of me but all of me.
In Thea Bowman I found another story; I redefined sanctity as being Christ-like in the most veritable way possible. Intending to be precisely what God made us to be is our YES! to sanctity. She tried!
From watching Sr. Thea Bowman gracefully fighting one of the threats to Black women’s health with joy and firm endurance, sharing with all her energy her open wounds of a Catholic lifetime of rejection, pain, and changes caused by cancer, to many others in the United States, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, I witnessed resurrection through her attitude – an amazing grace moment.
She professed the resurrection. She lived her last days on earth with no fear of dying, living fully in a way that said that it was not the end.
Honorine and donna recommend…
- Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle by Dr. Shannen Dee Williams
- Thea Bowman: In My Own Words, compiled and edited by Maurice Nutt, CSsR
- Thea Bowman: Faithful and Free, by Maurice J. Nutt, CSsR
- Shooting Star: Selected writings and speeches, by Sr. Thea Bowman
- Thea’s Song: The Life of Thea Bowman, by Charlene Smith and John Feister
- Thea Bowman: A Story of Triumph, by Mary Verill
- We Are Beloved: 30 Days with Thea Bowman (Great Spiritual Teachers Series), edited by Karianna Frey MS
- A Retreat with Thea Bowman and Bede Abram: Leaning on the Lord, by Joseph A. Brown (a retreat series)
- This Little Light of Mine: Lessons in Living from Sr. Thea Bowman, by Br. Mickey O’Neill McGrath
- Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood: A Study Guide, edited by Michael R. Heinlein
- An Hour with… Series (Liguori Press) – Sr. Thea Bowman, Julia Greeley, Fr. Augustus Tolton, Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, Mother Henriette Delille, Pierre Toussaint
- Video: Going Home Like a Shooting Star produced by the Catholic Communications Campaign
- Video: A Place at the Table: African-Americans on the Path to Sainthood
Honorine Uwimana is an MPH candidate at the University of San Francisco, hailing from Kigali, Rwanda. She is the PCYAC representative to PCUSA’s National Council and a member of the Pax Christi Young Adult Caucus leadership team.
You can read more of Honorine Uwimana’s writing featured in this year’s Pax Christi USA Advent reflection booklet, Live Always in Joyful Anticipation (available in both print and digital versions.)
Donna Grimes of Washington, D.C. is a former member of the Pax Christi USA National Council. She has authored Pax Christi USA’s book of Advent reflections for 2005 entitled, Tell Us About the Times When Jesus Came, All God’s People: Catechizing in a Diverse Church (Loyola Press 2017), and was a regular writer for Halleluia People for Eat the Scroll Ministry, a Black Catholic adult evangelization ministry. Donna has worked for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops since 2000 with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, staffing the Subcommittee on African American Affairs. She is a JustFaith facilitator, catechetical leader, and has served on several parish, archdiocesan and community boards in Washington, D.C. In 2021, Donna was commissioned as a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace.