Paul Gitwaza: The Apostle Of Doom
We could be seeing the reincarnation in Rwanda of fugitive Ugandan doomsday priest Joseph Kibwetere who convinced more than 2000 people into mass suicide in deep rural hills of western Uganda. Kibwetere blackmailed his followers into believing 31st December 1999 would be final day of existence of planet earth. In Rwanda, a controversial pastor locally known as â€œApostle Paul Gitwazaâ€ could be setting in motion a similar stunt.
In early May this year, during a Sunday sermon, Gitwaza told his congregation at Zion Temple in the Rwandan capital Kigali that September 2015 will be time when God sends â€œ4th and final signâ€ towards end of the world. To be precise, he said the exact day that occurrence will appear is 23rd September 2015.
Going by the public reaction when news of the sermon surfaced in local media, not even his followers took him seriously. Many may be dismissing his â€œprophecyâ€, but cannot wish it away.
For starters, â€œApostle Paul Gitwazaâ€ has for decades won himself the hearts of hundreds of people who have joined his Zion Temple church. It has branches across Rwanda. Every Sunday, unsuspecting followers â€“ mainly women, ferry family property to Zion Temple as offertory.
Gitwazaâ€™s words have such an impact that if he told your husband or wife to leave you, it would be more like switching on/off a light. Your partner will not return home. Gitwaza has cult image.
A YouTube video of the doomsday sermon is available, and from the reaction of some people in the audience, the message that they are living the final months of their lives, did ring hard on some people. But others equally looked passive â€“ perhaps indication they have heard many of such sermons, and simply waiting for time to go home.
The law of the land allows for freedom of religion, which has to be respected. However, the authorities need to take action. We cannot wait for a crisis to arise and start the blame-game like it happened in Uganda. Local and central government officials for months ignored pleas from the local population in Kanungu, a rural community in deep western Uganda.
This was the lowest moment in the history of the district (then Rukungiri) and Uganda as believers of â€œMovement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandmentsâ€ headed by Joseph Kibwetere locked themselves up in a cult Kanungu church and set themselves ablaze on March 17, 2000. The followers â€“ from different parts of Uganda, including 4 Rwandan souls that I know personally, believed the world was ending during the year 2000.
Kibwetere himself was NOT in the inferno â€“ and has never been found. The search for the most wanted man in Uganda has pinpointed him in several African countries. Months after the incident, hundreds of bodies were found in mass graves around Kanungu Mountains â€“ suggesting the cult had put into motion a brutal mass murder campaign.
People in this area still remember what the church looked like, the cult leaders in question and the day believers perished.
â€œApostle Paul Gitwazaâ€ is no different from priests who opened gates of churches during the 1994 genocide against Tutsis. Thousands streamed into these places of prayer hoping to escape the killing machine. What happened at those sites is now a record of history.
Two decades on, many of those who survived the carnage in those churches, are followers of â€œApostle Paul Gitwazaâ€. They joined him because he offered them hope. They have trusted him. Many work hard, only to carry their hard-earned benefits to his church.
Preachers are supposed to keep the hearts of their followers on eternal life. The faithful are meant to look to the men and women of God as guardians of GOOD.
â€œApostle Paul Gitwazaâ€™sâ€ May sermon and other similar ones previously have destroyed that utopian feeling. Is Gitwazaâ€™s intention to make his followers stop working, and turn to hopelessness? Could Gitwaza be setting in motion what may turn out to be another stain on a recovering country?
Gitwaza should be helping the needy people among his congregation to find ways of improving their livelihoods, not brushing off their pain as Godâ€™s plan! Gitwaza is making his followers sum up their intoxicated minds that their plight, no matter how miserable, is the work of God. Gitwaza has so much wealth but owns no social project to help the needy. Where does all the money he gets from believers and foreign donations end up?
Gitwazaâ€™s followers have gotten to a point where they defend his actions blindly. Speaking to some, they will tell you he speaks on behalf of the Lord. If indeed we have to accept the world is ending this September, so what happened to a previous such date of 6/6/2006 when he set another deadline.
Gitwaza has changed tactic, now telling them that what will happened this September is â€œ4th and final signâ€ to allow for those who have not accepted Jesus to think again.
Well, Kibwetere first set 31st December 1999 â€“ like many other such false prophets across the world. The followers were then told that the Blessed Virgin Mary would appear to deliver a special message between March 16 and March 18, 2000. Women who had separated from their husbands even went home to persuade those husbands to return to Kanungu to wait for the message. Well, the rest is history!
Gitwaza should know that Rwanda has had its fair share of disasters, and we will not look on as fishy schemes endanger the lives of thousands of innocent lives.