|RELIGION AND CONFLICT|
August 31, 2000
Rwanda experienced some of the worst ethnic violence ever witnessed during the 90s. Fred De Sam Lazero examines how religion is helping to ease the remaining ethnic tension in the area.
DE SAM LAZARO: The Catholic Church has long been one of Rwanda's most
powerful institutions. It was brought by German and Belgian colonists
to this landlocked nation and claims in its flock about two-thirds of
the country's eight million citizens. And because it was the church for
both Hutu and Tutsi, church buildings served as safe havens through decades
of social unrest between Rwanda's two rival ethnic groups.
That changed in April 1994, when Tutsis once again sought refuge in churches like this one in Natrama, urged on by the mostly Hutu soldiers.
DANCILLE NYIRABAZUNGE (Translated): The soldiers who were here to ensure people's safety told them to gather in the church so that they could guard them. But it turned out to be a trap to just make it easier for them to be killed.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Dancille Nyirabazunge lost her husband and 17 relatives who were in the Church when militiamen hurled grenades into it. Then they shot anyone who tried to escape. Entire families perished, and most remain in the church, displayed in a stunning, grisly memorial to the three-month orgy of violence that claimed an estimated 800,000 lives-- about a tenth of Rwanda's entire population, and perhaps a half of its Tutsi minority.
|Healing spiritual wounds|
years into a precarious coexistence, shell-shocked Rwandans are again
flocking to churches, this time seeking spiritual instead of physical
refuge. But the religious landscape, at least from outward appearance,
has changed considerably. Dozens of new, so-called "charismatic"
churches have emerged across Rwanda, many funded by European and North
American sponsors. There are an estimated 300,000 Seventh Day Adventists,
for example. Rwanda's Baptist Churches claim about 400,000 members, up
eight-fold since 1995.
29-year-old Pastor Paul Gitwaza, a Tutsi, began this Church barely one year ago. Today, he draws about 7,000 enthusiastic congregates to Sunday service, which lasts about four hours. In Kigali's business district, a daily lunch-hour prayer service is packed to capacity. Like other upstart colleagues, Pastor Paul Bahati says his worship services are attracting large numbers of converts from Catholicism.
PASTOR PAUL BAHATI: I can say that Rwanda is an ambulance, carrying sick people. Now people are looking where they can get a message that can heal their deep wounds, not a repetitive or a traditional beliefs, which does not touch their hearts.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: More importantly, Pastor Bahati says new churches like his are bringing together Hutus and Tutsis, worshipping side-by-side, helping heal a nation whose ethnic division seems as baffling as it's been brutal.
To begin, the Hutu and Tutsi are virtually indistinguishable in physical features, language or religion. Although there had always been class divisions, the colonial Belgian government decided in the 1930's to officially categorize the Hutu and Tutsi. They tried unsuccessfully to draw artificial distinctions between the two, according to Antoine Rutisiyisire.
ANTOINE RUTISIYISIRE: Everybody with ten cows and above will be a Tutsi; and everybody with less than ten cows will be a Hutu, which was very funny, actually. You ended up having one brother being a Hutu, because he doesn't have cows, and another one becoming a Tutsi because he has cows. We still have those things around here even today. But I think it was kind of an administrative mistake.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many historians are far more critical. They say the creation of a Tutsi elite, which enjoyed superior education and job privileges, bred resentment among the majority Hutu. A civil war began in the early 90's, and when Rwanda's Hutu president died in a suspicious plane crash in 1994, there was an all-out call for blood. Killers were allowed to take their victims' belongings, and victims were easy to spot.
ANTOINE RUTISIYISIRE: Our identity cards were ethnically marked, so they would put your name... actually this one has been changed, because usually they put your name, and down here they would put your ethnic group. So they look at your identity card and they find you are Hutu or Tutsi. If you are Hutu you go; if you are Tutsi you are dead. It was that simple. Actually that's why the genocide was so easy and so efficient.
|Seeking reconciliation after genocide|
DE SAM LAZARO: What is not easy today, and a major obstacle to reconciliation
is the problem of bringing justice to the perpetrators of 800,000 murders.
Nationwide, about 120,000 suspects awaiting trial in a country whose judicial
system was also destroyed by the genocide. Giving them due process could
take hundreds of years, so the government's considering an expedited system
that would parole or severely shorten the sentences of all but the worst
violators. That's raised concerns about vengeance and a renewed cycle
of violence. Reconciliation is the most urgent need in this spiritually
hungry nation, and it is mostly being sought in the new churches. (Praying)
In makeshift church halls, in prayer gatherings like this woman's group,
Godeline Kayitesi says the fellowship has helped her cope with the loss
of her husband and four of her five children.
GODELINE KAYITESI (Translated): After the genocide, I really felt against God. I did not want to hear about God anymore. But coming to these retreats allows me to feel again the love of God, to see that what happened to me was not the work of God, but the work of man.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Experts say the smaller fellowships and support groups may be more therapeutic for grieving survivors, and one reason why many like Kayitesi have left the larger, more traditional Catholic Church.
|The Catholic Church's role|
|Others allege Catholic
complicity in the genocide may be driving people away.
PASTOR BAHATI: Christianity weighed less and ethnic background weighed more. So that was the difference. And that's why the catastrophes took place in the so-called churches.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For their part, Rwanda's Catholic leaders admit that many of their number, including some priests, likely were accomplices in the genocide, and that many more failed to speak out.
FATHER AUGUSTINE KAREKEZI: It's really humiliating.
FRANKLIN SONN: So some priests you say were probably were guilty?
FATHER AUGUSTINE KAREKEZI: Yes, yes,
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: But Father Augustine Karekezi adds many priests were powerless to stop the genocide, and many themselves became victims. In his own backyard, at Kigali's Jesuit Center, more than a dozen people were murdered. Karekezi is concerned by the finger-pointing at the Catholic Church.
FATHER AUGUSTINE KAREKEZI: All our institutions failed in this country-- schools, universities, army, churches, not only Catholic Church. I am disturbed by this kind of Machiavellic, the good on one side and the bad. Who is innocent, by the way, in this situation? Who will claim the innocence?
|A long road ahead|
|FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And Karakezi says he fears some of the new churches may be raising false hopes for a quick fix. Reconciliation will be a long and complex process, he says, that will take a sustained social and economic rebuilding. Rwanda is one of the world's poorest, most crowded nations. Eight million people occupy a land smaller than the state of Maryland. 70% of them people live below the poverty line. Regardless of the rivalries between the older established churches and the emerging new ones, it seems certain that Rwanda will count on leadership from all of its churches, if the peace is to last this time.|