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Appointment of First Cardinal in Rwanda “great value for all, honor to Church”: President

Cardinal-designate Antoine Kambanda with President Paul Kagame during his installation as Archbishop of Rwanda's Kigali Archdiocese.

A week after Pope Francis named Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Rwanda’s Kigali Archdiocese among 13 new Cardinals who are expected to be elevated to the rank on November 28, the President of the African nation in the Great Rift Valley, Paul Kagame has lauded the appointment saying it is “of great value for all Rwandans.”  

In his Sunday, November 1 letter addressed to Rwanda’s Cardinal-elect. President Kagame says, “Rwanda is proud of the new mission that was given to you by the leader of the Catholic Church worldwide – Pope Francis who elevated you to Cardinal.”

“This appointment is an honor to you and to the Catholic Church of Rwanda. It is of great value for all Rwandans and the country at large,” the President adds.

He further says, “On my own behalf and on behalf of all Rwandans, we wish you good luck in your new endeavors, as the first Cardinal in the history of Rwanda.”

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The 13 Cardinals were named on October 25 in what the Vatican News described as “a surprise” announcement by Pope Francis.

The new Cardinals, among them Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington who will become the first African-American Cardinal, are expected to be elevated to the rank of Cardinals at the November 28 consistory, on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent.

Three of the 13 named Cardinals will not be able to vote in conclaves because of their age limit. They include Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico; Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi; and Enrico Feroci, parish priest of Santa Maria del Divino Amore at Castel di Leva, Rome.

In his November 1 message, Rwanda’s President Kagame notes that the Archbishop Kambanda’s nomination, just two years after he was appointed Archbishop of Kigali, “is in itself a sign that he is gifted in the service of leadership in the house of the Lord.”

“It is also an indication that the Catholic Church of Rwanda has made an important stride in the last 120 years of its existence,” the Head of State that is located at the convergence between African Great Lakes region and East Africa says.

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He further expresses his appreciation for the “great role” the members of the Catholic Church in Rwanda have played “in building the country after the 1994 Genocide especially in the unity and reconciliation of all Rwandans.”

“The Catholic Church continues to work with the government to improve the education, health, and well-being of Rwandans. All of these are to be proud of,” President Kagame says.

In the November 1 statement, President Kagame goes on to promise cooperation with the Cardinal-elect saying, “We promise collaboration with you in your new mission particularly and with the Church in general.”

Archbishop Kambamba who is the only African Cardinal-designate among the 13 appointed is a native of Nyamata in Rwanda’s Archdiocese of Kigali.

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In an interview with Vatican News on October 26, the Local Ordinary of Kigali Archdiocese 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 expressed his gratitude to God “for the journey we have taken so far” adding that “we have reached a level of reconciliation and unity.”

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

“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 Rwanda’s Cardinal-designate said October 26.

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