Describing the Catholic Church in some of the strongest terms, Rwanda’s former Defence Minister Gen James Kabarebe has told an international youth audience that he cannot explain how it survived despite its role in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
“The church was the state and the state was the church. The church and the state were the same,” said Gen Kabarebe, who is currently Senior Advisor in the Office of the President.
He was responding to a question posed to him at a gathering of more than 350 youth from various African countries and France, who are participating in the ANOCA Zone 5 Youth Games.
The games are taking place in Huye district in southern Rwanda. The same games are happening in a period when Rwanda is preparing for the 25th commemoration of the 1994 genocide.
Kabarebe has been speaking at various other such youth gatherings in the past months and weeks.
In the event held at the University of Rwanda Huye Campus, Gen Kabarebe first read his prepared speech, which was largely focusing on how the youth can drive state development or destruction.
When it came to the Q&A, Gen Kabarebe was asked how the Catholic Church remains unshaken despite all that has been said about its role in the genocide.
“How [the Catholic Church] survived after the Genocide is another difficult question,” said Kabarebe.
He added: “…I will say just what I believe. In this world there are all sorts of organizations, business organizations and very strong organizations. UN is an organization, Toyota is an organization, there are so many organizations in this world. The most organized and sophisticated organization in the world is the catholic church.”
“…Nobody will defeat it. You cannot fight the Catholic Church. It’s the most well organized institution in the world, so you cannot deal with it.”
During the 100-day massacres, tens of thousands of Tutsis were killed in bulldozed church parishes where they had sought protection. A few Catholic clergy have been jailed for their role.
Archbishop André Perraudin, the man who headed the Catholic Church in Rwanda before independence, during and many years after, gave his blessing to the government at the time as it persecuted Tutsis.
For years, the Vatican and government in charge after the genocide have had a difficult relationship. President Paul Kagame for his part never shied away from branding the Catholic Church with all sorts of tags including words like “killers”.
It is only when the current Pope took over at the Vatican that it agreed to change course.
Pope Francis apologized for the Church’s role in the genocide, during a historic meeting with President Kagame in March 2017 at the Vatican.
Speaking today, Gen Kabarebe said, “…after the genocide, the people of Rwanda – victims, perpetrators, all of them were in such poor and weak situation that the only place they could go at least to get the divine, the psychological healing was the church and so that is how the Church has survived.”
Gen Kabarebe also said it was difficult to comprehend and explain why the 1994 genocide happened.
“If anybody asks you why Genocide took place, none in this world will give you a satisfactory answer,” he said, adding, “It is very difficult to give answer to that one. Why? Many will answer how it happened but there will be no satisfactory answer why it happened.”
“No body has ever explained to me why Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda happened, the very last explanation I got is that ‘It’s a Kind of Madness’…”
The African youth games started April 2, will be running up to April 6, 2019 – a day before the commemoration week begins.