Interview with Cardinal Kambanda, Archbishop of Kigali
Cardinal Antoine Kambanda, Archbishop of Kigali (Rwanda), was born on November 10, 1958 in Nyamata, in the Archdiocese of Kigali. All of his family members were killed in the 1994 war, except for a brother who currently lives in Italy. On May 7, 2013, he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Kibungo until November 19, 2018, when the Holy Father Francis appointed him Archbishop of Kigali. He received episcopal consecration on July 20, 2013.
Pope Francis created him cardinal during the consistory of November 28, 2020, under the Title of Saint Sisto.
Your Eminence, in a recent homily you said that with today’s many means of communication, communication is at its lowest level “because we do not listen to each other despite the means at our disposal”.
It is a tragedy, because I believe that conflicts arise from the fact that one does not want to listen to the other. Listening to others involves us, it asks us to change. If you listen to a person who is suffering, a poor person, you are involved and you feel that you have to do something. Conscience is no longer at peace. Therefore, in order not to have any problems, we avoid listening.
Listening is the basis of reconciliation, because often conflicts arise from fear and suspicion of the other, from the thought that the other is a threat. But when we listen, we realize that the other is not a threat and that we can do things together.
Based on your tragic personal experience and that of your country, what is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a fruit of listening, which leads us to understand the other and his suffering, the reasons which led him to commit violence. One can get angry because of the wrong done, but then, by listening, we can, admittedly with difficulty, understand what prompted him to commit this act. This allows you to see “the other” as a person, to accept him, and to move forward. In my language (Kinyarwanda), the words “listen” and “understand” are the same.
The word used to refer to listening in the physical sense is not the word used to refer to the deeper meaning of listening, which is also “understanding”. Moreover, in our language, forgiveness is literally compassion. In the sense that when a person has committed a bad deed and realizes the harm he has done, his family in turn feels affected by experiencing a sense of shame for the act committed by his relative.
A dynamic that can be found in the Gacaca courts (inspired by traditional forms of justice and responsible, among other things, for establishing the truth about what happened, reconciling Rwandans and strengthening their unity. Editor’s note). As those who admitted guilt no longer risked the death penalty, people confessed their crimes, freeing their families from the harm they had done, and allowing them to share in their suffering. Suffering together is the key to reconciliation. It is certainly not an easy thing. As a Christian, I believe that the grace of God can help the Rwandan people to put it into practice.
Is it true that there is a proliferation of new religious denominations in Rwanda?
The Catholic religion remains the most practiced in Rwanda. Catholics make up about 50% of the population. The new denominations, evangelicals, Pentecostals and the various sects, are more and more proselytes. There are probably over a thousand new religious denominations. A very confusing environment was created, in which various sects came into conflict with state legislation.
For example, they build their places of worship without respecting the construction rules and, in at least one case, one of these buildings collapsed, causing several victims. We have a religious people who trust those who present themselves as “men of God”. There are dishonest people who abuse this trust and have turned religion into a business.
It has happened that so-called “healers” come to AIDS patients and tell them “don’t take your medicine, we pray for you so that you get well”, of course in exchange for money. The same thing happened recently with the Covid vaccine. The state had to protect the population against these scams and therefore imposed rules. You have to register for the State to recognize your religious denomination according to specific rules. For example, religious leaders must have a recognizable theological background from an academic point of view.
Therefore, there are 800 religious denominations recognized by the State, but there are others that are not recognized, so the total number should be more than a thousand.
What are the spiritual fruits of the Marian apparitions in Kibeho, the only ones recognized by the Church in Africa?
Pilgrims continue to arrive in large numbers, not only from Rwanda but also from neighboring countries. The apparitions began on November 28, 1981 (November 28 is the feast of Our Lady of Kibeho).
The young girls to whom the Virgin appeared asked her: “What is your name? Mary replied:”I am the Mother of the Word“. In her message, the Virgin invites us to conversion, to prayer and indicates the sense of suffering that leads to salvation. She had mentioned a”river of blood", human bodies scattered everywhere.
A vision of what happened 13 years later (the 1994 genocide. Editor’s note). It was a warning. In fact, Our Lady said “convert”. She then revealed to one of the girls the “Rosary of 7 Sorrows”, which was known in Europe, but not in Rwanda at the time. Certainly not from a 13-year-old girl. Our Lady said that the prayer of the Rosary touches her deeply and that she is concerned about the fate of her children.
The spiritual fruits are many during all these years: great devotion, conversions and testimonies of change.
Are there still many vocations in Rwanda?
We have many young people who want to become priests, men and women religious. They are so numerous that we do not have the capacity to welcome them all and we regret that. In particular, there are many young girls who would like to become nuns, but the different congregations cannot welcome them all.
Sometimes groups of girls come together to start a new congregation, which is an additional challenge because they have to be trained. There are congregations that have already been together for 30 years and are living their consecrated life, but they still need discernment and the authorization from Rome for their recognition. I have asked for help from the “classical” congregations but they too do not have sufficient personnel, they have to think about the formation of their candidates. However, we have formators made available by some congregations.
How is the policy of some States, such as Great Britain, to deport asylum seekers to your country perceived in Rwanda?
Rwanda is very sensitive to the problem of refugees and migrants, especially because our leaders were refugees and know what that means. So they have sympathy for asylum seekers. It all started when cases of migrants held hostage by criminal groups in Libya forced them to ask their families for money to be released. These people, in the hope of reaching Europe, put themselves in the hands of real mafia clans who often abuse them. This issue was raised at a meeting of African Union Heads of State who said, "It’s a shame. These are our children.
What to do?" Rwanda said it was ready to welcome them in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They are often honest young people who have undergone professional training. Once they arrive in Rwanda, they are presented to countries that need labor (Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and others) where they are welcomed with a work contract. Around three quarters of migrants from Libya left for their new host countries.
Great Britain probably wishes to associate itself with this mechanism already in place. The important thing is to counter the criminal groups that manage illegal immigration by creating regular channels for those who want to make a living abroad. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 10/3/2023)
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