Rwanda's Paul Kagame threatens to imprison catholic pilgrims who 'worship poverty'

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame at State House in Nairobi. [PCS]

Rwanda President Paul Kagame has threatened to arrest anyone who engages in the annual catholic pilgrimage activity that, according to him, aims at “worshiping poverty”.

The activity which sees Catholics in Rwanda and others from all over the world travel by foot from one parish takes place on November 28.

While addressing a youth conference on Wednesday, August 23, Kagame said that he will apprehend those who take part in the pilgrimage, if it happens again.

 "No one must worship poverty. Do not ever do that again... If I ever hear about this again, that people traveled to go and worship poverty, I will bring trucks and round them up and imprison them, and only release them when the poverty mentality has left them," said Kagame.

According to the Head of State, the prayers made should aim at ending poverty and not upholding it.

"I thought that when you pray, you are praying so that you can help improve your lives, praying to get rich and get out of poverty," he added. 

The pilgrims usually walk to the Kibeho shrine where they believe the Virgin Mary appeared to three high school girls four decades ago.

At the site, they worship and receive Holy Communion.

During the peak season, Kibeho Church receives between 25,000-30,000 visitors from across the world, including America, Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Italy and India.

During the low season, the place of worship receives approximately 100 religious tourists a week, mostly from Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tanzania.

There are however other little sites of the same nature which makes it not clear if the government plans on closing all of them considering that the Kibeho is a tourist attraction site and President Kagame is a Catholic.

According to Rwanda government spokesperson, Yolande Makolo, the President could have been referring to other sites.

"In his address at the youth event, President Kagame did not at any point mention a specific pilgrimage site, and certainly not Kibeho. What he was most likely referring to is an informal pilgrimage-type event that takes place in the Rutsiro district, and the point was to encourage young Rwandans to be ambitious and work hard, instead of getting caught up in cult-like rituals,” said Yolande.