National reconciliation and the role the Church may play in this task twenty years after the genocide that devastated the nation were the central themes of Pope Francis' address to the bishops of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Rwanda at the end of their five-yearly “ad limina” visit.
The Holy Father acknowledges the suffering of the Rwandan people and the many wounds that must still be healed, and joined in heartfelt mourning with the population, assuring the bishops of his prayers for “your ecclesial communities, often torn; for all the victims and their families, and for all the Rwandan people, regardless of their religion, ethnic origin or political views”.
Two decades after the tragic events of 1994, “reconciliation and the healing of wounds remain without doubt the priority of the Church in Rwanda”, the Pope writes. “The forgiveness of sins and genuine reconciliation, that might seem impossible from a human point of view after so much suffering, are however a gift it is possible to receive from Christ, thanks to faith and prayer, even though the road is long and requires patience, mutual respect and dialogue.
"The Church therefore has a place in the reconstruction of a reconciled Rwandan society; with all the strength of your faith and Christian hope, go ahead with vigour, giving constant witness to the truth. ... It is therefore important that the Church speaks with one voice, overcoming prejudices and ethnic divisions, manifesting her unity and communion with the universal Church and with the Successor of Peter”.
In this context of national reconciliation, it is also necessary to strengthen relations of trust between the Church and the State, and the fiftieth anniversary of the initiation of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Rwanda offers the opportunity to recall the benefits this has brought throughout the country. “A constructive and genuine dialogue with the authorities can only encourage concerted work of reconcilation and the reconstruction of society based on the values of human dignity, justice and peace. Be an 'outreach' Church, able to take initiatives and build trust”.
Pope Francis highlights the indispensable contribution of the Church to the common good, above all in the sectors of education and healthcare. In relation to the latter, there are many people who dedicate themselves to the victims of the war, those who are wounded “in body and soul”, especially widows and orphans, as well as the sick and elderly. The Pope also emphasises that the education of the young “is the key to the future of a country where the population is renewed rapidly” and “therefore, it is the duty of the Church to educate children and young people in the values of the Gospel which … will be, for them, a compass to show them the way. It is necessary for them to learn to be active and generous members of society, as the future is in their hands”.
In the task of evangelisation and reconstruction, laypeople “play a pivotal role” and their work in society will be credible to the extent that they are “competent and honest”. The Holy Father urges the bishops to pay attention to their formation and reminded them, at the same time, to dedicate all the care possible to the pastoral care of Rwandan families, many of which have been “torn apart and recomposed”. He also mentions priests, to whom he expresses his gratitude, as “their burden is heavy and they are still few in number”.
The Pope concludes his address, commending Rwanda to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary. “It is my ardent hope that the Shrine of Kibeho may radiate the love of Mary for her children, especially for the poorest and most injured, and that it may be for the Church in Rwanda, and beyond, a call to turn with trust to 'Our Lady of Sorrows' so that she might accompany all on their path and obtain for them the gift of reconciliation and peace”.