Some of you will remember the Rwanda genocide, April-July 1994, and others of you will know about it. Twenty-seven years ago, but the horror was there before and since and court trials continue.
An estimated 800,000 Tutsi were massacred by their Hutu neighbours and Christian sisters and brothers. Most of the country is Christian, and about two thirds are Catholic. A bishop wrote that the country had discovered the waters of baptism were weaker than tribal blood, and the blood had flowed.
The terrible Jewish Holocaust was still relatively fresh in European minds. Nazi fascism had found support for its hatred in other European countries. We must not hide from that. “Christian” Europe had discovered once more that the waters of baptism are weaker than national bloods and the bloods urged war, supported shamefully by nationalist Church authorities – some of whom have apologised for their moral cowardice and silence.
Go back to 1885. In negotiations between the European powers at the conference of Berlin, Rwanda was given to the Germans as part of their empire; in 1910, at the Brussels conference, the frontiers of the Belgian Congo, British Uganda and German East Africa were fixed. Was there a Church’s voice for the native peoples? Was there a Church’s voice for the Jews? Was there a Church’s voice for the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the atom bombs destroyed the cities and killed so many?
During the civil wars in the Balkans, following the break-up of Yugoslavia, we were horrified at the religious hatred within those conflicts –Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim – hatreds, we discovered, that went back centuries and thus most of the violence was being justified as historical revenge – as the Hutus could claim against the Tutsi.
Is my blood thicker than baptism water, I ask myself. Do vaccines in a pandemic work better with wealthier blood than poorer blood, more effectively in some races and nations than in others? As a Church do we have conviction that all peoples should be treated equally, or, as a nation, do we think that, naturally, we come first?
Each day the numbers affected by the pandemic increase. Today it is officially over 112 million worldwide and the number of deaths is approximately 3 million. Most people seem to survive the disease, thank God, and our wonderful doctors, nurses, carers, all hospital workers, are doing their exhausting best. Rich world, poor world.
Empire is a frightening history of invasion, power, cruelty and injustice, with religions following the conquests and proclaiming a loving God and a gospel of peace, seeing opportunities to preach rather than courageously speaking out against the injustices of power. “Speak as we allow you to speak,” says political power, “or we shall expel you from the country.” “Yes, Master,” says craven Religion, “your will be done.” And it was, and is, and will be?
At the height of the Rwanda genocide in 1994 the main news item on the front page of Britain’s most popular Catholic newspaper one week was that the Vatican was to allow girl altar servers. Is that the level at which the Catholic Church belongs to the world?
Do you know of Catholic voices that speak truth to power, and where did you hear or read them? If we don’t know is it because we never have known, never bothered to know, because we insist we will make up our own minds?
One of my friends at the National Conference of Priests had been a missionary in Rwanda. He spoke to us with a broken heart and voice. Such a well established Church we were, he said – but it is clear that priests and religious brothers and sisters were amongst the criminals who turned on their Catholic and Christian brothers and sisters, torturing and killing. Churches were opened as sanctuary and then burned to the ground full of terrified Tutsi who thought they were safe in church. Peter cried as he told us.
Covid-19 is worldwide and indiscriminate. We must love one another, promoting justice and co-operation as the pandemic worsens. Whatever is good for our country and the world we must do. Covid-19 is blind, but we can see.
God bless us, world and Church,
(28th February 2021)