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Fostering Family “as domestic church” to Remain Priority for Rwanda’s First Cardinal

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda receives the red hat from Pope Francis November 28, 2020.

The new Cardinal for Rwanda, the first-ever Cardinal in the landlocked Great Rift Valley East African nation, will continue to prioritize family apostolate in what he considers the rebuilding of “internal structures” that the country requires.

In an interview with EWTN News Nightly Monday, November 30 following the November 28 consistory, Antoine Cardinal Kambanda describes the family as “the domestic church” and “foundation of the society.”

Cardinal Kambanda said that he will continue to spearhead “the efforts to rebuild the internal structures (and) relationships, especially the family.”

“It is something we are working upon because the family is the domestic Church and the family is the foundation of the society to prepare the lasting peace in the future,” the new Rwandan Cardinal, the only African native among the 13 new Cardinals said in reference to family apostolate.

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The fostering of the family as the domestic church is realized “when we take care of the young ones, (when) the children are brought up in love and peace and kindness,” Cardinal Kambanda said, describing the highlighted values as “the seed of peace that we plant in their (children’s) hearts and a foundation for peaceful relationships and a peaceful country in the future.”

The new Cardinal who is the Vice President of the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda (CEPR) and doubles as the Chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace (CEJP) is also the Chairman of the Rwanda Interfaith Council on Health (RICH).

His message about prioritizing family apostolate is in line with his promotion of Small Christian Communities (SCCs) as a way of being church in Rwanda.

“May all our SCCs celebrate that we have a new cardinal in Africa: Cardinal-elect Antoine Kambanda, the Archbishop of Kigali, Rwanda. He is a big supporter of the SCC Model of Church. He emphasizes SCC Formation and Grassroots Evangelism,” Fr. Joseph Healey, a member of the Maryknoll Society who is an expert on SCCs posted on his Facebook page October 25, the day Pope Francis named the 13 new Cardinals.

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“He sent a Rwandese diocesan priest to Tangaza University College in Nairobi, Kenya to study for a Master's degree in Pastoral Theology with specialization in SCCs. Let us pray for and with our new cardinal,” Fr. Healey added in reference to Cardinal Kambanda.

Youth apostolate is also a priority for the Church in Rwanda, the Cardinal said during the November 30 interview that was shared with ACI Africa.

“The youth have got the strength; they have got the talents and they need formation in skills in order to have their talents developed and once they realize themselves and they are happy, then they have the strength of building the nation which sometimes is exploited in violent armed conflicts,” Cardinal Kambanda explained.

He added in reference to the youth, “When they are well trained, well-taking care of they became the solution instead of being the problem in the society.”

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Reflecting on his new position as Cardinal, the native of Rwanda’s Kigali Archdiocese who turned 62 on November 10 said that much more is, henceforth, expected from him.

“A Cardinal is expected to do more than what he was doing before, because before I was concerned with the evangelization in Rwanda and particularly in my Archdiocese, but now as a Cardinal, the Holy father makes me share the concern of the evangelization in the world,” he said. 

Asked about what the role of the Church in Rwanda has been since the 1994 genocide, the new Cardinal acknowledged the collaboration between the Church and the President Paul Kagame-led government.

“The Church in Rwanda has had an important role in the process of reconciliation and the president himself has very much recognized the role of the Church in the process of reconciliation and rebuilding the community of Rwandans after the destruction by the genocide,” Cardinal Kambanda said.

The Local Ordinary of Kigali Archdiocese added, “The relationship between the Church and the State has very much improved.”

“The suffering we went through made people come closer to God,” the new Cardinal noted and recounted, “One of the things that has touched me is when the survivors narrate their story, they always end up saying, God saved me.”

He went on to say, “In Rwanda and in Africa in general, we have got the challenge of building peace; stable countries that have peace can work for development.”

“When people understand and welcome the love of God, and they feel loved by God, that gives them the possibility to build peace and solidarity and together they can work for development,” he further said.

Last month, President Paul Kagame expressed 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.”

When he learned of the naming of Archbishop Kambanda as Cardinal, President Kagame described the move as “an honor to you (Kambanda) and to the Catholic Church of Rwanda.”

“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,” President Kagame said in his November 1 letter addressed to the new Cardinal.

On November 28, Pope Francis and the new Cardinals present in Rome paid a courtesy visit to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery following the consistory. 

Recounting the encounter with Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Kambanda told EWTN News Nightly, “I was surprised because despite the advanced age he still has a very good memory.”

“When I was presented as the Archbishop of Rwanda, he remembered Rwanda and he told me ‘your people suffered so much’ which shows he has a good memory of Rwanda and what took place in Rwanda and he prays for us because as he says he is no longer having the strength to speak but it is his silence that speaks more than the words,” the new Cardinal recounted.