President Paul Kagame yesterday held talks with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City.
During the meeting, President Kagame and the pope discussed the relationship between Rwanda and the Holy See, as well as the role of the Church in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
In a tweet by the President following the meeting, he said it was a great moment meeting with Pope Francis, which he said opened a new chapter in relations between Rwanda and Catholic Church/Holy See.
“Great day/ moment and meeting with Pope Francis, new chapter in relations between Rwanda and Catholic Church/Holy See. Being able to acknowledge/apologise for wrong doings in circumstances/cases like this is an act of courage and moral high standing typical of Pope Francis,” he said.
Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said that the deliberations aimed at improving ties.
“Yesterday’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,” Mushikiwabo said in a statement.
According to a statement from the Vatican, in regard to the role of the Church in Genocide, Pope Francis expressed his “solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic events.”
The pope sought God’s forgiveness for the failure of the Church and its members who participated in the Genocide.
“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,” the Vatican statement said.
The pope also spoke on the statement published by Rwandan bishops last year on the involvement of some if its members in the Genocide.
“In light of the recent Holy Year of Mercy and of the statement published by the Rwandan bishops at its conclusion, 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…..” it said.
Historically, Catholic institutions and missions and the colonial administration are known to have entrenched divisions among Rwandans, laying the foundation for genocide ideology.
In addition, some Catholic clerics were active Genocide perpetrators and several have been convicted for their crimes.
The Government statement notes that Genocide denial and trivialisation continues to flourish in certain groups within the Church while Genocide suspects have been shielded from justice within Catholic institutions.
Some of the clergy indicted are still in the active service in the Catholic Church across the world despite efforts to bring them to justice.
According to Mushikiwabo, President Kagame commended the Church’s contribution in the areas of education and health in Rwanda.