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Ivorian Cardinal Gifts Former President Rosary, Asks Him to Join “train of reconciliation”

Jean Pierre Cardinal Kutwa addressing former President Laurent Gbagbo during Mass at the St. Paul's Cathedral in Ivory Coast's Abidjan Archdiocese. Credit: CECCI/Facebook

The Cardinal in Ivory Coast has gifted a Rosary to the country’s former President, Laurent Gbagbo, who returned to the West African nation after close to a decade in exile.

Mr. Gbagbo who was acquitted of crimes against humanity two years ago at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague took part in the celebration of Holy Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral Abidjan Sunday, June 20.

In a symbolic gesture to welcome the former head of State back to the Catholic Church, Jean Pierre Cardinal Kutwa offered him a Rosary and urged him take part in the ongoing reconciliation efforts in the counry.

“By giving you this Rosary, I entrust you to the Virgin, because the train of reconciliation is on the tracks but this train must go to the station of peace. The Virgin will accompany you so that this mission of reconciliation will be a reality for the whole of Ivory Coast,” Cardinal Kutwa said June 20.

On June 17, Mr. Gbagbo returned to Ivory Coast, some 10 years after he was taken to the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity, BBC News reported

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Arrested in Abidjan in 2011 at the end of a civil war born of his contestation of the results of the second round of the 2010 presidential election, Mr. Gbagbo was transferred to the ICC at the end of November 2011. 

In March, the ICC confirmed the acquittal that was pronounced in 2019.

Mr. Gbagbo is the first former head of state to go on trial at the ICC.

In a separate message issued Tuesday, June 22, the President of the Episcopal Conference of Ivory Coast (CECCI), Bishop Ignace Bessi Dogbo lauds the return of Mr. Gbagbo to the country and urges him to take concrete actions for the reconciliation of Ivorians.

“If Laurent Gbagbo is in the perspective of reconciliation, he must take actions that promote reconciliation. These acts of reconciliation should not be limited only to the main actors of the Ivorian political scene,” Bishop Bessi says in his message.

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He notes that reconciliation in Ivory Coast “is not a matter between two groups today, but we must start from this immediate reconciliation to go deep into the history of our country because history has a memory.”

Born on 31 May 1945 in Gagnoa in western Ivory Coast, Mr. Gbagbo comes from a modest Catholic family in which he received baptism. He did his primary studies at the St. Dominique-Savio minor Seminary in Gagnoa.

Speaking about the former President’s faith during the June 20 Holy Mass, Cardinal Kutwa said, “Gbagbo was baptized Catholic, but in his journey, he left the Church at one point to become an evangelical.” 

“After this little tour with the evangelicals, he said to himself, I am returning to the religion in which I was baptized,” said the Archbishop of Abidjan who presided over Holy Mass that also marked the closing of the 10th Regional Conference of African Catholic Women of the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations (WUCWO).

The Local Ordinary of Abidjan also recounted the words that the former Ivorian head of state confided in him about his Catholic faith saying, “Yes, I was baptized, but as a Catholic, I only carried the name. Now that I’m back, I want to be a militant Catholic.”

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