Pope Francis Monday conveyed his profound sadness, and that of the Holy See and of the Church, for the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, asking for an apology that is likely to reshape relations between Rwanda and the Vatican.
“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,” according to the statement.
During the genocide Hutu extremists in Rwanda targeted minority ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a three month bloodbath.
Four Catholic priests were in 2001 indicted by the defunct UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for their role in the genocide.
These included Rwandan Catholic Priest Athanse Seromba who was handed 15 years in prison in 2006, later increased to life imprisonment, for his active participation in the massacre of around 2,000 Tutsis who sought protection in his church in western Rwanda.
Rwanda has criticized the Catholic Church in the past for its failure to apologize for its complicity in the killings.
But Kagame on his tweeter handle Monday described the meeting with Pope Francis as a great day.
“Great day/moment and meeting with Pope Francis…a new chapter in relations btwn Rw& Catholic church/Holy See,” he said.
Last year, the Catholic Church in Rwanda apologized for its members’ role in the genocide that saw close to one million people killed in 1994, in a statement read after mass in parishes across the country last November.
The Vatican statement Monday said the Pope also expressed the desire that this humble recognition of the failings of that period-disfigured face of the Church may contribute to a “purification of memory.”
It may also promote a future of peace, and possibility of living and working together, the statement added.
“Today’s [Monday] meeting was characterized 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,” Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a separate statement.
Kagame and the Pope meanwhile also had an exchange of views about the political, social and regional situation, with attention to those places that are suffering conflicts and natural calamities, according to the statement. Enditem