A lot of books have been written about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
One of the latest publications, set to be launched Friday in Kigali, is titled, “The Genocide against the Tutsi, and the Rwandan Churches: Between Grief and Denial”.
Written by Philippe Denis, a Senior Professor in History of Christianity at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the 358-page book offers insights into different questions such as why did some sections of the Rwandan churches “adopt an ambiguous attitude” towards the Genocide.
Denis, a Belgian Catholic priest of the Dominican Order, lives in South Africa.
The book also examines issues that could have prevented Rwandan churches’ acceptance that they may have had some responsibility, and how people should account for the efforts made by other sectors of the churches to remember and commemorate the Genocide and rebuild pastoral programmes, according to the book’s description.
It draws on interviews with Genocide survivors, Rwandans in exile, missionaries and government officials, as well as church archives and other sources.
The book has been described as the first academic study on Christianity and the Genocide against the Tutsi to explore aforementioned contentious questions in depth, and reveals more internal diversity within the Christian churches than is often assumed.
While some Christians, Protestants as well as Catholics, took risks to shelter the Tutsi, others “uncritically embraced the interim government’s view that the Tutsi were enemies of the people and some, even priests and pastors, assisted the killers”.
Church leaders did not only fail to condemn the Genocide against the Tutsi, but some of them actively participated in the three-month slaughter that claimed the lives of over a million people. Some have since been brought to justice both in Rwanda and at the ICTR, the Tanzania-based UN tribunal.
Thousands of victims were killed inside places of worship or church compounds after they sought 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 biggest and the most complex”, and the Presbyterian Church, “which made an unconditional confession of guilt in December 1996”.
The book takes a look at the case of the Catholic parish 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 publicly to oppose the Genocide and of having close links with the authorities and some of the perpetrators”.
“By 1997, the defensive attitude adopted by many Catholics had started to change,” the author says. “The Extraordinary Synod on Ethnocentricity in 1999-2000 was a milestone. Yet, especially in the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, tension and suspicion persist.”
The event to launch the book in Kigali is due at Kigali Public Library later Friday.
More about the author
Denis is the founder and board member of the Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work in Africa and an associate member of the Royal Academy of Belgium.
He holds a PhD in History from the University of Liège, Belgium, with a thesis on the institutionalisation of refugee churches in the Rhine Valley (1538-1564), and has authored or co-authored nine books and various peer-reviewed journal articles or book chapters.
Denis’s main fields 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, of HIV/AIDS, and of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.