Pope Francis seeks forgiveness for Church's 'sins and failings' in Rwandan genocide


Rwanda's President Paul Kagame greets Pope Francis during a private meeting at the Vatican, March 20, 2017.Reuters

Pope Francis has asked for forgiveness for the 'sins and failings of the Church and its members' during Rwanda's 1994 genocide. He said the violence had 'disfigured' the face of the Church.

The pontiff made the comments in a Vatican meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. He said he hoped the apology would promote peace and a 'purification of memory' in Rwanda.

A Vatican statement said Francis had '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'.

Last year the Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda publicly apologised for the church's role in the genocide. 'We apologize for some church members and clergy-people dedicated to serving God and Christians who played a role in the genocide,' a statement from the country's nine bishops said.

The Rwandan government at the time said the apology was 'profoundly inadequate'. It called for a full apology and demanded that the Church 'face up to its own past'.

The 1994 violence saw thousands take refuge in Protestant and Catholic churches where they were ultimately exterminated by surrounding militias. Researchers have suggested the church was 'deeply implicated' in the genocide, with the country's churches serving as 'killing fields'.

800,000 people were killed in the massacre, including the ethnic Tutsi minority and some moderates from the Hutu majority. The UN declared it a genocide. Paul Kagame led the rebellion that ultimately ended the violence.

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'.

She called the meeting '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.'

Additional reporting by Reuters

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