Archbishop Kambanda becomes Rwanda’s first Cardinal

By Nicole Kamanzi M.
On 26 October 2020 at 12:58

Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Kigali Archdiocese has become the first Rwandan archbishop to attain the rank of Cardinal after he emerged among 13 new cardinals named by Pope Francis this Sunday.

In a surprise announcement, Pope Francis elevated the 13 Archbishops from different parts of the world, including Archbishop Kambanda who is the first Rwandan Roman Catholic Church clergyman to attain such heights.

In his first interview upon being announced, the Archbishop of Kigali said on Rwanda Television that he was not aware of the development and it had not crossed his mind that he would be designated a Cardinal by Pope Francis.

“We thank God for his mercies, for it is He who decides everything. It is something I never thought of, but by the power of God, it has happened. I also thank His Holiness Pope Francis for showing trust in me and surprising me because I had no idea this was going to happen. People started telling me about it and I couldn’t believe it until I got the confirmation,” Archbishop Kambanda said.

“So, I’m thankful to God for this and I commit myself to continue serving him. This is something I love with all my heart and I have dedicated my life to serving him. This means a lot. The trust that has been put in me means that I will continue to serve the church wholeheartedly,” he said.

Archbishop Kambanda said that his elevation to Cardinal is a result of a number of factors, including the relationship between the church and country, the role of the church in Rwanda and his contribution in spreading the gospel and ensuring that the church promotes harmony and co-existence.

Archbishop Kambanda is the first Rwandan Cardinal in Rwanda and will only be the 2nd Cardinal in Service, together with the one of Kinshasa. Elsewhere, the Cardinals in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam have all retired after completing their mandate.

“It is a great honour not only for me but for the entire church in Rwanda and this creates hope for the Church in Rwanda. It comes with a number of privileges as one becomes an advisor of the Pope and is given a place in Diocese of Rome as one of the Pope’s Councilors,”
Archbishop Kambanda, who is turning 62 this November, was named Archbishop of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kigali on 11 November 2018.

He will officially be assigned the rank of cardinal by Pope Francis at a consistory scheduled for 28 November 2020.

Born on 10 November 1958 in Rwanda, Bishop Kambanda’s family fled from the ethnic violence that gripped Rwanda at the time where they moved briefly to Burundi and then to Uganda, where he attended elementary, and then to Kenya, where he attended high school.

He later returned to Rwanda, where he attended the junior Seminary in Rutongo, Kigali, from 1983 to 1984 and joined the Saint Charles Borromeo Major Seminary of Nyakibanda in Butare, in the current Huye District, from 1984 to 1990).

On September 8, 1990, he was ordained a priest in Kabgayi by Pope John Paul II. After that he was Prefect of Studies from 1990 to 1993 in the minor seminary of St. Vincent in Ndera, Kigali.

He then attended the Alphonsian Academy in Rome from 1993 to 1999, where he obtained a doctorate in moral theology. His parents and five of his six siblings, along with many other relatives and friends, were killed in 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Kambanda was appointed Director of the diocesan office of Caritas in Kigali in 1999. He then became director of the Development Committee of the Diocese of Kigali, head of the “Justice and Peace” Commission of the diocese, and professor of moral theology and visitor at the Nyakibanda Major Seminary.

In September 2005 Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe appointed him rector of the inter-diocesan major philosophy seminary in Kabgayi. On 10 February 2006 Kambanda was appointed rector of the Saint Charles Borromeo Major Seminary of Nyakibanda.

He replaced Monseigneur Smaragde Mbonyintege, who had been named a bishop.

On 7 May 2013, Pope Francis named Kambanda Bishop of Kibungo, succeeding Kizito Bahujimihigo, who resigned in January 2010. The Episcopal Conference of Rwanda elected him to attend the Synod of Bishops in 2015. On 19 November 2018, Pope Francis named him Archbishop of Kigali.

Other Archbishops elevated to the rank of Cardinal include Washington D.C.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who will become the first Black U.S. prelate to earn the coveted red hat; an Italian who is the long-time papal preacher at the Vatican, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, a Franciscan friar; the Capiz, Philippines, Archbishop Jose Feurte Advincula, the Santiago, Chile, Archbishop Celestino Aos and Franciscan Friar Mauro Gambetti, in charge of the Sacred Convent in Assisi.