The Episcopal Conference of Rwanda, a body comprising the seven most senior Catholic Church clergy in Rwanda, on March 25 sent a strange letter to all their Bishops and the Government of Rwanda.
As Christians all over flock to places of worship for Easter this Sunday, celebrating the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ The Chronicles asks if the Catholic Church and its followers should be celebrating at all.
After the plea letter became public, published by The Chronicles, the Episcopal Conference released a statement apologizing for making such a request during the 25 commemoration anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
In the five-page letter, with all their signatures, the clergy want government to look into the plight of genocide convicts, pointing particularly at those they say are “elderly” and others with “various illnesses”.
Numbers provided to The Chronicles by the Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS), show that there are 27,591 genocide convicts in prisons around Rwanda as of April 4 when we obtained them.
The Episcopal Conference wants the sentences of those they cite in their letter, to be reduced. They also urge faithfuls to visit the genocide convicts in jail.
Angry reaction from the IBUKA, the umbrella association of genocide survivors, government and social media – forced the Conference to issue an apology.
However, the apology was for the bad timing, but not for the plea itself.
As the situation stands now, the Government and Rwandan society are stuck with a Catholic Church that has asked for reconsideration of sentences of genocide convicts.
Government is powerless, so it seems, and has only been able to make public statements of denunciation.
The Catholic Church remains a very formidable omnipresent force in Rwanda. The situation has not been any different right from 1894 – some 125 years ago.
TABLE OUTLINES PARISHES WHICH BECAME MAJOR KILLING SITES
|St Famille||St Paul||Mushi|
Available records show that by a decree of July 13, 1894, the department of the Mission of the Vatican, Propaganda Fide, divided the Victoria-Nyanza vicariate into three.
Nyanza Vicariate included Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda-Urundi and Congo. The southern part that included Rwanda-Urundi and Tanzania which was given to Monsignor Jean-Joseph Hirth.
In January 1900, Monsignor Hirth with a group of other priests, including one Father Classe and the 12 Ugandans headed by Abdon Sabakaaki Namukande left for Rwanda. On February 8, 1900, they settled at Kabgayi in current Muhanga district where they built the first church ever in Rwanda.
The land was given to them by the king of Rwanda.
After successfully infiltrating Rwandan society, the Catholic Church in 1931, under the leadership of Monsignor Léon-Paul Classe ,Vicar Apostolic of Rwanda, baptized King Mutara III Rudahigwa.
In the late 1940’s, a new post-World War II generation of missionaries mainly from Belgium and France arrived in the present-day nation-state of Rwanda. They included a young priest André Perraudin, from Switzerland.
In 1946, King Mutara dedicated the present-day nation-state of Rwanda to Christ the King, solidifying the integration of Catholic church and state. The King had essentially been squeezed into submission, a lesson picked from the banishment of the former king Yuhi Musinga.
André Perraudin would go on to be Archbishop, the top most catholic clergy in Rwanda.
By 1953, King Mutara was powerless, as the Church had successfully orchestrated what later became the “Hutu revolution” in 1959 – headed by Perraudin’s student Gregoire Kayibanda.
In late 1959, the MDR-PARMEHUTU of Kayibanda abolished the monarchy with the Catholic Church by his side and, by 1962, the MDR-PARMEHUTU were the sole political party of the newly independent nation-state of Rwanda, directly influencing the policy of the First Republic.
Archbishop André Perraudin gave the green-light for Juvenal Habyarimana to topple Kayibanda in early July 1973.
The Church hierarchy accepted Habyarimana’s invitation to participate individually in the organs of the ruling party.
Accepting the government of Habyarimana and The National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development party, simply referred to as the MRND, the Catholic Church downplayed the continued racialization and systematic discrimination of Tutsis in favor of institutional privilege.
A national census conducted in August 1992 by Habyarimana’s government, showed that 62.6% of Rwandans were Catholics, from a population of 7.1million.
And when the well-organized killing machine went into action starting April 7, 1994, by July when the Rwanda patriotic Army (RPA) stopped the genocide, 1,074,056 Tutsis were no more.
Tens of thousands sought refugee at places of worship, hoping their pastor would shield them.
There were 146 Parishes all over Rwanda. Nearly at each, Tutsis who tried to hide there were killed.
Based on extensive research from renowned scholars including people who are still with the Catholic Church today, we found that 48 parishes were the major killing sites.
More than 130,000 Tutsis were killed at these sites alone – with Churches bulldozed, grenades hurled inside – supported by hoards of interahamwe militias and government forces.
The parishes were opened by priests, Brothers and Nuns – allowing in the killers.
At least 100 of the clergy were directly involved in butchering Tutsis – and some have been indicted like Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka who lives in France, but only 30 have been convicted as of 2019.
After the genocide in 1994, a census of 2012 found that 44% of about 11.5million Rwandans, were Catholics – indicating a very significant drop in faithfuls who identified themselves as Catholics.
On January 29, President Paul Kagame attended the installation of the new Archbishop of the Kigali Archdiocese, His Grace Antoine Kambanda. Kagame has previously angrily attacked the Church and its home in the Vatican, until 2017, when the current Pope Francis made a formal apology.
The Catholic Church has wings spread in nearly all spheres of Rwandan livelihoods – affecting every community.
The Catholic Church in Rwanda counts 146 parishes, nine dioceses, and one archdiocese. It means, from the total of 416 sectors – a government administrative level, for every 3 sectors, there is a Catholic parish.
The catholic Church has 10 Hospitals and 109 health centers co-owned with the Government of Rwanda.
It controls 1,463 primary and secondary schools and 5 higher learning institutions – essentially rivaling the state.