Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Pentecostal Renewal Transforms Rwanda after Genocide

Survivors flock to charismatic churches as a haven for healing.
Catherine Newhouse in Kigali, Rwanda

Before the genocide, Rwanda was considered the most Roman Catholic country in Africa. It was 63 percent Catholic with a population of 8 million in the mid-1990s, according to Anne Kubai, former head of religious studies at the Kigali Institute of Education.

In the 18 years since the genocide, the overwhelmingly Catholic demographic shifted quickly and enormously toward Protestant and independent churches. Dramatic population growth has fueled the shift. Rwanda's post-genocide population dipped to 5.4 million; now experts project that it will exceed 11.5 million by the end of 2012. Of 19 sub-Saharan countries surveyed, Rwanda has seen the most significant rise in Protestant faith, according to a new Pew Foundation report. The country is now 38 percent Protestant, and of those Protestants, Pentecostals are the most sizable group.

The genocide changed everything. In 1994, neighbor turned against neighbor as extremist Hutus killed about 1 million minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates who supported them. The church hierarchy, both Catholic and mainline Protestant, emerged with blood on its hands. Catholic priests were among the guilty. Some lured their parishioners into churches, only to let murderers in next. Other priests failed to speak out against ethnic violence in time to prevent the worst of it.

Andrew Rusatsi, a seminary professor in Nyakibanda, Rwanda, said many Rwandans felt betrayed by the Catholic Church's involvement. "They embraced other churches—Protestant, Pentecostal, and Restoration churches, which have been proliferating like mushrooms," Rusatsi said. Protestant church leaders were also implicated in the genocide, but to a lesser extent.

After the genocide, a new brand of churches emerged: Pentecostal congregations started by Tutsi refugees returning to their homeland after decades of living in neighboring countries to escape persecution. In Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, and Kenya, Rwandan refugees had encountered the emotionally expressive Pentecostal faith. the rest


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