President Paul Kagame on Wednesday warned young people against indulging in poverty-perpetuating practices, including those undertaken in the context of religion, wondering how people “worship poverty”.
He was addressing over 2000 youths who attended the 10-year anniversary of the YouthConnekt initiative at Intare Conference Arena in Rusororo.
The President was making reference to an annual three-day pilgrimage usually undertaken by youth from western Rwanda which culminates into a forum at a ‘prayer mountain’ known as Our Lady of the Poor located in the Crête Congo Nil Parish, in Rutsiro District.
The annual ritual, which attracts thousands of mostly young people, was last held in June this year.
The pilgrimage was reportedly initiated by the late Bishop Aloys Bigirumwami of Nyundo Diocese in 1954. At the time, it is reported that thousands of young people made a journey of about three days to the event, trekking from areas in present-day districts of Rusizi, Rubavu, Ngororero, Nyabihu, and Rutsiro.
“So, you have come to the point of worshiping poverty? I thought that when you pray you ask for things that can help you develop and alleviate you from poverty,” Kagame challenged the youth.
He linked the mentality to perpetual poverty and a culture of begging for aid.
The Head of State asked young people to reject such practices and embrace a sense of personal development and progress. He urged them to steer clear of attitudes of despair and ineptitude and focus on what benefits them and the country.
Minister who attended last event speaks out
Meanwhile, Dr Jean Nepo Abdallah Utumatwishima, the Minister of Youth, who was invited to this year’s event in Rutsiro, said he was shocked and saddened to witness what happens in the ritual, including participants enduring walking for three days and nights without anything to eat and sleeping outside, with no shelter or hygiene facilities whatsoever.
“There are certain things that are simply outdated, things you can’t do in this day and age,” he said. “There are decent ways in which people can undertake a pilgrimage like the one to Kibeho; organisers need to be mindful of the security of participants. The way it (Our Lady of the Poor ritual) was done in 1954 is the same way it is done today, that needs to change.”
One of the aspects that need to change, he said, is the name associated with the ritual and the place where the event is held that connotes a mindset of poverty, which he said could have a lasting impact on the youth.
“In my speech, I told them to go back to school and engage in economic activity because even Jesus did not choose idle disciples…praying is allowed but you should pray while working hard to alleviate yourself from poverty,” Utumatwishima told The New Times.
Utumatwishima noted that, going forward, the Ministry of Youth and the police will work closely with the organisers of such religious events to prevent practices that mislead the youth.