On Monday, Pope Francis received the President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, in a private audience at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
Accordingly to the press releases of the Holy See and of the Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo who accompanied President Kagame to the Vatican, their discussion was cordial, and the two discussed several aspects of the relationship between Rwanda and the Holy See.
Pope Francis expressed his appreciation “for the notable path of recovery towards the social, political and economic stabilization of the country”, and he acknowledged “the collaboration between the State and the local Church in the work of national reconciliation and in the consolidation of peace, for the benefit of the whole Nation”.
President Kagame, from his side, commended the Church’s contributions to Rwanda’s socio-economic development, particularly in the education and health sectors.
The genocide of 1994 – Imploring God’s forgiveness
After almost 23 years from the 100-day genocide, that erupted in Rwanda in April 1994 and where more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists, Pope Francis wanted to “convey his profound sadness, and that of the Holy See and of the Church, for the genocide. He expressed his solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic events and, evoking the gesture of Pope St John Paul II during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, he implored anew God’s forgiveness for the sins and failings of the Church and its members, among whom priests, and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission”, by participating in the genocide.
Many of the victims died at the hands of priests, clergymen and nuns, according to some accounts by survivors, and the Rwandan government says many died in the churches where they had sought refuge. In the years since, the local Catholic Church had resisted efforts by the government and survivors’ groups to acknowledge the local Church’s complicity in mass murder, saying those Church officials who committed crimes acted individually.
The Pope also expressed the desire “that this humble recognition of the failings of that period, which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the Church, may contribute to a ‘purification of memory’ and may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace, witnessing to the concrete possibility of living and working together, once the dignity of the human person and the common good are put at the centre.”
The Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo also said that “today’s meeting was characterised by a spirit of openness and mutual respect. It is a positive step forward in the relationship between Rwanda and the Holy See, based on a frank and shared understanding of Rwanda’s history and the imperative to combat genocide ideology. It allows us to build a stronger base for restoring harmony between Rwandans and the Catholic Church.”
23 years ago
In a few days’ time, Rwanda will commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the genocide that was sparked by the death of the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994. A part of history of Africa and of humanity that seems far in time and space, an outburst of violence that brought on the front pages of the newspapers of the world, a small beautiful country nested in the heart of Africa, almost unknown to most people. A date that marked the death of almost 800.000 people, and changed the life of millions for ever.