By Sarah Mac Donald - 05 April, 2014
As Rwanda prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1994 catastrophe, in which a million people perished in a matter of 100 days, Pope Francis expressed sorrow over the lives lost and fragmentation of society caused by the genocide.
He urged the bishops to remain united in love, “beyond prejudices and ethnic divisions,” in order for a profound conversion of hearts to take place in the nation.
“I join with all my heart in mourning and I assure you of my prayers for yourselves, for your often torn communities, for all victims and their families, for all Rwandans,” regardless of religion, ethnicity or political affiliation, the Pope said.
Pope Francis also called for the strengthening of Church-state ties and called on the bishops “not to be afraid to highlight the irreplaceable contribution of the Church to the common good” in such areas as health and education.
“Forgiveness of sins and genuine reconciliation,” he said, are a gift of Christ that it is possible to receive,” even though they might seem to human sight to be impossible in the wake of such suffering as the people of Rwanda have experienced, “even if the road is long and requires patience, dialogue and mutual respect.”
Pope Francis said, “The Church has its place, therefore, in the reconstruction of a reconciled Rwandan society: with all the strength of your faith and Christian hope.”
He added, “Go ahead vigorously, constantly bearing witness to the truth.”
Calling on the bishops also to highlight the contribution of the Church to the common good, and to concentrate especially on education as a main key to the country’s future, Pope Francis said, “It is therefore the duty of the Church to form children and young people in Gospel values, which they shall find especially in a particular familiarity with the Word of God, which will be for them like a compass indicating the route.”
Pope Francis also spoke of the “crucial role” of the laity in evangelisation and reconstruction, saying that the bishops ought to give particular attention to training and support for lay people.
“In both their spiritual life and in their human and intellectual life, their formation must be of high quality.” he said.
The Pontiff added that families are “very threatened by the process of secularisation.”
A service to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide will take place on Monday 7 April at 7.30pm in St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast. The speaker will be the Presbyterian Moderator, The Rev Dr Rob Craig.
Speaking ahead of the service, Rev Canon Jerome Munyangaju, Rector of Killyleagh, who along with the Dean of St Anne’s, Rev John Mann, will also participate in the service, said, ‘This year, the 7 April marks the commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda”
“This 20th anniversary is an important occasion on which we remember over a million lives brutally lost in just 100 days. Their cries should have been answered, yet the international community, aware of the desperate situation, chose not to intervene.”
“The country and its people have scarring memories of the violent killings, pain and trauma. Kwibuka (remembering) of our past helps toward the healing of our future. We invite the people of both Rwanda and the world to give this anniversary a positive meaning of learning more about forgiveness, unity and renewal, and commit to praying and working to ensure the adage ‘Never Again’ is a reality rather than rhetoric in our world.”
He continued, ‘Thankfully, this sad chapter of our history has been acknowledged in imaginative and creative ways. A new story of reconciliation and nation-building is an inspiring lesson which can be replicated across many parts of our divided world.”
“Our past has divided us by focusing on ethnic stereotypes and other forms of sectarianism, hence the catastrophic consequences of disregard of life. Forgiveness has come to be the key in rebuilding Rwanda, and 20 years later, we are seeing the tremendous results.”