News Analysis

Rwanda’s new cathedral will be built on the site of a notorious prison

Nyarugenge Prison

The Catholic Church has sometimes had a tense relationship with the Rwandan government. But last month officials announced that they were donating a 14-acre plot for the construction of a new Catholic cathedral in the capital, Kigali.

It will be built on land that was formerly occupied by one of the country’s largest and oldest jails, Nyarugenge Prison, built by the country’s colonial masters, Belgium, in 1930. In 2017, some 3,000 inmates were relocated to a newly constructed prison at Mageragere, on the outskirts of the city.

The new cathedral will be a short distance from St Michel, the present Catholic cathedral. The Rwandan daily New Times reported that St Michel was now too small to accommodate its congregation in this city with nearly a million inhabitants. Other reports said that the move came in response to government plans to demolish buildings around St Michel, which it views as a security threat because of their proximity to the State House.

The green light for the new cathedral comes at a time when the government has placed tight restrictions on church buildings.  In 2018, for example, hundreds of churches were closed down, ostensibly on health and safety grounds.

Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Kigali had expressed his desire to build a new cathedral at his installation in 2018.

The project has now won the support of Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, who had previously accused the Church of complicity in the 1994 genocide.

A Rwandan Catholic who asked not to be named told the Catholic Herald: “The construction of the new cathedral is most welcome. It is a positive move as it comes in the wake of reconciliation efforts between the Church and the government.”

He noted that some Catholic priests and women religious had been held in Nyarugenge Prison on charges of involvement in the genocide.

Sources say the new cathedral is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.