News Analysis

‘We want to start with the family unit’: Rwanda’s new archbishop looks forward

Paul Kagame and his wife meet Pope Francis (CNS)

It is 25 years since one of the worst atrocities in modern history: the Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi minority, were slaughtered. In 2016, the Rwandan Church offered an official apology for its part in the killings. Priests took part in or acquiesced in the genocide; churches, sought as refuges, became death traps.

Last month, the process of acknowledging the past continued, at the Amahoro National Stadium in Rwanda’s capital city Kigali. The new archbishop, Antoine Kambanda, was being installed; Kambanda appeared alongside President Paul Kagame.

In his address, President Kagame recalled that during his 2017 audience with Pope Francis, the Pontiff made a humble gesture, calling on God to forgive members of the Rwandan Church.

“This was a major milestone, which we are all called upon to improve, by working together as religious institutions and government in a positive way, based not on the past, but on the future we want,” the president said.

Kagame, himself a Catholic, called on the assembled congregation to put the Pope’s teaching into practice, reiterating that the government wants the Church to be a full partner in building the nation. Indeed, Kagame has promised to support the building of a new cathedral.

Archbishop Kambanda gave some indication of what role the Church can play. “Strong families and Christian values and virtues are major cornerstones of a society. I plan to carry out my pastoral mission under the two,” he said.

“We want to start with the family unit, because we believe the home serves as a place where a child is first instilled with Christian values, inevitably steering them in the right direction. Investing in family promotion and development is critical and is a priority.”

Another more immediate priority is the annual commemoration of the genocide during the 100 days from April 6. There will be speeches, events to remember the dead, and prayers in Rwanda’s churches.