The Catholic Church leader expressed his intentions to beg forgiveness over the church’s role on the bloody 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Pope Francis has asked Rwandan President Paul Kagame for forgiveness for the “sins and failings” of the Catholic Church during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
In the meeting of two leaders on Monday at the Vatican, the Pope expressed “solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic events,” according to a statement from the Vatican.
The Vatican also said that the pontiff also acknowledged that priests, nuns and members of the Catholic church had succumbed to hatred and violence in Rwanda, “betraying their own evangelical mission.”
In an interview Rwanda’s foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who accompanied President Kagame on the trip, described the meeting as a positive step forward.
“It allows us to build a stronger base for restoring harmony between Rwandans and the Catholic Church,” she added in a statement released by the presidency.
It can be remembered that in November, the Catholic Church in Rwanda apologized for its members’ role in the genocide that saw hundreds of thousands of Rwandans killed in 1994.
The intended forgiveness was read in all Catholic masses across the country, wherein the Rwandan bishops also asked for “forgiveness for sins of hatred and disagreement that happened in the country to the point of hating our own countrymen because of their origin.”
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.
Hutu attackers burned down churches with hundreds or thousands of Tutsis inside. The violence was triggered by the death of President Juvénal Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu, in a plane crash on April 6, 1994.
In 2001, four Catholic priests were indicted by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for their participation in the genocide.
Among of the convicted was Rwandan Catholic Priest Athanse Seromba, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for actively participating in the massacre of around 2,000 Tutsis who sought protection in his church.
The United Nations has criticized the Catholic Church in the past for its failure to apologize for its complicity in the killings.
Human rights groups have also joined in the criticism of the church and its role in Rwanda’s genocide.
Meanwhile, through its 1998 report, African Rights, who have researched the mass slaughter, say there is “overwhelming evidence that church leaders maintained their silence in the face of genocide,” according to a 1998 report.
The rights group has argued that the small number of indictments do not accurately represent the church’s role in the genocide.