Africana Plus

No 5 November 1994.5


Killer priests ?

Much ink has been spilled over the continuing drama in Rwanda, and that is a good thing. Many experts have voiced their opinions, and that too is good. The world needs to know what is going on, and we hope that reports on the situation in Rwanda continue to receive attention, even at the risk of our becoming blasé. People are still dying in Rwanda, and the suffering is not over yet.

On Tuesday, September 6, the French-language Radio-Canada network broadcast an interview on its current affairs program "Le Point" that did not leave us indifferent.. When I say "us", I am referring to the members of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), who work in a number of countries, including Rwanda. We felt a need to respond because we take issue with some of the comments made by Léo Kalinda, a radio journalist for Radio-Canada, in his interview with the program's host, Jean-François Lépine. In passing, we would like to compliment Radio-Canada on its regular coverage of events in Rwanda.

Mr. Kalinda, recently arrived from Rwanda, talked about the pain he felt at losing his entire family in Rwanda's bloody civil war. We have only the deepest sympathy for Mr. Kalinda and his family in their sufferings. Like Mr. Lépine, we too offer our most sincere condolences. It was a wounded man we saw on television, a man who, in his own words, wished to consummate his grief by requesting this interview. We can certainly understand his emotions. Again, it is a hurt and angry man who is accusing certain Rwandans and Canadians of complicity in the genocide that took place in his homeland.

He claimed that death lists had been prepared as early as 1990, and that Canadians were aware of their existence. Canadian priests returning from Rwanda had not spoken out against them, and Mr. Kalinda felt this was simply because they wanted to be able to go back to Rwanda. Towards the end of the interview, Mr. Kalinda had more harsh words to say about these same Canadians and Quebecers. He mentioned one priest (actually, a member of the Christian Brothers) who had saved a Rwandan woman (Monique Mujawamariya) and then neglected to mention it. Ms. Mujawamariya represents the Human Rights League in Rwanda. If the brother in question was able to help Ms. Mujawamariya, surely he did a good thing by saving a human life: why should he be taken to task? I think that Mr. Kalinda is looking too hard for something to criticize in this brother's actions.

It is sad that Mr. Kalinda's vocabulary seemed to indicate a certain arrogance in his attitude. His choice of words showed that he has little respect for the Church and the people who work for it. His tone was provocative in the extreme, and instead of promoting reconciliation, his goal seemed to be to create further enmity.

We find it unfortunate that Mr. Lépine fell into Mr. Kalinda's "trap"by trying to rephrase what he was saying, to the extent that the program began and ended with Mr. Lépine pointing a finger at viewers and proclaiming that Canadians were responsible for the genocide in Rwanda. In discussing the case of the Christian Brother, he offered the opinion that the brothers wanted to "maintain the stability of their investment". We understand that in an interview situation it is not always possible to choose one's words. But referring to an "investment" strikes us as almost meaningless. The financial terminology applied by Mr. Lépine to pastoral activities was very much out of place.

I saw priests killing people... Can Mr. Kalinda back this up with some names, the names of the "killer priests" and of the victims? This is too serious an allegation to leave unsubstantiated. Without proof, we must dismiss such allegations as baseless and untrue. If murder has been done, let's not generalize about it. We would like specific information from Mr. Kalinda, because his interview suggests that a number of priests stand accused. There is a Rwandan proverb that goes Umukobwa aba umwe agatukisha bose: If one girl does a foolish thing, then all girls must be bad.

Mr. Kalinda went on to say that these priests, who were poorly educated and not very bright, told him they had really thought they were going to be killed. Come on! First of all, what is this about poorly educated priests? Every priest, in Rwanda and elsewhere, has to study philosophy for two years and theology for four before ordination. That is the equivalent of six years of university. Priests cannot be dismissed as ignorant.

As Missionaries of Africa, we stand with our Rwandan fellow priests and religious. It should not be forgotten that some hundred Rwandan priests have been killed during the fighting, as well as three bishops and several foreign missionaries, including two White Fathers. They refused to have any part of the violence that was unfolding before their eyes. What have they done to earn Mr. Kalinda's scorn?

Several White Fathers who have worked in Rwanda for many years say they feel offended at such sweeping condemnation. They left their families, friends and homeland to go spend their lives in Rwanda. They made friends with Rwandans. They worked hard at learning Rwandan languages and customs so that they would fit in. Why should they be criticized for their actions?

No, Mr. Kalinda, we did not know anything about the death lists before the tragic events in Rwanda. Only after the bloodshed began did some missionaries realize that the militia was using a list, and we state this uncategorically. Why is Mr. Kalinda trying to lay the blame for the massacres on the pastors of the Catholic Church? If he really wants to find the persons responsible, perhaps it would be more logical to seek them closer to where the drama took place.

We are a small country that has been forgotten by everyone and even by God. How can Mr. Kalinda presume to know God's will for Rwanda? Again, we acknowledge that Mr. Kalinda has suffered greatly, but we consider his assertions questionable, to say the least, and we prefer to believe them the product of grief and anger over the death of his family. However, this is still no reason to make such accusations.

In closing, we would like to say a few words to Mr. Kalinda:
You have chosen Canada as your adopted homeland. We hope that you have been and will continue to be well treated by Canadians, especially Quebecers.
It is futile to make sweeping accusations that only accentuate the consequences of the drama in Rwanda. We want to pray that time will heal your pain, and that God will reveal his face to you.
No, God has not forgotten you, neither you nor the people of Rwanda. And we think that the people of Canada and the Canadian Church are standing with you in your suffering, as they have shown through their outpouring of humanitarian aid.

Michel Fortin, M.Afr.

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