President Paul Kagame told members of the Catholic church clergy yesterday that the Rwandan government and the church are on the same mission to serve Rwandans and that they have recently entered a new chapter of partnership.
He was speaking yesterday in Kabgayi, Southern Province, where he and First Lady Jeannette Kagame joined the clergy and the catholic faithful in marking the 100th Anniversary of Catholic Priesthood in Rwanda.
Describing his meeting with Pope Francis this year as very fruitful, he said that the pope’s current leadership marks a new chapter in history that gives a chance for partnership between the government and the church.
“This chapter of our history is an opportunity for new partnership that serves the people of Rwanda. We have the opportunity to learn from our past and focus on our future because we all have the same goal to serve Rwandans,” he said.
Kagame recognized the first Rwandan Catholic priests, describing them as pioneers in recording and giving value to the Rwandan culture, history, and language.
Rome sent a message that encouraged the church’s current priests in Rwanda to use its experience of a hundred years of catholic priesthood in the country to promote unity, reconciliation, and peace.
Bishop Andrzej Józwowicz who represents the Pope in Rwanda in his capacity as the Apostolic Nuncio to the country, urged the church’s priests to always be exemplary when it comes to extending their support to the needy and bringing together those in conflicts.
Bishop Philippe Rukamba, the Bishop of Butare Diocese who doubles as the chairperson of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Rwanda, agreed with the Pope’s ambassador.
He hence said in a message that a hundred-year anniversary should serve as an opportunity to thank God for the good things that have happened, acknowledge their shortcomings, and move forward with a sense of memory and clear prospects for the future.
Rukamba also apologised for the faults of some Rwandan priests during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, acknowledging that their behaviour was in contradiction with the Catholic Church’s values to support the vulnerable and those suffering.
“I would like to say sorry on behalf of the Rwandan episcopate for priests’ shortcomings during a hundred years of the church in Rwanda especially during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi,” he wrote in the special magazine published by the church for the occasion.
He repeated the message in a speech at the event yesterday, reminding his audience that some priests disappointed the church by playing a role in the genocide in contradiction with their mission.
On the other hand, the bishop thanked some Catholic Church’s priests in Rwanda who didn’t abandon their followers in difficult moments but died while trying to protect them.
“Just like our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, they accepted to sacrifice for their brothers and sisters,” he said of the few Catholic Church priests who died while protecting Tutsis during the genocide.
It was on Sunday October 7, 1917 when the first Rwandan Catholic Church priests, Father Donat Reberaho and Father Balthazar Gafuku, were ordained and yesterday marked a hundred years since that milestone for the church’s mission in Rwanda.