People gathered for a Mass in Rwandan capital Kigali ahead of a week of official mourning to mark the 20th anniversary of the country’s genocide.
Meanwhile a diplomatic row has seen France pull out of the commemorative events.
The Mass at Sainte-Famille Catholic church in Kigali remembered those who died in the church itself or elsewhere in the country.
At least 800,000 people – mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus – died at the hands of Hutu extremists in 1994.
Most of the victims of the genocide were attacked with machetes during 100 days of slaughter that began on April 6, 1994, shortly after Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down over the Rwandan capital.
Some Christian leaders were implicated in the violence.
A genocide survivor who attended the Mass, Innocent Muhozi, said: “Today’s Mass was about resurrection and I believe that one day, the souls of the people we lost will resurrect.
“This church has a very long history because many people died in it during genocide but some also survived it because they were in this church.”
Pope Francis, in his weekly address to the faithful at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, spoke of the anniversary.
“On this occasion I would like to express my paternal closeness to the people of Rwanda, encouraging them to continue with determination and hope, the process of reconciliation that has already manifested its fruits, and the commitment of human and spiritual reconstruction of the country,” he said.
The killings in Rwanda ended in July 1994 when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi-led rebel movement that entered the country from Uganda, marched on Kigali and seized control of the country.
Yesterday, the French government announced it was pulling out of the 20th anniversary commemorations following an accusation by Rwandan President Paul Kagame – who led the RPF to victory – that France had participated in the mass killings.
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