Pope asks for forgiveness for Catholic Church's role in Rwanda genocide

Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka

Pope Francis has asked the President of Rwanda to forgive the "failings of the Church" during the Rwandan genocide.

That sentiment echoes Francis" wishes, according to the Vatican, which said the Pope "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".

The Catholic Church in Rwanda previous year offered an apology, saying some of its members had fanned the ethnic hatred that led to the killings, but Kagame said at the time that he wanted the pope himself to say sorry.

Several massacres were carried out in churches where people sought sanctuary.

In 1994, Hutu extremists in Rwanda targeted minority ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a three-month killing spree that left an estimated 800,000 people dead.

During the meeting, President Kagame and the Pope discussed the relationship between the two states as well as the role of the church in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Skulls belonging to the victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide are displayed in a case at a church outside of Kigali, Rwanda.

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.

In 2006, Athanase Seromba - a former priest of Nyange Parish - was found guilty of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity at the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

In November, a letter of apology signed by the bishops representing the nine dioceses in Rwanda was read in all churches.

"The Rwandan government at the time said the apology was 'profoundly inadequate". Worldwide courts have indicted several Catholic priests for alleged involvement in the genocide.

About half of Rwandans are Catholic, but since the genocide many have turned to pentecostal churches.

Rwanda's foreign affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said today that the Vatican talks between Francis and Kagame were "characterised by a spirit of openness and mutual respect".

Catholic institutions and missions are said to have worked in collaboration with the colonial administration in creating divisions among Rwandans laying the foundation for genocide ideology.

The United Nations has criticized the Catholic Church in the past for its failure to apologize for its complicity in the killings.

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