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February 21, 2001

 

Vatican says Rwanda's future depends on forgiveness

Ethnic violence and hatred are rooted in sin, cardinal tells Rwandans

Closing centennial celebrations for the church in Rwanda, a Vatican official urged Catholics to put aside ethnic hatred once and for all and create a "new chapter" of the Gospel based on forgiveness.

"Catholics of Rwanda, learn to create from your wounds new beginnings, not only for yourselves but for all Africa and beyond," Cardinal Roger Etchegaray said during a Mass Feb. 8 in a sports stadium in Kigali, capital of the central African nation.

In 1994 the French cardinal was an eyewitness to the results of some of the worst violence in Rwanda's history, when Hutu extremists murdered at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Many of the victims were slain in Catholic churches where they had taken refuge.

Cardinal Etchegaray said his 1994 visit to massacre sites left him with lasting images of tragedy, evidence of genocide that even today cannot be forgotten.

In proposing reconciliation, he said, the church is asking Rwandans to understand that the root of the problem of ethnic violence is sin.

"Until one reaches the religious root of the problem of evil, it will keep on sprouting like a weed, and gardeners will try in vain to eradicate it. God alone can break the logic of evil and help us out of the vicious circle of suspicion, vendetta and violence," he said.

The cardinal said Pope John Paul II had sent him there to express the desire that the "immense, invincible hope" of the Gospel will take hold in the predominantly Catholic country. At the same time, he said, church leaders realize that rarely has a country had to overcome so many divisions in order to regain a sense of trust.

He said the key to the future was a deep sense of contrition and faith. Only then will "forgiveness become more contagious than evil" and Rwanda become "breathable and livable" again, he said.

Despite the grim reminders of past violence, Cardinal Etchegaray said there were signs of hope in the country, too.

"I am thinking of all those who have given their lives to protect other lives, without any sense of discrimination; of the many women, mothers and widows who, with their sense of family, have contributed to the rebirth of the country; of all those orphans who have found welcome and education in homes; of those who stubbornly seek improvement in the system of justice and in prison conditions for the great number of detained," he said.

The cardinal made a veiled reference to accusations that some church members participated in the genocide, saying the church's history throughout the ages has included "glorious pages and painful pages." Although some of its members have been drawn down by sin into the "mud of mediocrity," the church as a whole has tried always to aim for justice and the Gospel values, he said. - CNS

 


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