In the basement of the church – which today stands as a memorial to the 1994 genocide – skulls of unidentified Tutsi men are hung over the coffin of a woman from the same ethnic group who died after a barbaric sexual violence.
Attackers targeted churches like this on the outskirts of the capital Kigali. More than 10,000 people were killed here over two days, according to memorial leader Rachel Murekatete. A mass grave behind the building is the last resting place for more than 45,000 people from the surrounding area who were killed in the violence.
Prince Charles seemed visibly moved as he was shown around the church grounds, where just now discovered other places are being brought, as former invaders identify other burial sites as part of the reconciliation process that began in 1999.
The heir to the British throne is in Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit later this week.
After being shown the burial site, the 73-year-old royal laid a wreath in honor of the victims buried here. On its map is a note from the king written in the local Kinyarwanda language: “We will always remember the innocent souls who were killed in the genocide against the Tutsis in April 1994. Be strong Rwanda. Charles.”
The royal then visited Mbyo Reconciliation Village, one of eight similar villages in Rwanda, where survivors and perpetrators of the genocide live side by side. The perpetrators publicly apologize for their crimes, while survivors confess to forgiveness.
The first day of his visit to Rwanda was heavily focused on learning more about the massacres almost three decades ago. Rwandan footballer and genocide survivor Eric Murangwa had called on the prince to include Nyamata during his three-day visit to the country.
“We are currently living in what we call ‘the last phase of the genocide’, which is denial. And having someone like Prince Charles visit Rwanda and visit the memorial … highlights how the country has managed to recover from it. terrible past, “he told CNN earlier this month during a reception at Buckingham Palace celebrating the contributions of people from across the Commonwealth.
Earlier Wednesday, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall Rwanda’s President Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame met and visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Museum in Gisozi, where a quarter of a million people are buried.
“This memorial is a memorial, a place where survivors and visitors come and show respect for the victims of the Tutsi genocide,” said Freddy Mutanguha, the site’s director and himself a survivor of the genocide. “More than 250,000 victims were buried in this memorial and their bodies were collected in various places … and this place [has] become a final destination for our loved ones, our families. “
These families include his own, who once lived in the town of Kibuye in the western province of the country.
Mutanguha told CNN he heard as the assailants murdered his parents and siblings during the genocide, saying, “I hid, but I could actually hear their voices until they were done. I survived with my sister, but I also lost four sisters.”
Keeping their memory alive is now what drives his mission at the memorial.
“This is a very important place for me as a survivor, because besides being where we buried our family, my mother is down here in one of the mass graves, it is a home for me, but also [it’s] a place where I work and I feel that responsibility. As a survivor, I have to say no, I have to tell the truth about what happened to my family, my country and the Tutsi people, ”he continues.
Mutanguha was keen to welcome Prince Charles to learn more about what happened here and help counter a growing online threat from genocide deniers, which he compares to Holocaust denial.
“That’s what actually worries me, because when the Holocaust happened, people did not learn from the past. When the genocide against Tutsi took place, you can see the deniers of the genocide … mainly those who committed genocide – they feel they can “do it again because they did not finish the work. So when I tell the story, work here and receive visitors, we can probably make ‘never again’ a reality.”
A spokesman for Clarence House said the royal couple were struck by how important it is to never forget the horrors of the past. “But were also deeply moved as they listened to people who have found ways to live with and even forgive the most horrific crimes,” they added.
Prince Charles arrived in Rwanda on Tuesday night – the first member of the royal family to visit the country. He is in Kigali and represents the Queen at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
The meeting is usually held every other year, but was moved twice due to the pandemic. It is the first CHOGM he participates in since he was elected as the organization’s next leader at the 2018 rally.
However, the king’s trip to Kigali comes at a somewhat awkward time, as rage has broken out over the British government’s radical plan to send asylum seekers back to Rwanda.
The British government announced the agreement with the East African country in April, but the first flight a week ago was grounded after an eleven-hour intervention by the European Court of Human Rights.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also been confirmed to attend the Commonwealth leaders’ summit and is expected to meet with Prince Charles on Friday morning.
Sign up for CNN’s Royal Newsa weekly broadcast that gives you an insight into the royal family, what they do in public and what happens behind the castle walls.