Rwanda: Friday launch in Kigali of a new book on the role of the Church in the genocide
Many books have been written about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
One of the latest publications, due to be launched on Friday in Kigali, is titled “The Genocide Against the Tutsi and the Rwandan Churches: Between Mourning and Denial”.
Written by Philippe Denis, senior professor of Christian history at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the 358-page book offers insight into different issues such as why some sections of Rwandan churches have “taken an ambiguous attitude towards the Genocide.
Denis, Belgian Catholic priest of the Dominican Order, lives in South Africa.
The book also examines issues that might have prevented the Rwandan churches from accepting that they might have some responsibility, and how people should account for the efforts of other sectors of the churches to remember and commemorate the genocide and rebuilding pastoral programs, according to the description of the book.
It draws on interviews with genocide survivors, Rwandans in exile, missionaries and government officials, as well as church records and other sources.
The book has been described as the first scholarly study of Christianity and the Genocide against the Tutsi to explore in depth the aforementioned controversial issues, and reveals more internal diversity within Christian churches than is often assumed.
While some Christians, Protestants and Catholics, took risks to shelter the Tutsi, others “wholeheartedly adopted the view of the interim government that the Tutsi were enemies of the people and some even priests and pastors , helped the killers”.
Church leaders not only failed to condemn the Genocide against the Tutsi, but some of them actively participated in the three-month-long massacre that claimed over a million lives. Some have since been brought to trial in Rwanda and at the ICTR, the UN tribunal based in Tanzania.
Thousands of victims were killed in places of worship or churches after seeking refuge there. Several churches have since become genocide memorials.
The new book focuses on the period between 1994 and 2000, with the author examining in detail the responses of two churches in particular, the Rwandan Catholic Church, “the largest and most complex”, and the Presbyterian Church, ” who made a confession of guilt in December 1996”.
The book looks at the case of the Catholic parish of La Crête Congo-Nil in western Rwanda, led at the time by the French priest Gabriel Maindron, a “man whom Genocide survivors accuse of having failed to s ‘to publicly oppose the Genocide and to have close ties with the authorities and some of the perpetrators’.
“By 1997, the defensive attitude adopted by many Catholics had begun to change,” the author says. “The Extraordinary Synod on Ethnocentrism in 1999-2000 was a milestone. Yet, especially in the aftermath of the genocide, tension and suspicion persist.”
The book launch event in Kigali is scheduled at the Kigali Public Library later on Friday.
Learn more about the author
Denis is the founder and board member of the Sinomlando Center for Oral History and Memory Work in Africa and an associate member of the Royal Academy of Belgium.
He holds a doctorate in history from the University of Liège, Belgium, with a thesis on the institutionalization of refugee churches in the Rhine Valley (1538-1564), and is the author or co- author of nine books and various peer-reviewed journal articles or book chapters.
Denis’ main areas of expertise are religious history, oral history and memory studies, with his most recent areas of research including the history of contextual theology in South Africa, HIV/AIDS and Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi in Rwanda.