Senior church leaders under the auspices of renowned US evangelical pastor Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Ministries/PEACE Plan, yesterday, paid tribute to the victims of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi during a tour of the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
The clergymen laid wreaths on the graves containing remains of more than 250,000 Genocide victims that are interred at the memorial, before they toured the museum.
They were briefed about the history of the Genocide – which claimed the lives of more than a million people –, how it was planned, when genocide ideology began, and the killings proper in 1994.
The church leaders also heard how the Church in Rwanda and some religious leaders contributed towards sowing the seeds of hatred and divisions in the years that preceded the Genocide and later played a part in the killings.
A Belgian Catholic bishop, Andre Perraudin, was cited among the clergymen that first supported propaganda to divide Rwandans along ethnic lines.
According to Bishop Alex Birindabagabo, the president of PEACE Plan, the visit was mainly aimed at honouring the memory of Genocide victims at a time the country is commemorating the Genocide for the 22nd time, but also to encourage senior church leaders to actively participate in fighting against genocide ideology.
“We came here straight from a two-day retreat during which we discussed how we can join hands as church leaders to actively support the people of Rwanda on their journey of unity and reconciliation, he said.
“We found it critical to conclude the retreat with a visit to this memorial to learn more about what exactly caused the Genocide. It is important that church leaders get to fully understand their role in the campaign against genocide ideology.”
Birindabagabo, himself a Genocide survivor, said that they draw lessons from the role of some of the church leaders in the run up to and during the Genocide.
“Yes, the Genocide took place and unfortunately many church leaders took part in the killings or did not help stop the killings, but I’d also like to state that those are elements that failed to embrace Biblical teachings and doctrine. People should understand the relationship between the Bible and our everyday life.”
Thanks to the role of certain clergymen, many churches around the country turned into killing fields during the Genocide and some have since become Genocide memorial sites.
Dennis Rutayigirwa of the Union des Eglises Baptiste au Rwanda (UEBR), one of the clerics that visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial yesterday, said: “This country can’t underestimate the power of unity and the consequences of divisions. The government is trying to unite the people of this country, and once church leaders are united behind this cause they can help accelerate and emphasise the importance of unity.”
PEACE Plan is a global movement that seeks to promote servant leadership, assist the poor, care for the sick and educate the next generation.