“It was a big surprise for me, I did not expect it”: Rwanda’s First Cardinal-elect

Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Rwanda’s Kigali Archdiocese, the only African Prelate among the 13 new Cardinals who were named Sunday, October 25.

Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Rwanda’s Kigali Archdiocese, the only African Prelate among the 13 new Cardinals who were named Sunday, October 25 has described his appointment as “a big surprise” beyond his expectation.

Archbishop Kambanda who is expected to be made Cardinal alongside 12 others during the November 28 consistory will be the first-ever Cardinal in Rwanda.

“It was a big surprise for me, which I did not expect,” the Rwandese Cardinal-elect told Vatican News Monday, October 26, a day after his nomination, adding, “I never ever dreamt of being a Cardinal.”

He explained, “I was living my usual everyday activities when someone called me with the news. I did not believe it at first. It is a surprise for me.”

He expressed his gratitude to God saying, “I thank the Lord, for He is the author of history; history in general or personal history.”


“It was the Lord who wanted it. I love the Lord, and I consecrated my life to work for Him. Being a Cardinal gives me the opportunity to do even much more for the Lord,” the Cardinal-designate who will turn 62 on November 10 said.

He went on to express his appreciation to Pope Francis for the trust saying, “I am incredibly grateful to the Holy Father for entrusting me with this responsibility. I love the Church; I enjoy working for the Church, and this will also give me the opportunity to do much more for it.”

“In the history of Rwanda, I am the first to be appointed Cardinal. In the region of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of the Region of Central Africa (ACEAC) which comprises Rwanda, DRC, and Burundi, we have two Cardinals in the DRC. Now it is a great joy for the Great Lakes Region to have one more,” the Cardinal-elect said October 26.

He extended his gratitude to his Brother Bishops in his native country and in the regional forum of ACEAC saying, “I am very grateful to my fellow Bishops in Rwanda and in the region for their collaboration, solidarity, and the work we do.”

“If the Pope made me a Cardinal, it is also thanks to the faith, work, and pastoral care of the entire community,” Archbishop Kambanda said.

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Addressing himself to the people of God in Rwanda and the ACEAC region, the Cardinal-designate said, “I assure (my compatriots and those in the region) of my collaboration and solidarity, especially for peace and reconciliation, in this region.”

“We live in times of tension, now mixed with the COVID-19 pandemic. As pastors, we need to guide people towards peace, brotherhood, and sisterhood,” the Cardinal-elect who is the Chairman of the Rwanda Interfaith Council on Health (RICH) said.

The native of Nyamata in Rwanda’s Archdiocese of Kigali who was ordained a Priest in September 1990 has been a Bishop since July 2013. His episcopal motto is “Ut vitam habeant’’ (That They May Have Life).

In November 2018, Pope Francis appointed him the Archbishop of Kigali. 

The Prelate who is currently the Vice President of the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda (CEPR) and who doubles as the Chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace (CEJP) reflected on the progress made in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide.


“We have been on a 26-year journey after the Genocide. And we have worked hard for reconciliation. It was terrible to see a Catholic and Christian community divided and killing each other during the Genocide,” he recalled.

He reached out to God with gratitude “for the journey we have taken so far” adding that “we have reached a level of reconciliation and unity.”

Making reference the latest Encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, which he said has been “warmly welcomed in Rwanda,” the Cardinal-designate said, “The encyclical will reinforce and facilitate our pastoral work of reconciliation.”

“We must work hard to share and make the message of Salvation better understood,” he further said.

The Prelate who is known to have embraced Small Christian Communities (SCCs) as a way of being church has described his new responsibility as Cardinal-priest as “joy, a great burden, and a challenge.”

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“I have been given a new challenge in the role of evangelization within the universal Church,” the Prelate who has been acknowledged as “a big supporter of the SCC Model of Church” and “emphasizes SCC Formation and Grassroots Evangelism” said.

“I will try to witness to the best of my abilities and make my contribution and share solidarity with others who are also suffering violent conflicts and divisions in the communities,” the Cardinal-designate said October 26.

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.