“'Fratelli tutti' came at the right time for us”

Antoine Kambanda, Archbishop of Kigali © Paul Haring (CBA)

Antoine Kambanda, the archbishop of Kigali in Rwanda, is one of 13 cardinals newly appointed by Pope Francis. In the interview he talks about his new dignity, about reconciliation in Rwanda and irritating Pope's words.

CBA: Is the appointment more cause for joy or concern for you?

Archbishop Antoine Kambanda (Archbishop of Kigali and appointed Cardinal): A mixture of surprise, joy and shock. I wonder what the pope wants from me.

CBA: What do you mean?

Kambanda: Cardinals to advise him on running the church. I guess that's what I'm supposed to contribute to, maybe on the question of evangelization.

CBA: Does the Pope in Rome need more voices from Africa?? Be heard enough there?

Kambanda: Africa's church is still young. On the one hand, we still have to learn from the old churches. At the same time, we are to share our own experiences as a young church.

CBA: What can you teach Europeans?

Kambanda: It's not about teaching, it's about sharing; sharing what you are and do. This is how sister churches can learn: by sharing best practices and adapting them for themselves. In the South as well as in the North, we have the common problem that God and religion are pushed out of private and social life. Africa has a strongly religious culture and mentality, but this is often exaggerated in the direction of superstition. Something like this also exists in Europe. At the same time, secular tendencies are spilling over into Rwanda from there. The third challenge is the new free churches that dilute the faith or despise traditional forms.

CBA: You yourself, your family were hit hard by the Rwandan genocide in 1994. How do you read the encyclical "Fratelli tutti," which calls for fraternity among all people and reconciliation?

Kambanda: The Pope's letter came at the right time for the Church in Rwanda. It helps to strengthen the reconciliation efforts of the past 26 years. It was and is a great and difficult task for the Church to reunite and repair the social fabric. "Fratelli tutti" comes at the end of our year of reconciliation, which we began in 2019, 25 years after the genocide. This is about reconciliation with God, with each other and with oneself. Many people carry psychological injuries. Reconciliation can only be offered to others who are at peace and reconciled with themselves.

CBA: Did the pope also make you a cardinal because you are an example of this?

Kambanda: Not me personally. I look at the appointment in terms of our whole community, what this community has done in terms of work: also all the other bishops, priests, religious, lay people – everyone. I stand for them – but the Holy Father has the whole community in mind, which was completely destroyed and had to be completely rebuilt from the ashes.

CBA: What remains to be done in the work of reconciliation?

Kambanda: Above all, it is necessary to prepare the young generation, which has not experienced the horror itself. This is the only way to continue the heritage we are building up. We are doing a lot in the education sector. You may know the Chinese proverb: For a project of one year you plant rice, for one of ten years you plant a tree. If you want to do something for 100 years and more, you educate and form a young person. This is what we must do.

CBA: Something quite different: You have been involved in the debate about a statement by Pope Francis about homosexual partnerships. What do you say to that?

Kambanda: I don't know about that. Either this was mistranslated or invented. The Pope cannot say something that goes against the teaching of the Church. The marriage of man and woman and family are a divine institution, not a human invention. What God has established, we cannot change. Maybe with time we can understand it differently and implement it a little differently. But the doctrine itself remains unchanged.

CBA: In Europe there are sometimes abstruse ideas about religiosity in Africa. How do indigenous, nature-religious traditions and the Christian faith relate to each other? How do they mix?

Kambanda: It is not a question of them mixing. In our culture there are many values and traditions that do not need to be changed. Rather, they can be integrated into the Christian faith and in this way even be upgraded. When an African looks at a tree or a rock, he sees not only the physical appearance, but also the spiritual value behind it and who created all this.

CBA: In the sense of "Laudato si?

Kambanda: Exactly. Creation has its own dignity. It must not be manipulated, not destroyed. We must respect the intention of the Creator. In traditional religiosity, all these things also bring people into contact with the spiritual world. As a Christian I can maintain and develop this sense, this respect. Therefore, Africans have no problem seeing another reality behind the consecrated host.

CBA: We are in Switzerland right now. Currently, there is a so-called corporate responsibility initiative here for a supply chain law. It is to make international companies comply with better social and environmental standards in countries of origin of their raw materials. Is such a thing necessary?

Kambanda: This is a very complex ie. Pope John Paul II. Spoke of "structural sin" in his encyclical "Sollicitudo rei socialis". In my doctoral thesis I dealt with this. One can contribute to exploitation, commit a sin, without being aware of it. You can sit at home with a clear conscience and still contribute to hurting people or destroying nature. Globalization makes it all the more complicated. In addition I made investigations to "fair trade. Producers of coffee or other products simply do not receive the price they deserve for their work. That must change.

The interview was conducted by Roland Juchem.

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