Exclusive interview with Cardinal-designate Antoine Kambanda, whose family was killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide
Antoine Kambanda was a 36-year-old priest studying in Rome in 1994 when all but one member of his immediate family were killed during Rwandan genocide, which targeted mainly the Tutsi people.
A lot has happened for him since then.
He returned to his hometown of Kigali and in 2013 Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Kibungo Diocese. But just a little over five years later the pope sent him back to Kigali to be the archbishop.
And on November 28 the pope will give Kambanda a red hat and special ring during a consistory in Rome to create 13 new cardinals.
It will be a belated birthday present for Rwanda’s first-ever cardinal, who turns 62 on November 10.
La Croix Africa‘s Lucie Sarr spoke with Cardinal-designate Kambanda about the challenges currently facing the Church in his native country.
La Croix Africa: You are the first cardinal of Rwanda, a country ravaged by a murderous genocide. How do you welcome this choice by the pope?
Cardinal-designate Antoine Kambanda: Rwanda experienced a very deadly genocide in 1994, and since then the Church has been very much involved in reconciliation.
This is important because, as we know, during this genocidal period, it was not foreigners who committed the violence, but Rwandans who killed other Rwandans.
It was therefore necessary to rebuild. But this reconstruction is not only economic, it was necessary to restore unity and solidarity, which necessarily passes through reconciliation.
This requires forgiveness and mercy, since God’s mercy and love transcends all sins.
During our ad limina visit to Rome in 2014, we shared with the Holy Father the pastoral paths to strengthen this reconciliation, as well as our efforts, our sorrows, our joys.
By making me a cardinal, the pope expresses his confidence in the Rwandan bishops, who work in a collegial manner, beyond just me, but also to the entire Rwandan people.
What are the great challenges facing the Rwandan Church?
The first challenge is that of reconciliation.
Evangelization is also an important challenge.
Evangelization means sewing unity and fraternity in people’s hearts, to work hand in hand without taking differences into account.
Once we are a united people, the economy is also affected because if we are united we can work for the development of the country.
So, first of all there is peace and communion, and it is these that instill economic progress.
Rwanda is a country that does not have a lot of natural resources, but the common effort means that gradually we start to have a rather high economic level.
We must continue on this path by promoting increased solidarity and by fighting corruption.
The Church gives this a moral grounding that also helps us to develop.
Moreover, during the strict lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Church did a lot of advocacy for solidarity so that the people who live from day to day and were economically affected by the lockdown could be helped.
Because, as the pope said, we cannot be saved alone and the pandemic has highlighted this fact.
How is the Catholic Church in Rwanda doing after the genocide, the economic problems and now the rise of Evangelical churches?
The Church has taken its place again after the genocide, notably by working for reconciliation to rebuild the country.
After 1994, many new (Evangelical) churches were established in Rwanda.
The principle with them is dialogue with respect.
We work and collaborate in what we have in common.
That is to say, we have the Word of God, the same Bible that guides us.
We have, for example, a national leader for the Rwanda Bible Society.
We respect each other in our differences, especially when it comes to Bible interpretation.
We also work together a lot, especially in the fight against AIDS.
In 2003, we thus jointly founded the Rwanda Interfaith Council on Health (RICH), recognized as a non-profit organization in the fight against HIV and working in various areas of public health.
We also have a common structure called the Rwanda Interfaith Council (RIC), which makes it possible for us to negotiate with the government, especially regarding places of worship.
Recently there have been places of worship that were closed following accidents during gatherings that resulted in deaths.
As a result, strict measures have been put in place to ensure that security conditions are met for the construction of churches.
It is through our common structure that we spread messages of awareness related to this situation.
Finally, on the economic level, we have a microfinance program in the Catholic Church (Interdiocesan Microfinance Network) which is a bank that helps the poor who do not have access to credit.
We accept everyone, regardless of religious affiliation. We are inspired by the social doctrine of the Church.