The late Catholic Bishop Aloys Bigirumwami was devoted to Rwanda's cultural heritage and unity of the citizens, and a principled servant of God, participants at a commemoration event heard yesterday, 26 years after his death.
Bigirumwami, the first African Bishop of Belgian colonies and sixth African Catholic Bishop, died at the age of 81.
"When Bigirumwami was ordained Bishop, I was still a little boy, but good things were being said about him from all corners. At the time there was turmoil everywhere in the country, with divisive politics and violence was brewing," Prof. Crysologue Karangwa, a former chairman of the National Electoral Commission, said at a memorial ceremony in Kigali yesterday.
"For him to have come out and preached a different message - from what the politicians and other religious leaders were preaching - was heroic," he said of the clergyman who passed away on June 3, 1986.
Karangwa was addressing over 100 friends and relatives of Bishop Bigirumwami at Centre Christus in Remera.
Having risen to prominence, particularly within Christian circles, at a time when the country was being polarised along ethnic lines, Mgr Bigirumwami did not blame Rwanda's post-independence leaders, according to those who know him.
Instead he blamed the "white colonialists who sought to divide and destroy Rwanda,"
During his lifetime, the Catholic priest was dedicated to one mission - to unify Rwandans, it was said.
He spread the message through sermons, poems, proverbs, songs and his books which are still in use to date.
"Bigirumwami criticised foreign books written about Rwanda at that time and condemned them for exaggerating the differences amongst Rwandans. He used to engage in passionate debates, and frequently urged his students and congregation to speak about their love for Rwanda," Immaculate Rukamba, his niece said.
"He didn't just criticise but also presented his version of the truth about the Rwandan people and, in his book "Imihigo, Imiziro N'imiziririzo" written in 1987, Bishop Bigirumwami compiled his proverbs, views and poems about Rwanda."
He is credited with building schools and hospitals in Rwanda, and for promoting girls education abroad. Born in Zaza, Bigirumwami served as Bishop of Nyundo from 1959 to 1973, having previously served as its Apostolic Vicar.
Thanks to his brilliance and intellectual prowess, Bigirumwami rose through the ranks quickly; he was ordained priest at an early age of 24, ordained Titular Bishop of Garriana at 47 and, later became the Bishop of Nyundo at 56, before retiring at 69.