Vatican City, Mar 20, 2017 / 08:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During a brief meeting with Rwandan president Paul Kagame Monday, Pope Francis voiced his sadness for members of the Church who participated in the 1994 genocide, asking for forgiveness and assuring those who still suffer of his prayer.
According to a March 20 Vatican communique, during the meeting, the Pope “conveyed his profound sadness, and that of the Holy See and of the Church, for the genocide against the Tutsi.” “He expressed his solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic event,” it read.
In imitation of St. John Paul II’s gesture during the Great Jubilee in 2000, Francis implored 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.”
Pope Francis, in light of a statement published by the Rwandan bishops at the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy asking forgiveness for the failure of the Church and her members, expressed his desire that his own “humble recognition” of the failings of that time, “which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the Church, may contribute to a purification of memory.” He also voiced his hope that the renewed apology “may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace, witnessing to the concrete possibility of living and working together, once the dignity of the human person and the common good are put at the center.”
The genocide began April 7, 1994, after controversy over the plane crash that killed the then-president of Rwanda, a Hutu. In the aftermath, Hutu extremists killed over 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. About 57 percent of Rwanda is Catholic, with another 37 percent Protestant or Seventh-Day Adventist. The churches have worked to bring about healing and reconciliation as well.
The Pope’s meeting with President Kagame, which lasted around 25 minutes, took place inside the Vatican’s apostolic palace and was conducted in English. During the “cordial” discussion between the two, mention was also made of the good relations between the Church and the State in Rwanda. Specific appreciation was expressed for “the notable path of recovery toward the social, political and economic stabilization of the country.” Likewise, the collaboration between the State and the local Church in working for “national reconciliation and in the consolidation of peace” nationwide was also cited.
The two also exchanged views on the political, social and regional situation of Rwanda, with specific attention placed on areas suffering due to conflict and natural problems, including the high number of migrants and refugees in need of support from the international community.
After the meeting, Pope Francis greeted the presidential delegation of 9 people, handing each of them a rosary, before exchanging gifts. Francis gave Kagame three books: his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” his environmental encyclical Laudato Si, and his post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.” He also gave the president a medal, telling him that “I like to give this work to Heads of State because for me it represents the biblical passage: ‘a desert that becomes a garden,’ so that the countries can also become gardens.”
On his part, President Kagame gave the Pope a box with a black and white staff inside, explaining that “it’s a rod used to summon the people,” like a sort of “pastoral” hook. After meeting the Pope, Kagame then met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States.