Pope Francis seeks forgiveness for church role in Rwanda genocide

(Photo: UN Photo / Mark Garten)At a press conference on Rwanda Tribunal the panel is seen (from left): Gerald Gahima, Prosecutor to the Supreme Court of Rwanda; Stanislas Kamanzi, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations; and Martin Naoga, Representative for the International Criminal Court for Rwanda, in Arusha Tanzania on Aug. 8, 2003.

Pope Francis is seeking forgiveness for the "sins and failings of the church and its members" during the 1994 Rwanda genocide telling President Paul Kagame he hopes his apology will help the East African nation heal.

During his March 20 meeting with Kagame at the Vatican, Francis expressed "solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic events," the Holy See said in a statement.

The Pope conceded that priests, nuns and members of the Catholic Church had capitulated to hatred and violence in Rwanda, "betraying their own evangelical mission," the Vatican said.

In 1994, extremists from the Hutu majority in Rwanda hunted down minority ethnic Tutsis and other Hutus in three-months of killing that left around 800,000 people dead.

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Hutus on the rampage burned down churches with hundreds or thousands of Tutsis inside. The  death of President Juvénal Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu, in a plane crash on April 6, 1994 triggered the violence, CNN reported.

The Vatican said Francis, "expressed the desire that this humble recognition of the failings of that period, which unfortunately disfigured the face of the church, may contribute to a 'purification of memory' and may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace."

Four Catholic priests were indicted by the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in neighboring Tanzania, for their role in the 2001 genocide.

Rwandan Catholic Priest Athanse Seromba was among them, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment for his active part in in the massacre of about 2,000 Tutsis who sought protection in his church.

The United Nations has in the past criticized the Catholic Church for its failure to apologize for its complicity in the killings, said CNN.

Rwanda's foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who was with President Kagame on the trip, said the meeting was a positive step forward.

"It allows us to build a stronger base for restoring harmony between Rwandans and the Catholic Church," she said in a statement released by the presidency.

In November, Rwanda's Catholic Church apologized for its members' role in the genocide.

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