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4312Rwanda's religious reflections - BBC, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    Apr 1, 2004
      Rwanda's religious reflections
      By Robert Walker
      BBC, Kigali


      Twenty-year-old Zafran Mukantwari was the only person
      in her family who survived the genocide.
      I meet her sitting outside Kigali's Al-Aqsa mosque.

      She is tightly veiled and speaks softly as she tells
      me what happened 10 years ago.

      Her family were Catholic, she says. Those who killed
      them worshipped at the same church.

      At the age of 10, Zafran found herself alone and at
      first she continued going to church.

      She thought she could find support there. But then she
      began to question her faith.

      "When I realised that the people I was praying with
      killed my parents, I preferred to become a Muslim
      because Muslims did not kill."

      No protection

      Before the genocide more than 60% of Rwandans were

      And when the killings started, tens of thousands of
      Tutsis fled to churches for sanctuary. But they found
      little protection there.

      Churches became sites of slaughter, carried out even
      at the altar.

      On the opposite side of Kigali from Al Aqsa mosque, is
      the church of Sainte Famille. As dawn mass is
      celebrated, the sound of hymns carries outside and
      floats across the waking city.

      During the genocide, hundreds of Tutsis crammed inside
      here trying to escape the horrors unfolding outside.
      But Hutu militias came repeatedly with lists of those
      to be killed.

      The priest in charge of the church, Father Wenceslas
      Munyeshyaka, is blamed for colluding with the killers.

      Discarding his priest's cassock, witnesses say he took
      to wearing a flack jacket and carrying a pistol.

      "Some members of the Church failed in their mission,
      they contradicted what they stood for," says Father
      Antoine Kambanda, director of the charity, Caritas, in

      He acknowledges that while some priests and nuns
      risked their lives trying to stop the slaughter,
      others were implicated in the killings.

      "We are sorry for what took place, sorry for the
      members of the Church that did crimes, sorry for the
      victims who lost their lives.

      "But the Pope says the members who went against their
      mission are to answer for it. The Church cannot answer
      for them."

      Turning to Islam

      This position that blame lies with individuals, rather
      the Church as an institution, is still highly
      controversial, as Rwanda marks the tenth anniversary
      of the genocide.

      The Church hierarchy in Rwanda supported the previous
      regime of President Juvenal Habyarimana. And they
      failed to denounce ethnic hatred then being

      Some survivors like Zafran have since left the
      Catholic Church, unable to reconcile the Church's
      teaching with the actions of its most senior members
      during the genocide.

      Sheikh Saleh Habimana, the Mufti of Rwanda, is the
      representative of the country's Muslims.

      He says many turned to Islam because Muslims were seen
      to have acted differently.

      "The roofs of Muslim houses were full of non-Muslims
      hiding. Muslims are not answerable before God for the
      blood of innocent people."

      But after the genocide, converting to Islam was also
      seen by some as the safest option.

      "For the Hutus, everyone was saying as long as I look
      like a Muslim everybody will accept that I don't have
      blood on my hands.

      "And for the Tutsis they said let me embrace Islam
      because Muslims in genocide never die. So one was
      looking for purification, the other was looking for

      Finding comfort

      It was not only Islam that disillusioned Catholics
      turned to after the genocide. Evangelical churches
      have also flooded into the country in the past 10
      years, and found many new recruits.

      Sylvie Isimbi was hiding in a Catholic school with her
      father and other Tutsis during the genocide.

      When the militias finally broke in, her father was

      Sylvia then watched friends and neighbours raped and
      murdered. Afterwards she turned to one of the new
      Pentecostal churches for support.

      "We were Catholic before. But we had lost confidence
      in human beings.

      We thought God had left us. And with the Pentecostal
      church we were comforted. We were able to cope with
      the situation."


      But evangelical churches have come under fire for the
      methods they use to recruit their new followers.
      Father Antoine Kambanda says they have tried to lure
      converts when they are at their most vulnerable,
      spiritually and materially.

      "People are very fragile now. Many are traumatised by
      the genocide. So they use cheap solutions to attract

      Father Kambanda believes some of those who left are
      now returning to Catholicism.

      "Often they are disillusioned and they come back. The
      Catholic Church remains with the biggest number of

      But today the Church is attempting to maintain this
      position against the growth of both Islam and other
      Christian religions.

      And 10 years on, it is still under pressure to accept
      greater responsibility for the role of its own members
      during the genocide.

      To know more about Muslims in Africa see:

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