With hymns and hospitality that they brought with them from their homeland, members of Maine’s Rwandan community welcomed His Eminence Antoine Cardinal Kambanda to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland on Friday, June 17.
Cardinal Kambanda, the Archbishop of Kigali, had been visiting the Archdiocese of Boston to celebrate the Feast of Ugandan Martyrs, a national holiday in Rwanda’s neighboring country, when he was approached about coming to Maine to connect with the Rwandan community here.
“It is very, very significant. We are very excited to see the cardinal, and talk to him, and hear from him, and also have him hear from the people,” said Apollinaire Munyaneza, president of the Rwandese Community Association of Maine. “It’s really important for this community to connect with the leader of the Church back home. Most of the people who have been here a while, they haven’t had a Mass celebrated in their mother tongue, and that is something most of them miss, so it is a good opportunity to connect again with the Church.”
“A visit from a bishop is an encouragement in faith, so far from home, far from the cultural, traditional practice of their faith,” said Cardinal Kambanda.
The cardinal celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving in the Rwandan native language of Kinyarwanda, emphasizing to those gathered the importance of expressing gratitude for the gifts that God has brought them.
“When you sit down and read your history of life, what you went through, and you look at it with eyes of faith, you will see the hand of God accompanying you, the blessing of God accompanying you, and for that matter, you will be very grateful. It gives yourself hope and confidence in the future because you are not alone,” the cardinal said.
Members of the Rwandan community said they wanted to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving in gratitude for the support they have received since coming to this country.
“We have all the different things we’ve been enjoying here, so this is a special Mass to thank God for that,” said Munyaneza.
Munyaneza said there are an estimated 500 Rwandan families, made up of between 1500 and 2000 people, living in Maine, many of whom are Catholic.
Although Rwanda has seen some political stability in recent years, the country has a history of ethnic unrest and human rights violations. During the 1994 Rwanda genocide, an estimated 800,000 people were killed including all members of Cardinal Kambanda’s family except for one brother.
Cardinal Kambanda is a native of Nyamata, Rwanda. He was ordained a priest on September 8, 1990, during St. John Paul II’s pastoral visit to Rwanda. He became a professor and prefect of the minor seminary in Ndeara, Kigali, then furthered his education in Rome before returning to Rwanda where he served in a number of positions including as rector of two major seminaries. He was ordained a bishop in 2013 and became Archbishop of Kigali in 2018. He was then created and proclaimed cardinal by Pope Francis in 2020.
Prior to the Mass of Thanksgiving at the cathedral, a small delegation from the Rwandan community met privately with the cardinal, and afterwards, there was a reception open to the public.