Rwandan-born Killyleagh church minister to mark 20 years since genocide

Rev Canon Jerome Munyangaju, a Rwandan who today ministers in Northern Ireland.
Rev Canon Jerome Munyangaju, a Rwandan who today ministers in Northern Ireland.

The minister of a Northern Irish church who lost much of his family in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide is to speak at a service marking 20 years since the atrocities.

Jerome Munyangaju will be among those attending the remembrance service at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, at 7.30pm on Monday.

The service is open to all.

He had left strife-ridden, soon-to-be independent African country in 1960 when he was just a child, and he went on to become active in the church just across the border in Tanzania.

He moved to England to do a theology course in 1993, before the full-scale slaughter broke out on April 7 the following year.

“I was watching the news all the time, and was very anxious about it,” he said. “We kept in touch with people, hearing reports of friends and family, wondering whether they were safe or not.”

Asked if he had lost relatives or friends, he said: “Oh yes. My close family were killed in Rwanda.”

He added: “It was really clear it was because of neighbours... killing them with machetes, and others with the different instruments and all sorts as well.”

He said there were also militiamen who had ammunition.

“In the end I had to travel there specifically to look for my sister, initially. She was unaccounted for, and even today we have not buried her remains. And the children, and others. All of them.”

Many of his other relatives were lost too, as well as those of his wife - but even this huge death-toll represents “but a few” of what he called an “endless” list.

All told, perhaps as many as a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in months-long spree of sectarian blood-letting, carried out by Hutu fanatics.

It came against a backdrop of deep, decades-old sectarianism in the former colony.

Rev Munyangaju came to Northern Ireland in 1995, and is currently Rector of Killyleagh church.

Asked if he could see any parallels between Rwanda and Northern Ireland, he said: “The scale cannot be compared, but attitudes can. Because at the end of the day, you can’t compare anything with Rwanda. There were 10,000 people killed every day in three months.”

The problem, he said, was seeing in people as “the other – as ‘them’ and ‘us’. That’s not a good thing.”

The service on Monday will be led by the Right Reverend Dr Rob Craig, and Rev Canon Munyangaju will be speaking at it as well.

He said: “The message is really to remember. To remember all those (who were killed), and actually that a country, at that time, went into the abyss.”