A strange coincidence made it that April 7, the sacred day in Rwanda when we remember our lost ones, was a Sunday. On that day, the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church in Rwanda signed a missive which was read in every church, and every mass.
The declaration was demanding government to grant early release to ‘elderly and ill’ Genocide perpetrators in jail. Ordinarily, I would be all pro: 1. Early release, 2. Release of elderly, 3. Release of the ill.
However, I find it deeply disturbing that such request was made on that particular day and in that manner.
That such petition is not submitted in confidence, to the Head of State, the Minister of Justice, Parliament or any relevant government entity as all petitioners usually do, but read to congregations all over the country on April 7, 2019, is rather disturbing.
This is dangerous propaganda, of which only the Catholic Church has the secret. It is all the more troubling that that was the message chosen by the Catholics at the occasion of 25 years of commemorating the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Finally, I find it worrying that such request was expressed, not as a ‘Note Verbale’ from the head of the catholic episcopal council, or a letter from the Archbishop of Kigali to a specific government official, but written as a lobbying petition and used to rally the masses of churchgoers.
Let’s take a minute to reflect: On the most important day of commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, the catholic church chose to plead for the cause of their killers and rallied the churchgoers in doing so.
But let’s revisit whom it is that the Catholic Church wants released; which type of genocidaires are still in jail?
Most ‘small time killers’ were released over fifteen years ago and every year after by a presidential pardon. They were released after pleading guilty, confessing their crimes and asking for forgiveness. Before their release, they were taken through a seminar on unity and reconciliation.
The genocidaires, who are still in jail today, may have not even physically killed Tutsi. They are people, who used their ideas, positions in society, in government and in the Catholic Church to saw hatred among Rwandans and urged citizens and churchgoers to kill their neighbours.
They are people whom after the Genocide, the ten-year Gacaca process and the policy of pardon, still refused to confess and seek forgiveness. They are people that society has put away for as long as the law permits, to preserve itself from their toxic agenda.
Elderly and sick that still have a genocide ideology are as dangerous as able-bodied ones! As it turns out, these people were the Catholic Church’s most faithful. And as the church’s saying goes: ‘kiliziya ntitererana abayo’, or ‘uri umusaseridoti iteka’. Both sayings meaning that whatever one does, the Catholic Church will supports them – even when they commit genocide.
This is the 25th anniversary of the Genocide, and as the President said in his speech: ‘most of us are neither survivors nor perpetrators. Three-quarters of Rwandans are under age thirty. Almost 60 per cent were born after the Genocide.’
He proceeds: ‘Our children enjoy the innocence of peace. They know trauma and violence only from stories. Our aspirations rest in this new generation’, and further: ‘Mature trees can no longer be molded, but seeds contain endless possibility. Rwanda’s young people have everything needed to transform our country. They have the responsibility to take charge more and more, and participate fully in securing the Rwanda we want and deserve.’
Now this is the innocence that the Catholic Church wants to steal away from our youngsters – the ‘new generation in whom our aspirations rest’. The young Rwandan people are being molded by President Kagame – not Pope Francis.
The chaps who prefer going to Ingando – not catechism, who want to be ‘techs’ and CEOs – not priests; this is even more significant for young women who constitute more than half of the Rwandan population; whereas the Rwandan government offers them unlimited, high-fly professional possibilities, the Catholic Church offers none.
Rwanda’s governance approach which fosters gender and social equity, is therefore an existential threat to the Catholic church.
For all these years, the Catholic Church fought the women emancipation policies promoted in Rwanda - in vain. On record are endless petitions against the 30 per cent women minimum quota in governance, petitions against legal abortion and any other progressive policies ever adopted in Rwanda.
To all these petitions, frequently submitted to the president by the ‘conseil episcopale’ or the ‘synod’ etc., the answer is the same: The new Rwanda is not a theocracy; it is a secular, revolutionary, progressive country!
And this is showing: Before the genocide, Catholics constituted over 95 per cent of the population. Then first lady Agatha Kanziga had a personal chapel in her home, while Muslims were ostracised.
The pope even visited Rwanda few years before the genocide. Today, figures indicate that Catholics constitute less than 50 per cent and the numbers are still going down. Now it seems the catholic churches are drying up and they’ve started to feel nostalgic.
As it turns out young people have deserted the church - mainly because priests like to touch them inappropriately - but also because they find the whole ceremonial quite boring - which leads me to the real significance of the petition.
The missive read in all the catholic churches last Sunday then, was no sympathy to the parents and grandparents in jail, it was a trick to lure the youngsters with the message: ‘we are the only ones who are here for you; unlike the Rwandan government, we Catholics have no problem with your grandparents, uncles, etc. join us!’
Now all this aside, let’s suppose I am wrong, let’s suppose theirs was merely a humanitarian call for the sick and elderly. Why is it then that we have not seen a petition signed by all priests, read in all churches calling Catholics to take care of orphans, widows and ‘incike’, those who lost everyone in the Genocide, living all alone in a village surrounded by Catholics, who killed their families?
Why do we see the First Lady, through her ‘Imbuto’ programme, opening a new model village built for survivors of the Genocide every year, but never see the head priest doing the same?
Why haven’t we seen a petition of priests demanding their own church to stop protecting priests such as Wenceslas Munyeshyaka and others who committed the Genocide and are still officiating in churches in the Vatican and all over Europe?
Instead we were all up in arms two years ago, when the Catholic Church attempted to celebrate a Jubilee of priests, including convicted and jailed genocide perpetrators? Why did we not see a petition of priests in our media campaign to oppose that?
More importantly, how did the ‘incike’ feel on that Sunday? How did the orphans, the widows and other survivors feel last week in church, when the letter was being read?
And, finally, the reason we still accept the Catholic Church is the memory we have of a minority of priests who took a principled stand – at the peril of their lives during the Genocide. That said, in the Rwandan tragedy we know where the church as an entity stood. We will never forget what churches were used for, during the Genocide.
So, the Catholic Church may mourn with us during ‘Kwibuka’ or they can stay away. What they shouldn’t do is use cyunamo as a platform to recuperate the suffering of our people and advance their propaganda, in fact, there is a recent law prohibiting the church to turn ‘cyunamo’ ceremonies into catholic masses. #KWIBUKA25.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.