Pope Francis fails to end Vatican silence on Rwanda

Away from the trending Tanzanian President’s avant-garde approach to reducing public expenditure, the biggest story in East Africa this week is the Papal visit; after his first leg stop in Kenya, Pope Francis is in Uganda from where he’ll head to Central African Republic.

Away from the trending Tanzanian President’s avant-garde approach to reducing public expenditure, the biggest story in East Africa this week is the Papal visit; after his first leg stop in Kenya, Pope Francis is in Uganda from where he’ll head to Central African Republic.

Like most people out there, I like this Pope. In December, last year, the Pope who studied chemistry revealed that he once worked as a nightclub bouncer in Buenos Aires, a revelation that saw social media users branding him the coolest Pope ever.

In October, the Pope issued a surprise public apology for scandals that have bedeviled the headquarters of the Catholic Church.

“I would like to ask for forgiveness in the name of the church for the scandals that have happened in this last period, both in Rome and at the Vatican; I ask for your forgiveness,” he begged before a large audience at St. Peter’s Square.

While visiting the United States recently, the Pope secretly met with the County Court Clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; the move divided many liberal Catholics.

Pope Francis has been branded a reformer of the Catholic Church and many have feared that some of his bold moves could leave the overly conservative Vatican deeply divided. His simple lifestyle has endeared him to people in and beyond the Catholic Church.

And he is also a humorous gentleman. In an interview with the press earlier this year, he was asked to respond to an alleged plot by ISIS to assassinate him.

“Life is in God’s hands. I have said to the Lord, ‘You take care of me. But if it is your will that I die or something happens to me, I ask you only one favour: that it doesn’t hurt. Because I am a real wimp when it comes to physical pain,” the former bouncer mused.

We could go on and on about all the nice things about Pope Francis, unfortunately, every beautiful story has short comings.

The last time a Pope visited Rwanda was in 1990. Normally, Papal visits are said to leave blessings behind; but only four years later, the country witnessed the ugliest episode in its history in form of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in which over a million people were murdered.

Since then, acrimony has courted the relationship between Rwanda and the Vatican, the headquarters of the Catholic Church whose role in the Genocide is widely documented as widespread.

While in Kenya, the good Pope preached about social justice and castigated tribal divisionism that tore the country into bloody pieces after the 2007 disputed election. He also condemned terrorism and all barbaric acts.

In Uganda, he praised the young men who were brave and accepted to die in the name for their faith. They are regarded martyrs of the Church.

How I wish Rwanda had been included on the Pope’s itinerary. What kind of message would he have given?

Given his credentials as a reformer, Pope Francis is perhaps the best chance we have in finally having the Catholic Church acknowledge its role in the genocide and officially apologize.

Probably not every murder yields a martyr but the innocent Rwandans who were raped and killed in the churches where they had run to seek refugee deserve a mention from the highest leadership at Vatican.

For over twenty years, the Vatican has chosen to live in denial of the fact that its ordained priests lured thousands of persecuted Tutsi into the sanctuaries of the Catholic Churches they manned before handing them over to be murdered in cold blood.

So on this visit, Pope Francis, like his predecessors, chose to tiptoe to neighbouring Kenya, Uganda and finally CAR before retreating to the secrecy of the revered Vatican.

But even during his tiptoeing in Rwanda’s neighborhood, the faithful Rwandan Catholics heard his footsteps, and in spite of their two decade pains of betrayal, many went to Kenya and Uganda to be part of the hundreds of thousands who turned up to welcome the good Pope.

They prayed. They praised. But shall the Vatican ever hear their cries and grant them a sincere apology? Well, maybe not with all the noise from the 21-gun salute the Pope received, more as a symbol of him being the political head of the church than a spiritual leader.

It’s the politics inside the Catholic Church that Pope Francis has to overcome if the Vatican silence on 1994 Genocide is to finally be broken and allow its ministers who participated in the genocide to face justice. He can still do it.

Until that happens, the likes of Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka the vicar of Sainte Famille Parish in Kigali during the Genocide and many others, will continue to enjoy the benefits of the Vatican’s denial.

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