Country: Burundi, Rwanda | Diocese: Diocese of Burundi & Rwanda
For exactly two years, by the Grace of God and the blessings of His Beatitude Theodore II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, I have been serving the martyred Diocese of Burundi and Rwanda, which came into existence just a few years ago. Thus I will presume upon your love and patience in order to make a brief review of the management of your loving contributions during these two years of my ministry. Besides, it is proper that you should know where your money goes, which goals we have achieved, which we have missed as well as our plans for the future… I consider it necessary and honorable to make this accountability, so to speak, report.
As you all know, not so long ago Burundi and Rwanda came out of a fratricidal war, which resulted in genocide -in just 100 days one million people were massacred, among them innocent children; this marked the last decade of the 20th century and proved beyond the slightest doubt that “man is a wolf to man”. The war memorial museums in Rwanda bear undeniable witness to that. It is there that one wonders how man can be led to acts of brutality when driven by hatred, power lust, conflicting interests and personal ambitions.
It is such people that we minister to and try to comfort, alleviate their suffering and uplift their spirit. Like all wars, this war ended at some point as well, giving peace a chance. It is then that our role started.
There are numerous needs to meet, spiritual as well as material. The visible physical wounds have healed, but there are wounds that are unseen, the wounds and scars of the soul, which are really very hard to erase. Our efforts are focused on making these poor creatures feel again that they are human beings and on helping them to live.
In Burundi, 40 kilometers northeast of Bujumbura, there is a vibrant Christian community of war refugees, rallied around the sacred church of Saint Alexius and the Twelve Apostles. These people, deprived of basic essentials, show an unparalleled will to survive. Last summer, we ordained as a priest the director of the school community; this way, we provided a solution to the problem of the priest there.
Another intractable for the time being problem pertains to education. As many as 700 children are literally crammed into the five classrooms of the primary school. There is an urgent need to add at least four classrooms, but the construction costs in both Burundi and Rwanda are extremely high due to the transportation costs from neighboring countries, as everything is imported. As for a secondary school, things are equally disappointing. The nearest middle school is 10 km away, distance which the few children that attend it have to cover on foot.
It is on foot as well that the sick have to go in order to reach the nearest “health station”, so to say. Also, the little students, before setting out for their school, have to walk 5 kilometers in order to fetch water for home – this is their own task – from the nearest borehole.
Both Burundi and Rwanda – even more in Rwanda – embraced Orthodoxy with great love. Seeking to explain the reason and without claiming infallibility, I concluded that this is due to the fact that our Mission is relatively new in the sense that it made its presence noticeable after the war, therefore, we are, in a way, incorruptible. Each of our pastoral journeys is for them an event of great importance, which is why they give us a warm and hearty welcome. Simple-hearted people, most of them without any special education -and this is only naturally expected, since the war was a catalyst for the evolution of life thereof. However, despite their simple-heartedness, their questions about the teachings of our Church, its Mysteries, its holy figures and religious traditions are anything but simplistic.
I would also like to refer to the role of the state as regards the operation of the Orthodox Church and not only. The Missions operate under the watchful eye of the state, which intervenes even in the selection of the building that houses us. According to the country’s Constitution, we are obliged to submit the beliefs of our Orthodox faith, the doctrinal truths of the Gospel as well as the charter of operation. If approved, we are granted a temporary permit for one year, extendable indefinitely. We expect to get ours in the August of the current year because we have work to present.
Specifically, we have founded eight parish communities in Rwanda, we have performed four priestly ordinations and we have sent six young Rwandans to the Makarios III Theological Seminary in Nairobi, Kenya, to be ordained after their graduation. After catechesis, we have baptized about six hundred Rwandans, while there are many more waiting to be baptized. Please note that all rites are performed outdoors, since we lack sacred churches. Also, the state gives special importance to social policy, which is why it works closely with us in the pursuit of social policy.
In general, the same applies to both countries with the following difference: In Burundi, the government gives us free land, provided we construct schools, churches and health stations. Indeed, we have already been granted two building plots, and we are trying to get the title deeds and find sponsors to promote the projects. Unlike Burundi, in Rwanda everything is sold at high prices.
In order not to inconvenience you any further, summing up, I will remind you that we have neither an episcopal residence, nor spaces for confession, catechesis and hosting friends-volunteers, who visit us from time to time. Some work is still in progress mainly due to shortage of money but also because of some legal obstacles, which we will hopefully overcome.
A particular problem is that of our moving around within the country as well as our transition from one country to another. Our car was damaged in a traffic accident. As a result, it is not uncommon for us to get stuck on the road and go on our pastoral visits by means of public transport, which is not at all frequent and makes us waste valuable time.
In closing, I would like once more to appeal to your love and your charity feelings, which evidently characterize you: Pray for us, become our companions, help us to teach the creatures of God that we have been ministering to for two years to recognize the miracles, that is, the essence of LIFE, to teach them that LIFE is a gift of God to us and that the way they will live their lives is their own gift to God. Let’s make, then, all of us, this gift as wonderful as possible…