Christians in Rwanda have been urged to embrace and extend support to the vulnerable, especially migrants and refugees, and make effort to revive their God-given gifts in order to serve the Lord better in 2018.
The message was delivered yesterday by clerics during New Year’s Day prayers in various churches in Kigali.
At St. Michel Cathedral, Monsignor Thadée Ntihinyurwa, the Archbishop of Kigali, who led the mass focused on Pope Francis’s New Year’s message calling for compassion for vulnerable people around the world.
“In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands,” he said.
Praying for “peace, which the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on Christmas night,” Ntihinyurwa called upon Christians to open up their hearts to those who most keenly suffer its absence, mainly the over 250 million migrants worldwide, of whom 22.5 million are refugees.
“Much more remains to be done before our brothers and sisters can once again live peacefully in a safe home. Welcoming others requires concrete commitment, a network of assistance and goodwill, vigilant and sympathetic attention, the responsible management of new and complex situations that at times compound numerous existing problems, including resources, which are always limited,” Ntihinyurwa said.
He also called on government leaders to take practical measures to welcome, promote, protect, integrate the vulnerable “within the limits allowed by a correct understanding of the common good.”
“Leaders have a clear responsibility towards their own communities, whose legitimate rights and harmonious development they must ensure, lest they become like the rash builder who miscalculated and failed to complete the tower he had begun to construct,” he said.
At St Etienne Cathedral in Kigali, Bishop Louis Muvunyi, of Kigali Diocese, said 2018 is “A year of awakening and being watchful” for Christians to use their different talents in order to serve God more than they did in the previous year.
Bishop Muvunyi urged Christians not to let the troubles of last year drive them this year.
The bishop also preached against drug abuse.
“Time is against us. As we begin the New Year, there is need to free oneself from the chains of sin. Drug abuse and drunkenness among the youth and other people, including parents, is a serious issue and is linked to many sins and crimes in the country, such as adultery, robbery and murder. Some murder because of love for money that they do not work for,” he said.
It is high time that we put in more efforts to tackle gender based violence, he said.
The clerics at St Etienne Cathedral, who since yesterday up to Wednesday are praying for people’s wishes presented to the church by Christians, are also praying for those who are repenting.
Martin Dusabirema, a Christian from Nyamirambo in Kigali, said: “We, as parents, are worried by groups of people, especially the youth, who are addicted to drugs and those joining prostitution. We fear our children might be affected by those groups and, therefore, we should pray for change of hearts.”
Petronille Nyirabunane said praying starting at the family level and educating children could help eliminate such crimes.
Thousands attend overnight prayers
Meanwhile, hundreds of Christians gathered at various churches for overnight prayers on New Year’s Eve.
Overnight prayers featured thanksgiving, and performance from choirs and artistes.
Also, sermons focused on encouraging people to live a life with purpose, and to live in unity and peace.
An estimated 2000 people attended overnight prayers at Foursquare Church in Kimironko, Gasabo District from 6:00pm up to 5:00am, and the service was streamed live on YouTube.
Bishop Dr Fidele Masengo, the Foursquare Church Legal Representative, said Rwandans had many reasons to spend the night in church.
The year 2017 has been a blessing to the country, he said, adding that all people need to thank God for protecting the country and its citizens.
Addressing Christians, Masengo said that it was necessary to ask God for the right direction for the country and its people.
“This is the right time to come and reflect on what we achieved and set new goals for the New Year by asking God to direct us. For the country, we have many reasons to thank God. This year  the country held peaceful [presidential] elections. This is something every Rwandan should be proud of and thank God for,” he noted.
Masengo says 2018 is a year of fruitful progress.
He noted that when churches develop, the country also develops. “We encourage Christians to be characterised by good works.”
Pr. Christophe Sebagabo, of Remera-based Calvary Revival Church, addressing thousands who turned up for overnight prayers, said though no one can change the past, the past can help everyone to shape the future.
He said that a visionary Christian should not be a slave of past failures but instead one who learns lessons from the past.
“Whatever happens is a blessing from God. We are His creation and He guides our steps and blesses our works. God has a big plan for our lives, we should be thankful to Him with kind hearts full of love,”Sebagabo added.
Dieudonné Mbonigaba, a Christian, said that it is a privilege to end the year because there are many other people whose names were forgotten.
Mbonigaba added that attending overnight prayers helps him to recognise God’s blessing to his life as well as pray for protection and guidance in the New Year.
At the Christian Life Assembly Church (CLA) in Nyarutarama, Pastor Hassan Kibirango said the New Year is a time for Christians to thank God for their accomplishments.
“We always gather to celebrate victory and miracles that God has done. It’s also a time of reflection on things that went wrong as we pray for a new beginning,” he said.
He observed that 365 days [of the year] is a long period during which a lot happens.
“As Christians, we always give first fruits of everything, therefore we want to give our first minutes of the year to God. It’s also a way to show that God is the creator of time and seasons,” he said.