Rwanda Reimagined

The experience of the Catholic Church in Rwanda, like nearly everything in the country, is divided into two parts: the time before the 1994 genocide and the time after. In the years since an estimated one million people were killed over the course of 100 days, parishes have worked to recover from the loss of their congregations, clergy have worked to redefine and repair the church’s place in the public square, and everyone here has made efforts to rebuild trust among neighbors.

The process of reimagining the role of the church also has, in recent years, included efforts to look more closely not only at the place of the church in society, but at the workings of the church’s own internal structures. By 2009, for example, the Diocese of Kibungo had accumulated a debt of 1.5 billion Rwandan francs, the equivalent of nearly $2.25 million. The bishop admitted the situation to the people of his diocese, and they had one simple question: How did it get this far? The answer was simple: poor management. The remedy was more complicated and has included the implementation of new professional tools and organizational structures that have helped the church to fulfill its mission better.

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“The churches had a kind of family management system, which was not accountable to anyone,” said Pascasie Musabyemungu of Catholic Relief Services, which has helped several of Rwanda’s dioceses to establish a new way of operating. “The dynamics of the work environment were changing and they had to adapt.”

The Rev. Viateur Gitongana, general treasurer and coordinator of capacity building for the Diocese of Kibungo, has since worked with C.R.S. to help his diocese recover from financial ruin. Since February 2012, C.R.S. and the diocese have carried out workshops and training programs on management systems. They worked to make people aware of the problems and to convince priests and parish volunteers of the need for change.

The diocese worked with C.R.S. to select and adapt management tools; parishes received visits from advisors; and a manual of administrative and financial procedures was developed. The changes included the creation of inventories for parishes, the addition of lay people to church finance committees, the installation of qualified accountants, the mandating of monthly financial reports, annual budget plans and cash forecasts and even the establishment of parish bank accounts, which many parishes did not have. In addition, parishes were asked to hire paid workers, who are offered contracts, rather than rely solely on volunteers. Now multiple signatures are required for requisition forms, where before no forms existed. Parishioners have taken on greater responsibility for parish duties, and accountants now hold the checkbooks rather than the priests. In June 2012, C.R.S. and the Kibungo Diocese held a workshop for parish financial councils; later that month they had a workshop for all priests, then for chairpersons of commissions, accountants of parishes and accountants for schools and health facilities, working to educate at every level.

The changes were not easy. “We met resistance on all fronts,” said Father Gitongana, “but after one year most people can see that the change is sensible.” Before the changes in management, he said, “we were losing our credibility.... But we are learning that we cannot achieve our mission without change. The church can’t properly carry out its mission without both good management and pastoral work.”

The changes on the diocesan level were also inspired by changes at the episcopal conference, which is in the midst of implementing a 10-year plan in collaboration with C.R.S., which has helped the conference to become more efficient, effective and professional. “They knew they couldn’t carry on as they were,” the Rev. Celestin Hakizimana, secretary general of the episcopal conference, said of the bishops’ conference. The bishops also realized they needed to set an example. “If the bishops themselves didn’t implement these changes, why should the parishes?” said Father Hakizimana. “We tried to create a road map together.”

Throughout the process of change, an emphasis on humility, community and practicality has helped the church in Rwanda to live out more fully the values it works to promote, even as it acknowledges that the process is ongoing. “We did an internal audit at the conference,” said Father Hakizimana. “When we saw the results we were pleased, but we also saw that there was still work to do.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Christopher Rushlau
4 years 6 months ago
Is the bifurcation of Hutu and Tutsi entirely a creation of the Belgian administration, including the promotion of Tutsis into the master race? If so, how do you pretend yourself out of this situation?
Sara Damewood
4 years 6 months ago
I'm sure it was quite a challenge to have to deal with the practical work of management changes after such horrific trauma. If they could do it, then so can American Catholic parishes! We need more accountants in this world.

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