Twenty-two years after the genocide in Rwanda, which took the lives of more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, the Catholic Church in Rwanda apologized this week for the church’s role in the slaughter.
According to a report by The Associated Press, the prelates said they regretted the actions of those who participated in the massacres.
“We didn’t show that we are one family but instead killed each other,” said the bishops in statement marking the end of the Holy Year of Mercy.
“We apologize for all the wrongs the church committed,” the Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in their statement, read aloud in parishes across the country. “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.”
They acknowledged that church members planned, aided and executed the genocide, carried out by Hutu extremists.
Until now, the local church had resisted efforts by the government and groups of survivors to acknowledge the church’s complicity in mass murder. Church officials who committed crimes acted individually, they maintained.
But many of the victims died at the hands of priests, clergymen and nuns, according to some accounts by survivors, and the Rwandan government says many died in the churches where they had sought refuge.
The bishops’ statement is seen as a positive development in Rwanda’s efforts at reconciliation.
“Forgive us for the crime of hate in the country to the extent of also hating our colleagues because of their ethnicity,” the statement said. “We didn’t show that we are one family, but instead killed each other.”
Bishop Phillipe Rukamba, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Rwanda, explained that the statement was timed to coincide 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.
“I am also happy to learn that in their statement, bishops apologize for not having been able to avert the genocide,” he said. w/pix of genocide victims