For many decades, the Catholic Church held sway in Rwanda. It acted as both a political and religious organ, did not pay taxes yet it was the biggest landowner and had assets covering the country.
It owned nearly all the schools and therefore had a hold over future leaders. In short, it held the reins of the country’s future in its hands; the country’s fortunes would depend on the choices made by the Church.
When the first ethnic killings unfolded in 1959, they were instigated by Parmehutu, a party created in Kabgayi, the seat of the Church. It was led by Gregoire Kayibanda, then editor of the Catholic Church newspaper, Kinyamateka, which was distributed in all parishes for free.
The Church did not come forward to condemn the killings nor lean on its protégées to bring them to a halt. It became worse in 1994, where many religious leaders – men of the frock and nuns – actively took part in the killings. Some are serving time in prison.
All the above draws a very bleak picture of the Church; even though its leaders are quick to point out that the crimes were committed individually, not in the name of the Church. That is a debate for another day.
But not all church leaders joined the killing melee; some lost their lives in the course of protecting Tutsi who had sought shelter with them, many others were also victims because of their ethnicity. But there are some living heroes today who deserve to be celebrated for at least salvaging the Church’s image.
People like Sister Helene Nayituliki who protected young school girls in Rwamagana or the current Bishop of Gikongoro, Celestin Hakizimana, who put their lives on the line to protect innocent souls. Though the Catholic Church has some bones in the closet, it had a few who adhered to the Gospel of “love your neighbor as yourself”.