Pope John Paul II has told a group of Roman Catholic bishops from Rwanda that their church has an important role in healing suffering stemming from the 1994 genocide that left about 800,000 Rwandans dead.
"Over the past months, the Rwandan episcopate has been rebuilt," John Paul said Thursday at a meeting with the bishops at Castelgandolfo, his summer residence. "I encourage the new bishops to guide the people through this difficult stage of their existence."
John Paul said the terrible events of the genocide "have hit hearts above all," Reuters reported.
"You must help the faithful to heal their deep wounds by inspiring within them a true desire for sanctity," he said.
A number of priests have been implicated in the genocide during which ethnic Hutu militants slaughtered ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. After the Tutsis seized power, the militant Hutus fled to neighboring countries.
In April, two Hutu priests were sentenced to death on charges of having organized the massacre of more than 60 Tutsi priests, nuns and seminarians.
John Paul said Rwandan priests must refrain from getting involved with ideological and political groups if they are to properly carry out their ministries.
"They must remember that they are above all pastors who must take care of all people, without exception," he told the bishops.