TO BE told that frantic Rwandans who fled and hid in churches with hope that being God’s sanctuary they would be safe from their killers only for church leaders to hand them over to be massacred in cold blood, is one of the plots in the narrative of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that even the best novelists who’re masters at imagery could never fathom.
Yet it’s a historical fact with hundreds of thousands of victims and survivors who up to now struggle to make sense of life, church, faith and the existence of God and his loving son, Jesus Christ.
Twenty years next month, have Rwandans regained trust in the church as a safe place for all? Can survivors trust today’s preachers of the gospel when they preach about love given the role played by past church leaders in the 1994 genocide?
These are difficult questions for people like my landlady at Niboye in Kicukiro, who lost a dear husband and two irreplaceable children, to answer. Yet I can imagine her daily Sunday routine — waking up early to attend morning mass at the Catholic Church located a few hundred metres from her residence. On the outside, like many survivors, she’s a happy middle aged lady with an infectious smile and a very receptive home but deep inside her, the wounds still hurt especially with the framed pictures in her living room of her departed ones, a constant memory of that cruel past.
Flash back to the Sunday of April 10, the 100th day of the year 1994 inside a church in Nyamata District, Eastern province where over 10,000 Rwandans of Tutsi ethnicity were massacred in cold blood. The evidence lives on at the church in a mass grave as a resting place for over 40,000 victims killed in that district and neigbouring places. Mary Rose Madden (2012). How easy is it for the relatives of those victims to love and trust the church again like nothing ever happened?
I have had to examine my own close relationship with the church having grown up at my father’s estate located just a kilometer behind the famous Anglican St. Peter’s cathedral in Hoima, mid-western Uganda and a neighborhood full of priests. I attended church founded primary and secondary schools; one of my mother’s uncles is a retired Catholic bishop and for university education, I went to Uganda Christian University.
With such a close relationship, I would probably never write objectively on a matter involving the Church yet no amount of faith and belief in the religious church’s dogmas should blind one of the fact that the institution’s holy walls are smeared with blood of its innocent sheep.
Most Rwandans are religious and God fearing people who pray to God and observe the Ten Commandments but the thousands who sought refuge in church in 1994 must have wondered what happened to the 6th commandment, you shall not murder.
In a 2010 letter to victims of sexual abuse at the hands of catholic priests, Pope Benedict apologised saying, “your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated;” yet the victims of Rwanda’s genocide are yet to be honoured with a formal apology from the Vatican.
At the centre of Christianity is repentance which the church encourages its members to do but twenty years on, has the Church in Rwanda repented of the sins committed by the likes Father Athanase Seromba who led the Nyange parish massacre? In 1994, the shepherd Father Seromba led 2000 of his innocent sheep into a herd of blood thirsty lions; how safe are the surviving sheep of the church today?
A few years ago, my Chinese Professor says she appeared in a Ugandan court to stand surety for a Chinese national who was facing some charges but as she prepared to take oath, she was asked to state her faith so she could be given a Bible or Quran only to surprise the court room by declaring that she believed in the Communist Party of China.
Today, it shouldn’t be surprising to find that many Rwandans have more faith and trust in the government that liberated them from killers rather than the church that gave them away.
What role is the church playing today, in building a new Rwanda based on Christian values of unity and love?
Kenneth Agutamba is a post-graduate student at the Communication University of China.