KIGALI, Rwanda, East Africa – After nearly 22 years, the Catholic Church in Rwanda has finally apologized on Sunday, November 20, 2016 for its members’ role in the country’s 1994 genocide, stating it apologizes and regrets the actions of all those who participated in the massacre.
“We apologize for all the wrongs the church committed. We apologize on behalf of all Christians for all forms of wrongs we committed. We regret that church members violated (their) oath of allegiance to God’s commandments,” said the statement by the Conference of Rwandan Catholic Bishops, which was read out in parishes across the country.
Accordingly, a press statement from the church acknowledged that some members of the church members planned, aided and executed the genocide, in which over 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists.
The spokesman for the Catholic Church in Rwanda, Bishop Phillipe Rukamba, said the announcement was timed to concur with the formal end Sunday of the Holy Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis to encourage greater reconciliation and forgiveness in his church and in the world.
Tom Ndahiro, a Rwandan genocide researcher, said he hoped the church’s statement will encourage unity among Rwandans.
Ndahiro said, “I am also happy to learn that in their statement, bishops apologize for not having been able to avert the genocide.”
Many of the victims died at the hands of priests, clergymen and nuns, per some accounts by survivors, and the Rwandan government says many died in the churches where they had sought refuge.
The bishops’ statement is a constructive development in Rwanda’s efforts at national reconciliation.
“Forgive us for the crime of hate in the country to the extent of also hating our colleagues because of their ethnicity. We didn’t show that we are one family but instead killed each other,” the statement said.
The Rwandan Catholic had initially resisted calls from the government and survivors of the genocide to acknowledge the church’s complicity in mass murder, stating church officials who committed crimes acted individually.
Per history, from April to July 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the east-central African nation of Rwanda murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. Begun by extreme Hutu nationalists in the capital of Kigali, the genocide spread throughout the country with staggering speed and brutality, as ordinary citizens were incited by local officials and the Hutu Power government to take up arms against their neighbors.
By the time the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front gained control of the country through a military offensive in early July, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were dead and many more displaced from their homes.
The RPF victory created 2 million more refugees (mainly Hutus) from Rwanda, exacerbating what had already become a full-blown humanitarian crisis.