President Paul Kagame was on Monday received by Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City.
“President Kagame and the Holy Father discussed several aspects of the relationship between Rwanda and the Holy See,” said Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who accompanied the President to the Vatican. “The President commended the Church’s contributions to Rwanda’s socio-economic development, particularly in the education and health sectors.”
The two leaders also discussed the Church’s role in the most tragic chapters of Rwanda’s past, leading up to the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994, and according to a statement by the Vatican, Pope Francis “implored God’s forgiveness for the sins and failings of the Church and its members” during the genocide and told Rwanda’s president that he hoped his apology would help the country heal.
In the statement, the Vatican acknowledged that some Catholic priests and nuns “succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission” by participating in the genocide.
The Vatican said Francis “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.”
Pope Francis also conveyed the sadness of the Holy See and the church at large for the genocide and expressed solidarity with the victims.
According to Minister Mushikiwabo, the 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,” she said.
She added that during the discussion, Rwanda’s progress in reconciliation and economic development was also noted, including the fact that survivors and repentant perpetrators have learned to live and work side-by-side, and that shared Catholic faith has facilitated these efforts and provided comfort.
The Vatican also said that the two leaders also exchanged views about the political, social and regional situation, with attention to those places hit by conflict and natural calamities, and that they expressed a particular concern for the large number of refugees and migrants in need of help and support from the international community and from regional structures.