Pope Francis has been a history-making pope in that he often acknowledges sins and failings of the Catholic church. He continued that tradition after speaking with Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, and asking for forgiveness for the role the Catholic church played in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
Pope Francis acknowledged that in some instances, even priests and nuns were so filled with hate that they participated in the mass killings that took place in across the country during those dark 100 days between April and June in 1994.
The Rwandan Genocide is unique in that there was not one set of perpetrators. Instead, the 800,000 Tutsis and some Hutus were killed mostly by civilians. While the killing itself was spearheaded by the Interahamwe militia, everyday people were encouraged, and even in some cases forced, to join the killing.
The violence began in April 1994 when then-president Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu’s, plane was shot down. The bloodshed was spurred on by propaganda and the military guard encouraging the killing of Tutsis as revenge.
Some speculate that the plane was actually shot down by Hutu extremists to incite a wave of hate and genocide.
Pope Francis and the Vatican have remained tight-lipped on the Church’s involvement in the genocide, traditionally stating that it was not responsible for the mass killings in any way.
However, in November, the Rwandan government asked for a formal apology from the Vatican, particularly for the roles priests and nuns played in the massacres. An apology was also sought for the fact that many killings actually took place in Catholic churches.
Five thousand Tutsis were killed on August 15, 1994, in the Ntarama Catholic Church, a site of one of the biggest massacres during the period.
Other individual priests have since been convicted of human rights violations for heinous acts during the genocide such as bulldozing a church with 2,000 Tutsis inside and raping Tutsi women.
The Rwandan government weighed in on the Church’s failings when asking for an apology.
“Today, genocide denial and trivialisation continue to flourish in certain groups within the Church and genocide suspects have been shielded from justice within Catholic institutions,” the government stated.
Pope Francis has stated that he has “begged for God’s forgiveness” on the failings of his Catholic brothers and sisters during the country’s dark time.
The Vatican and Pope Francis issued a statement on the meeting.
Pope Francis, they said, “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 events and, evoking the gesture of Pope St John Paul II during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, 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.”
Both Pope Francis and President Paul Kagame acknowledged that while many priests and nuns took part in the killings in Rwanda, there were some who were victims themselves.
Over 200 priests and nuns, both Hutus and Tutsis, were mercilessly killed during the 100 days of horror–not to mention non-clergy victims who were practicing Catholics.
Rwanda’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, who accompanied the president on his visit to Rome and to meet with Pope Francis, felt pleased with the meeting and saw it as a positive step moving forward.
She issued a brief statement on the subject.
“It allows us to build a stronger base for restoring harmony between Rwandans and the Catholic Church,” she said.
Hopefully, this will bring about a new era regarding relations with the Catholic church and Rwanda and usher in an age of much-needed healing for both communities.
[Featured Image by Franco Origlia/Getty Images]