KIGALI, Rwanda ( - Twenty-two people were executed by firing squads in Rwanda on Thursday, the first death sentences carried out in retaliation of the 1994 ethnic genocide despite pleas from Pope John Paul II and international human rights groups for clemency.

      The executions of the 20 men and one woman took place in five cities in locations where massacres of an estimated 500,000 Tutsis were carried out by extremist Hutus following the collapse of the government in 1994. In Kigali, the convicts were tied to posts, black sacks draped over their heads and white bands marked with targets bound to their chests. After a minutes-long pause during which the crowd jeered angrily, blue-uniformed police officers shot them one by one from a distance of less than a yard.

      At least 330 people have been tried in Rwanda for genocide and 116 have been convicted and sentenced to death, including two Catholic priests this week. One-third of those tried have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison, 20 were acquitted and the rest received sentences of varying lengths. More than 125,000 people are awaiting trial.

      Many international groups and persons including Amnesty International and the United States, as well as the Holy Father, called for mercy and clemency in order to let real healing begin without revenge-inspired retribution.

      Pope John Paul II today expressed sorrow over the executions carried out in Rwanda and in the United States where 3 convicted killers were put to death on April 22.

      The Pope had appealed for clemency for the prisoners in Rwanda, and had intervened with Texas Governor George bush Jr, seeking a stay of execution for Joseph Cannon, who was put to death there.

      Pope John Paul has made no secret of his personal opposition to capital punishment, and his strong stand has led to a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which now states that while capital punishment may be morally justifiable, in practice it should not be used in the modern developed world.

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April 27, 1998 volume 9, no. 81         DAILY CATHOLIC